Head’s up. It’s taco time.
“One Shot” is an occasional series reviewing non-taquerías’ tacos.
The last time I saw my maternal grandfather, a hulk of a man, I was 5 years old. He had walked through the house carrying a lechon—a spit-roasted whole pork—across his shoulders into the backyard and on to the table where the rest of the food for the family feast was arrayed. He gently set down the pig in the center of the table while I stood at the end barely tall enough to look over the top. And in what seemed a continuous motion from the crispy brown animal to his placing his leathered hands under my arms, lifting me onto the table and sitting me crossed-legged face-to-face with our meal. No sooner had he said, “You’re first, Joseito,” than I had clasped the face of the pig behind the cheeks and yanked the whole thing off. In one piece. It was glorious. I gnawed on the ears and tried to pull the snout, a few singed bristles sprouting from it off the rest of the rough, salty skin. The cloudy white pad of fat on the backside of the face brushed my lips and chin. I loved that day.
When dinner plans were recently thrown for a loop and a friend mentioned the crispy pig’s head at John Tesar’s Knife steakhouse, I relived that day in an instant and said, “Yes.” Continue reading
Taqueria Las Marias’ counter.
Across from Jimmy’s Food Store, Urbano Café and Spiceman’s FM 1410 in East Dallas but probably using nothing that graces the shelves of those iconic Dallas food businesses in a La Ranchera Mexican Super Market is Taqueria La Marias. The taco counter, beyond the cash register to the left of the grocery’s front door, trades in the standard filling options as well as a few guisados resting in steam trays behind a sneeze guard. Non-trompo pastor and fajita are also on offer, although those take a while longer to serve as they’re cooked to order. Skip them. Go for the guisados. They’re on the left side.
The best of which is the guisado rojo de res, pieces of tender, stratiform pieces of beef no bigger than Knorr bouillon cubes in a mellow coral red sauce. It was gone too soon. The pollo y calabaza, chicken and squash in a lacey yellow sauce, also disappeared quickly, if only to get rid of the dry poultry and mushy vegetable. A shot of salsa verde helped but there was nothing that could rehydrate that bird. Continue reading
Tacoqueta’s inviting facade.
Clarendon Drive east of Hampton Road is a hodgepodge of auto shops, ramshackle churches in converted frame houses, food business, such as paleterias, Aunt Stella’s Snow Cones and taquerias. Among the latter, the newest is Tacoqueta, taking a clever name meant to lure you into the small strip shared with a hair salon. Almost as alluring is the 20 tacos for $19.99. Almost, because with only three tacos (plus weekend barbacoa) to choose from there isn’t much variety for order of that size. What there is an abundance of, though, is excellent service. The ladies behind the counter and working the griddle will answer your questions without hesitation—yes, they have fresh tortillas but only for the menudo—and charm you with a smile while they await your order.
Departing from my usual tacos-only selection, I went with the No. 1 special. The former comes with light, yellow Mexican rice and manteca-bolstered silky refried beans punctuated with minute pintos. Continue reading
Everything is better with a taco, especially the young but formidable Oak Cliff Film Festival, which calls the Texas Theatre home. Within tortilla-flinging distance (and all over the neighborhood) of the historic movie house are scads of notable taquerias and restaurants. Once again, we offer our recommendations.
Los Torres Taqueria, 1322 W. Clarendon Dr., 214-946-3770
This mom-and-pop shop is something special. It’s the only Dallas restaurant specializing in Sinaloan-style meat preparations, and where you go when you want excellent tacos. The Torres family has never failed when it comes to serving northern Mexican dishes like cinnamon-spiked birria de chivo, luscious cabeza (a mix of beef cheek and tongue) and barbacoa roja estilo Sinaloa, which has pork and beef in every exquisite bite. True to the state of origin, order your tacos in handmade flour tortillas. But if you insist, at least request the handmade corn tortillas.
La Tacoqueta, 2324 W. Clarendon Dr., Ste. 100, 214-943-9991
On a strip of Clarendon dominated by auto shops and faded concrete, cheekily named La Tacoqueta is a sepia, wood and tile haven offering hit-the-spot tacos of carne asada, chicken and al pastor.Alas, there is no spit. The breakfast tacos come with handmade tortillas but others don’t. The service is always on point and the salsa is always fiery.
Fito’s Tacos de Trompo #2, 3113 W. Davis St.
