El Bolero’s tacos al pastor.
John Tesar is a no slouch. He is owner and executive chef at Knife. He has a cookbook in the works with Jordan Mackay, co-author with Aaron Franklin of Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto. He is developing an Italian restaurant concept. And he is partner-operator at Apheleia Restaurant Group’s Oak. There he has tweaked and streamlined the kitchen and menu and business is improving. Now comes news that he is doing the same at El Bolero, Apheleia’s upscale Mexican spot, after ownership and El Bolero’s opening executive chef parted ways last month.
My only dining experience at El Bolero was the restaurant’s first night of service, when the menu was limited and the service extremely attentive. I had ample time to speak with co-owner John Paul Valverde (whose Coeval Studio also designed the gorgeous space) that night. We talked about the need for a variety of salsa options. I lobbied for a plethora of choices like those available in Mexico City: whole beans, French fries, salsas of every color and Scoville heat unit. I spoke with a manager about agave spirits, and he customized a mezcal flight for me. All of this from the best seat in the house—at the bar in front of the trompo, where I got to watch the taquero work his knife against the spinning top of marinated pork. The tacos al pastor on fresh corn tortillas were good but the execution needed flare. Part of eating these Mexico City favorites is the show taqueros put on for customers, flicking knives this way and that, attempting to catch pineapple slices behind their backs.
I don’t know if the spectacle has been upped since El Bolero opened, but I do know that the trompo isn’t going anywhere. As Valverde told me via Facebook, “[The] trompo is always going to be there.” While that is a relief, like many with deep love and respect for tacos and Mexican regional cuisines, I was leery of how an Anglo chef—no matter how talented and respectful—would treat the food. Anglo-driven “Modern Mexican” has show more disregard than understanding when it comes to the tradition and history of Mexican food.
During a phone conversation, Tesar went a long way to assure me of his seriousness.
More taco talk, this time with mezcal.
Because I can’t stop when it comes to tacos, later this month I’m involved in a panel that will discuss the history and future of tacos in Dallas. The panel will be moderated by Lesley Téllez, award-wining food writer, former Dallasite, and author of Eat Mexico: Recipes From Mexico City’s Streets, Markets and Fondas. Tickets are on sale now and include all-you-can-eat tacos. More information is below.
From the cash-only hole-in-the-wall joint to the fancy taqueria, Dallas is obsessed with tacos. But how did they get here? How have they gone from crunchy shell to gourmet fillings? And why? What’s next for the street snack? The panel discussion Dallas Tacography: The Tortilla’s Tale in Big D at El Come Taco on Tuesday, July 14, will tackle those questions and more. With all-you-can-eat tacos.
Moderating Dallas Tacography will be Lesley Téllez, award-winning food writer and former Dallasite, and author of the new cookbook Eat Mexico: Recipes From Mexico City’s Streets, Markets and Fondas, released in June by Kyle Books. The book is a culinary love letter to one of the biggest cities in the world, with more than 100 recipes and beautiful on-location photography.
Joining Lesley in talking Dallas tacos will be a lineup of top-notch area food writers, restaurateurs and bloggers: Continue reading
A bowl of tejate.
Tejate, a traditional Oaxacan drink made from maize, cacao, mamey seeds, and other ingredients—all handmade—is a labor-intensive preparation. And that’s an understatement. From the hand-shelling of cacao and the grinding of the nixtamal to the serving, takes several hours.
At Mi Lindo Oaxaca in Dallas, Honorio Garcia and family take that time to make tejate from scratch at their restaurant. Here’s a video of the incredible process that shows how the preservation of tradition trumps the creativity of modernity.
Before Dylan Elchami sold his Scotch & Sausage restaurant concept, he converted part of the space housing it into a taqueria specializing in tacos de guisados. For Elchami, it was a dream come true. For me, it was a chance to eat more tacos de guisados, a massive and unwieldy class of taco filled with homey slow-cooked stews and sauced preparations. Chorizo and papas is a guisado. Bistec en salsa de chile pasilla is another. So are chile relleno and picadillo. And this new operation, S&S Tequileria, put picadillo on the menu. Unfortunately, the kitchen’s idea of picadillo was sauceless, dry crumbles of over-salted beef. It was, in a word, terrible. The rest of the tacos ordered that day weren’t as memorable.
Then I noticed something peculiar, the Scotch & Sausage social media channels had almost no taco images. Had they realized how disappointing the tacos were? Not long after that I received a press release for Le Taco Cantina, a new taco concept taking over the space. It described the food as having a “triage of flavors” melding Mexican and Asian cooking techniques and ingredients with a little French flare. While I’m sure who ever wrote that release was trying to make the food come across as compelling as possible, the use of medical disaster terminology probably isn’t the way to achieve that goal. “Sortie” might have been better.
Shortly thereafter, the blogs began to announce the taqueria’s opening. There was a lot of oohing and ahhing because handmade tortillas and moo shu duck confit. Interesting, right? Not really. Handmade tortillas by themselves aren’t that big a deal. They’re difficult to make well consistently, and a smart taquero knows that if he can’t have them produced in-house perfectly it’s better to find a tortilleria that can meet his standards. Continue reading
Tacos, Tunes, Tequila: Together.
