When I stumbled upon The Hungry Cowgirl Cocina on the restaurant's opening day, coincidentally, I was browsing through Uber Eats for something different, and The Hungry Cowgirl delivered. But the folks behind the business say they’re only just beginning.
The restaurant, which opened on Sept. 21, is a new venture from chefs Vince Perri, formerly of Federal Galley and Supper on Penn, and Gretchen Helt, a catering specialist formerly from Arizona and Los Angeles. After Perri’s former restaurant closed during the pandemic, the pair decided to give a virtual restaurant a shot before deciding if they should invest in a brick and mortar.
"With delivery accelerating more than dine-in, Vince and Gretchen began reimagining what it meant to bring the restaurant experience directly to the customer," reads a statement on their website. "In this newfound culture of convenience where life in the fast lane has returned for good, the need for quality fast food was abundantly clear."
The Mexican Loaded Potato was an unplanned, last-minute addition, according to the owners. On top of the cheese, salsa, and sour cream that automatically comes on top, I ordered mine with chicken tinga, a nicely braised meat with a subtle kick, proving to be a side dish that would have been a fine small meal on its own.With hearty fillings and a decent-sized tater, the addition was definitely worth its placement on the new Tex-Mex delivery-only restaurant’s menu, which features a wide variety of what the owners call “fast food reimagined,” with “all the speed and taste and none of the junk.”
It’s the perfect partnership combining Gretchen’s experience out west and Perri’s creative execution, according to friend and consultant, Francisco Robert, who talks to Pittsburgh City Paper while Perri works in the background.
In addition to the loaded potato, I also ordered the Frito Pie. The dish (called a walking taco in my small Central Pa. hometown) is a childhood favorite, and I order one pretty much anytime I spot one on a menu.
The Hungry Cowgirl version came deconstructed, with a bowl containing a massive combination of proteins (I chose the barbacoa beef), a generous assortment of toppings (I chose all eight: black beans, corn, peppers and onions, slaw, romaine, cheese, green onion, and pico), and a sauce (I went with the chili lime vin), with a bag of Fritos on the side. The bowl of beef and toppings could have filled at least three Fritos bags, and the leftovers were just as delicious eating with a spoon after initially devouring with the bag of chips.
The barbacoa beef was pull-apart tender, something obtained from the meat being marinated for at least 24 hours, according to Robert. Other protein options were the aforementioned chicken tinga, along with slow-roasted chicken and tofu.
Days later, I ordered from The Hungry Cowgirl again — this time ordering a Vegan Bowl with tofu for my partner and a Chicken Tinga Bowl for myself (and yes, I couldn’t resist another loaded potato) directly from the website.
The team says that being on delivery apps like Uber Eats, which is known to take large fees from restaurants, is a necessary evil, but they use it to drive traffic to their website, where they prefer to take orders.
They hope to expand their menu in the future to add more culinary concepts. Helt initially wanted a more authentic cuisine, according to Robert, but the team decided to make their first concept “a little bit more approachable.”
If the restaurant turns out to be successful, he says, in addition to potentially opening a brick and mortar someday, they also plan to add more cuisines, like Helt's dream of serving up authentic Mexican food, to the menu. But, he says, that’ll be in addition to the current menu, not replacing it.
“I think that's the beauty of being in a virtual environment,” Robert says, “as we can afford to have extra space in the kitchen and come up with other different brands and culinary concepts.”
Their target audience, he says, is college students who typically order from Chipotle. They've been offering up some special deals during their first week of business, like buy one, get one free bowls, but aim to consistently keep the food tasty and the prices low. (My first meal, which also included an Elote Salad and Black Bean Salad — either of which could have served as a nice-sized side dish or as salsa for chips — was about $30 before tip.)
They also appear to be targeting stoners. While Robert says The Hungry Cowgirl’s acronym THC was a lucky “accident,” they're taking advantage of it in their marketing, with phrases like “THC tastes better in a bowl” to describe their many offerings.
Full confession, I was stoned when I ordered (on my medical card, natch), and I have to admit: this is the ideal food for when you’re high. Their food is affordable, delicious, and, perhaps most importantly, filling.
Need more convincing? Other offerings on their menu include a Fajita Kit for $15 that will feed “2-3 party people,” small containers of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, and an item that truly feels like the ideal frat house’s dream, a Ranch Party for $93, where they offer to “hook you up with the entire menu.”
The Hungry Cowgirl Cocina. Open Wednesdays-Sundays. hungry-cowgirl.com