The Santa Fe Taco Trail

Photography: José R. Ralat

Eloisa’s pastrami tacos

There are state-sanctioned roadmaps for New Mexico’s green chile burgers and breakfast burritos. They are points of pride, and going Christmas-style on the breakfast burrito at Tia Sophia’s Restaurant, considered the home of the tortilla-wrapped morning behemoth, is proof enough. No such document exists for The Land of Enchantment’s tacos. But they are just as worthy of recognition as any of New Mexico’s signature foods. That’s what I realized during a trip to Santa Fe last week for the Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta. Indeed, nearly all the Santa Feans I spoke with while visiting the city raved about their city’s tacos. I took their advice and hit the trail for Santa Fe tacos, beginning with the most recommended of the bunch.

The chicken guacamole taco at El Parasol.

The chicken guacamole taco at El Parasol.

El Parasol

Mention tacos, and Santa Feans enthusiastically ask if you’ve been to El Parasol for the chicken guacamole. After tasting it myself, I understand why. Rich stewed chicken is folded into a corn tortilla and then gets crisped up on the flattop until it’s this side of crunchy. A cool dollop of guacamole, lettuce, and tomato are added before the shimmering yellow parcel is wrapped, bagged, and handed over the counter to the customer to go. (There isn’t much in the way of seating at the nearly 60-year-old restaurant.) The chicken guacamole taco is Santa Fe’s tacos. Equally as good is the beef, which, unlike its treatment in the standard crunchy taco, is served shredded. 1833 Cerrillos Road, 505.995.8015

El Chile Toreado's barbacoa taco.

El Chile Toreado’s barbacoa taco.

El Chile Toreado

While this taco spot is housed in a trailer, El Chile Toreado isn’t going anywhere. The rig is lacking wheels. Perhaps some happy patron absconded with them because they didn’t want to lose the ability to order mouth-puckering beef barbacoa, served shredded and best topped with ribbons of indigo-hued pickled onions. Their tang balances the richness of the beef.

Also superb is the carnitas, a crunchy yet mellow and juicy assembly of pork that sings with the Christmas salsa, a New Mexico-style pico de gallo heavy on the fiery green and red chiles.

If the special green chile-chicken chipotle taco is available, give it a chance. Its filling starts as traditional chicken tinga, chicken stewed in smoky chipotle chiles, before getting dressed with New Mexico green chiles’ fruity heat. It stunned me — in a good way. 950 W. Cordova Road, 505.500.0033

La Choza Restaurant

La Choza, The Shed’s laid-back, down-home sibling, offers almost the exact menu as its Plaza-located big sister, including fork-and-knife soft blue corn tacos. The trio of blue corn tortillas laid flat bearing mildly seasoned ground beef is served with a coat of melted white and orange cheese and smothered with red or green chile. A standard order is a great example of a New Mexico specialty. But that’s not what you want to request. Instead, ask for the chile sauces on the side. This customization allows you to apply as much chile as you would like without muddling the dish’s flavors. The result is a comforting chorus of punchy chile, salty cheese, and taco meat. 905 Alarid St., 505.982.0909

The Plaza Cafe's Indian taco.

The Plaza Cafe’s Indian taco.

The Plaza Café

Santa Fe’s oldest restaurant has plenty of nearby competition, namely The Shed and the Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi restaurant. Neither offers an Indian fry bread taco. I’m especially keen on this truly American taco, having delved into its history and significance for Cowboys & Indians. So it was with great excitement that I sat down for a third lunch at The Plaza. At the booth across from my table sat an elderly couple. The white bearded gentleman wore the traditional embroidered Latin American shirt known as a guayabera and rested his right hand on his wife’s arm while discussing their afternoon itinerary. She had a shock of red hair and was all jangly Southwestern jewelry and patient smile. Between the two was a platter-sized Indian taco. I couldn’t help but think decades from now that might be my beloved wife and me. I was excited.