As some of you might know, I was asked to curate a new taco festival. Here’s the final announcement from the organizers. I’m very excited, and you should be too.
From Sonar Management, the producers of Dia de los Toadies and Smoked Dallas BBQ Fest, comes a new one-of-a-kind festival in the heart of downtown Dallas. Debuting June 27, at Main Street Garden, ¡Taco Libre! Combines some of Texans favorite things: tacos, tunes, tequila. Continue reading
As I mentioned in my review of Mi Lindo Oaxaca, Honorio Garcia and family prepare their food from scratch. In the case of the restaurant’s mole and tejate, that means the toasting and shelling of cacao beans, by hand. Because if you’re going to make mole, you need to make chocolate too. Yesterday I was fortunate enough to watch that chocolate being made in Mi Lindo Oaxaca‘s kitchen. It’s a marvel. The video is below.
From-scratch mole con pollo is a weekend special at Mi Lindo Oaxaca.
The Home Depot now stands on the land where the Bronco Bowl once welcomed musical acts such as Bob Dylan and Lenny Kravitz. Across the street, along Fort Worth Avenue, sits a shopping center where Tacos King once doled out breakfast tacos. The taqueria is gone. The only remnant of its existence is the yellow awning bearing the business’ name. The space now houses Mi Lindo Oaxaca, likely the only Oaxacan restaurant in Dallas, and the one restaurant all seekers of authentic Mexican food should put at the top of their must-visit list.
Former migrant farm work Honorio Garcia opened Mi Lindo Oaxaca three months ago with the help of an Accion Texas micro loan because, he told me on my third of four visits to his restaurant, “There needed to be a taste of Oaxaca in Dallas.” Ladies and gentlemen, the American Dream is alive and well, and Honorio Garcia is serving it with mole oaxaqueño made from scratch, beginning with the hand-shelling of cacao for the chocolate. On one visit, I got to watch as the ingredients were being toasted on the dry flattop griddle. Continue reading
Gas station tacos, right this way.
Large highway gas stations can offer surprising treats. One of them is tacos. Maybe there is a trompo from which is shaved dark red marinated pork in the Mexico City al pastor style with chiles, achiote and citrus or the Monterrey trompo rendition of sticky smoked paprika. The Fox Gas Station on Marvin D. Love Freeway (Highway 67) in Oak Cliff serves the latter.
My first visit, in early 2014, yielded charred nubs of pork from a tired trompo and soggy tortillas. A return visit a year later, though, had a happier ending. Continue reading
Fuel up after filling up your car’s gas tank.
Tacos can be served from practically anywhere, one of the most popular spaces being the gas station. And why not? Customers can fill up their jalopy’s tank then stuff their own. These taco operations are busy throughout the day, but breakfast often calls for patience. Lines are common. That’s where Habaneros — The Taco Revolution in Arlington, Texas, comes in. I stopped at the gas station taqueria en route to Fort Worth. Just off the Ballpark Way exit on I-30, Habaneros takes up about half of the business with tables and booths and a salsa bar against a counter. Continue reading
Get me talking about tacos and see me light up like a child who receives the exact gift he wished for Christmas morning. From their history and folklore to their variability, there is much joy in tacos. In no particular order, these are the tacos that brought me that joy in 2014.
A plate of tacos at Los Torres.
Taco de Barbacoa Roja Estilo Sinaloa at Los Torres Taqueria
Unlike the barbacoa commonly available in Texas, this specialty of Sinaloa (where the Torres family has roots) is a mix of beef and pork, dark red from chiles colorados and fragrant spices. It’s always included in my order at Los Torres, where homey braises and handmade tortillas band together to give Dallas it’s best taqueria. When you visit the little spot in Oak Cliff—and you will—resist the urge to order tortillas de maiz hechas a mano. Go for the thin, nearly translucent handmade flour tortillas characteristic of Sinaloa.
Taco de Barbacoa de Cabeza at Gerardo’s Drive-In
The table-hushing barbacoa at Gerardo’s on Houston’s east side is among the best I’ve had in Texas yet. It’s silky and full, though delicate, and pulled directly from the cows’ head. My visit to Gerardo’s included a kitchen tour from Owner José Luis Lopez—Gerardo is his son—who obviously has pride in his work. He propped the cow heads for photos taken by the crew I was running around Houston with that morning, amigos in food J.C. Reid and Michael Fulmer, cofounders of the Houston Barbecue Festival, and photographer Robert Strickland.
Taco al Pastor at Taco Flats
Austin isn’t a taco al pastor town. It’s strength resides in breakfast tacos and Tex-Mex. So this killer version of the undisputed king of tacos on a housemade tortilla from Taco Flats, a new Burnet Road bar with taco-focused pub grub came as a surprise. Sit at the far end of the bar for a view of the trompo. Continue reading
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