R.P. Tracks is on the verge of a college campus, which explains why the "Beverages and Libations" menu lists more than 50 shooters, with names like Mind Eraser — vodka, coffee liqueur, soda — and Call A Cab — three flavors of Bacardi with pineapple, orange juice and grenadine. A couple had names we can't print in a family newspaper, and one — Urine Sample — you might not want to order for aesthetic reasons.
A menu with the word "urine" on it might make visions of "Animal House" dance in your head, but put away that perfumed hankie. R.P. Tracks is completely suitable for responsible adults — if you choose your hours wisely. We had very fine casual meals at this easygoing place that caters to a mostly twenty-something crowd.
Have I ever longed for barbecue tofu? No. Did I enjoy what's described as "Our world famous BBQ Tofu" at R. P. Tracks? Very much. Maybe it's a form of conditioned expectations, but the pleasant, wine-red sauce coating bite-sized tofu squares creates the sensation that you are eating something more substantial and savory than tofu, like pork. It's served on a sandwich, in burritos and quesadillas, and on nachos.
Though the restaurant has a following for its burgers, it also has a care for the vegetarians among us — co-owner Peter Moon (Rick Johns and Moon are the R.P. of Tracks) says he buys as many pounds of tofu as ground beef each year.
The vegetarian black bean chili is a superior item, dense with beans and chunks of tomato, topped with chopped fresh red onion and not too much cheese. It has a hot-pepper edge that isn't overwhelming.
Set beside the railroad tracks along Southern Avenue, R.P. Tracks is coming up on its 25th anniversary this year, and the Southwestern influence on the menu has been a constant. For a time in the early '90s, the place was called R. P. Tracks Cantina y Grille.
If you're looking for one good reason to try R.P. Tracks, it's the "Famous RP Nachos." The order comes in a pie pan, with the well-made chili, ground beef or black bean; tomatoes two ways, cooked and freshly chopped; cheese and sour cream; and a more than healthy helping of jalapeño slices. Tracks makes its own tortilla chips, and those chips make the nachos work. They're still crisp and firm 10 minutes after they arrive on your table, and that's a trick given how thickly the kitchen pours on the chili.
A steak quesadilla was a terrific combination of a crisp flour tortilla, black beans, corn and grilled flank steak, though the portion of that last ingredient was somewhat cautious.
The burger is a plump half-pounder, and arrived medium-rare as requested. While our server was praising the restaurant's fresh tortilla chips, we asked whether the fat french fries that came with the burger were made fresh on site as well. "Um, sure," she said, looking away. I like a woman who is loyal but not comfortable with a fib.
Still, Tracks' sides are strong. The onion rings, for instance, were a civilized size, manageably thin strips in a light batter. The coleslaw was mostly crisp cabbage, in other words not too much mayonnaise.
We arrived for brunch at the crack of 11 a.m., opening time, one Sunday, and soon had the ultimate in comfort food, "Pigs in a Blanket," before us. The sausage is spicy enough and the pancake batter is worthy, that tricky combination of dense but airy. A sausage and egg burrito was a full-on midday meal, with onions and, again, plenty of jalapeño slices.
And you cannot argue with the prices. The four sausage pancakes with home-fries on the side were $6.75. The burger with fries is $8.50.
The restaurant is long and thin, suggestive of a railway car, and the interior is clean and simple — concrete floors, blond-wood furniture, slabs of stainless steel at the bar. An enclosed porch with ceiling fans is attached where the building fronts Walker and a pool room caps the western end.
Address: 3547 Walker
Hours: 11 a.m. to 3 a.m. daily
Reviewer’s choices: Black bean chili, $3.50 cup; BBQ tofu sandwich, $7; Famous RP Nachos; Pigs in a blanket, $6.75
Alcohol: Full bar
Poor: Zero stars
Good: One star
Very Good: Two stars
Excellent: Three stars
Extraordinary: Four stars