The taco was fine. Its golden base could have been lighter, as could have been the touch that applied the cheese. The lettuce was crisp but abundant. Still, the green chile, with its mouth-coating fire, was a delight. 54 Lincoln Ave., 505.982.1664

Anasazi's ahi tuna tacos.

Anasazi’s ahi tuna tacos.

Anasazi Restaurant

A full-scale renovation that extended to the menu has rejuvenated the Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi’s restaurant. The space retains its Southwestern feel with a contemporary touch. The main dining room has been opened up and is separated from the bar area by an unobtrusive but fetching teak wood divider hundreds of pounds in weight. Buffering the dining room and the bar is the Tequila Table space. At the raised roundtable, aficionados and novices alike can relish the Anasazi’s extensive agave spirit collection alongside executive chef Juan Bochenski’s signature Latin American-influenced Southwestern cuisine. Sharing menu real estate with the must-order red chile buffalo empanadas are the snappy ahi tuna tacos

The pleasantly textured fried wonton wraps are packed with lightly seared tuna that finds a match in peppy black beans and bright mango salsa. Avocado and sour cream keep the heat from overwhelming the palate. The tacos are bar food elevated and pair well with a tequila flight. 113 Washington Ave., 505.988.3030


Hometown boy done good John Rivera Sedlar has proven himself a prominent figure in the New Southwestern cuisine movement, but he did so from Los Angeles until now. Earlier this year, Sedlar returned to his native Santa Fe and opened Eloisa in the Drury Plaza Hotel. If Anasazi’s makeover didn’t eschew a sense of place, Eloisa is appointed as unabashedly modern as modern gets. It’s white and sleek and expansive. But Eloisa — named for Sedlar’s grandmother, whose visage graces plates — serves food with a firm foundation in The City Different without forgetting L.A. The platter of mini pastrami tacos (above) in crispy blue shells, with its roots in the East L.A. Jewish delis of the mid-20th century — where workers were apt to put any kosher meat in a tortilla — is one example. The beef slices, thin and presented atop tangy sauerkraut, are the briny ribbons to the pickled serranos’ kicking bows. The mustard, a required condiment if ever there was one, added the finishing touch to my tour of Santa Fe tacos. 228 E. Palace Ave., 505.982.0883

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Twister Tacos

Twister Tacos in Odessa is housed in a former fast-food joint building.

Twister Tacos in Odessa is housed in a former fast-food joint building.

Taquerias can find homes anywhere the local health department will allow them to set up shop. In the case of Twister Tacos in Odessa, Texas, it’s an old Mexican fast-food spot with a new paint job. The ruined concrete on the front patio remains where it fell, perhaps during a previous incarnation. I imagine it as a result of an AT-AT with a driver in need of his eyes examined.

The eyes are deceiving at Twister Tacos. The 11-year-old taqueria, whose current owner took over for her sister in January, advertises tacos al pastor straight from the trompo, but no trompo is visible on the premises. When I asked about the contraption, the owner’s daughter, who was running the cash register, stalled answering and when she did answer, her speech trailed off into mumbling.

The look of the pork filling deepened my doubt of the al pastor’s provenance. It looked more like pork chop resting in house-made chewy, flavor-neutral corn tortillas.

There is a winner here, though. Continue reading

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John Tesar’s Plans for El Bolero Mexican Restaurant

El Bolero's tacos al pastor.

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.

Continue reading

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Award-Winning Food Writer Lesley Téllez Coming to Dallas for the Dallas Tacography Panel and All-You-Can-Eat Tacos

More taco talk, this time with mezcal.

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

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Making Tejate at Mi Lindo Oaxaca

A bowl of tejate.

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.


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Le Taco Cantina

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

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¡Taco Libre! to Feature 15 of DFW’s Best Taquerias and Great Music

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

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Making Chocolate at Mi Lindo Oaxaca

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.


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Mi Lindo Oaxaca

From-scratch mole con pollo is a weekend special at Mi Lindo Oaxaca.

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


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Fox Gas Station Taqueria

Gas station tacos, right this way.

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

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