This joint is hard to miss. Just look for the painting of Monterrey’s geographic landmark, the Serro de la Silla mountain, and the restaurant’s name is big red letters. Order the signature menu item, tacos de trompo—the northern Mexican cousin of tacos al pastor seasoned with paprika, not a chile, achiote and citrus adobo, and roasted on the vertical spit called, you guessed it, a trompo. But bring cash. Fito’s doesn’t accept plastic.
New upmarket taco operations, whether a truck or a brick-and-mortar concern, give me pause. Are the owners only in the business because they like tacos and see them as an easy entry into the food industry? You know, because a taco is anything you want it to be? Such is the case of the now defunct 333’s Gourmet Taco Shop. Charging up to $12 for a sloppy product on Kroger tortillas was never sustainable long-term. Or are they driven by something more? Flatlanders Taco Co., a lonchera wrapped in a mod Dia de los Muertos shell, is an example of the latter.
Inspired by their time living in Colorado and years of traveling and studying in Mexico, Texans Ashley and Tyler Hall returned home to offer tacos influenced by Tyler’s lifelong intimacy with Mexican food in the United States. “For me, I grew up eating tacos and tamales. Mexican food has always been a two or three night a week meal in my family,” he says. “My first homemade authentic meal, menudo, was while working as a dishwasher when I was 13. That was my introduction to a flavor profile that has always got me looking for the best homestyle Mexican cooking wherever I am. When I met my wife 7 years ago, the obsession doubled with her love for it as well. Now it’s almost every meal. Everywhere we travel, we try to find an off-the-beaten-path Mexican grocer, restaurant, stand or truck to get our fix, always taking note of our favorite and unique sauces, salsas and taco combinations.” The result, Tyler says, is an effort to create specialty tacos while staying within the bounds of tradition. And it’s promising. Continue reading
Last Thursday I gave a presentation about taco history and its place in DFW’s food culture at Four Corners Brewing Co., benefiting Slow Food Dallas. It didn’t go as planned. A storm took about the venue’s power and led me to improvise. Below is what the lecture I would’ve given if Mother Nature had cooperated.
Thank you, Liz and Slow Food Dallas for having me here—at my favorite brewery, no less. Thank you, Rafael and Eduardo and the family of Taco Party, for your wonderful tacos. Those fried potatoes tacos are among Dallas’ best. And lest you think they’re “gringo tacos,” you should know that fried potatoes tacos are traditional tacos dorados (fried tacos), rolled or flat depending on the region. They’re found all over Mexico.
Fried tacos tend to have a bad reputation, stirring up chilling visions of Taco Bell and prefabricated stale, fragile shells. Glenn Bell, Taco Bell’s founder, wasn’t doing anything new or particularly special, when he opened his first fast-food crispy taco restaurant in 1962. Fried tacos are a tried-and-true variation of the reason why we’re here tonight. In Jalisco state, home of tequila, mariachi and the stewed goat preparation birria, and Michoacán, the birthplace of carnitas, tacos dorados are a common breakfast taco. Continue reading
I’ll be giving a fun little chat about tacos at the next Slow Food Dallas event. The cross-posted shindig info is below.
Slow Food Dallas is proud to present a Taco Talk with José R. Ralat at Four Corners Brewing Co. on May 8th from 6pm-9pm. José will share the story of the taco, from its humble Mexican beginnings to its place in Dallas food culture today.
As José puts it, “the story of the taco is one of religion and sacrifice, of conquest and reconquest, of multiculturalism and nourishment, both dietary and spiritually. It doesn’t recognize borders, but it is specific to time and place. The taco in Oaxaca is not the taco in Los Angeles or Gutherie, Oklahoma, and at its base is corn: a food that transformed the way humanity eats and lives.”
In addition to José’s presentation, we’ll be enjoying food from Taco Party, featuring some of Dallas’ best tacos al pastor.
Tickets are $15 and on sale now. Tickets include admission to the presentation and two tacos, one al pastor and one fried potato. Beer will be available for sale before, during, and after the presentation.
This event has limited availability, so please purchase your ticket in advance at http://tacotalk.eventbrite.com./
6:15pm- 7:00pm: Tacos + Beer
7:00pm- 8:00pm: Presentation and Discussion
8:00pm- 9:00pm: Beer + Conversation
Get your ticket today and join us for an evening of history, lore, and most importantly, tacos!!