A Tacoqueta taco plate.
When a neighbor asked that I give Tacoqueta a second chance after the taqueria changed ownership as a replacement for Los Torres Taqueria, which closed in late November, I asked whether the tortillas were made in-house as they were at Los Torres. The response was “100 times cleaner, for starters.” Tacoqueta does not make fresh tortillas for its tacos (that craft is reserved for gorditas, sopes and garnachas). I wouldn’t call it cleaner than Los Torres either, as my follow-up visit to the taqueria was met with the stench of sewage mixed with cleaning solution unsuccessfully applied to mask the smell. It was strong. Thankfully, the salsa verde with spurs’ bite heat was stronger.
The salsa played well against the sweet barbacoa de res but coated the diced carne asada until the salty beef was almost nothing but pebbly texture. Better was the taco al pastor advertised as taco de trompo for a Taco Tuesday promotion. Continue reading
A three-taco plate at El Mercadito Taqueria.
The Taco Trail began as a way of finding taquerias via DART, but I haven’t sought out tortilla-based eats via public transit for month, as I have been busy with the Texas Monthly taco issue project for more than a year. All of my research has been done via automobile. So it was a pleasant surprise that I came across El Mercadito Taqueria while riding the Green Line recently.
Adjacent to the Burbank Station in an industrial district on the west side of Love Field and next door to Tortilleria El Molino, El Mercadito serves mostly workers looking for quick and cheap meals. Tacos are $2 and are served a few minutes after ordering. There are seven filling options to listed on the menu, among them carnitas, lengua and non-trompo pastor. The day I went, though there was only beef barbacoa, chicharron en salsa verde and fajita were available. Continue reading
Filed under Dallas, DFW, Reviews
A taco tray at Resident Taqueria.
Taco shops open and close every day, and few notice. It seems that everyone noticed Resident Taqueria opened. The restaurant, owned by husband and wife Andrew and Amy Savoie and designed by the Guest Group, has been one of my most anticipated taqueria openings of 2015. Andrew is a chef who honed his craft in renowned kitchens like Jean-Georges before taking root in Dallas’ Lake Highlands neighborhood, where Amy grew up. Both went all in on this concept of a taco spot geared toward the locals, a family restaurant, but with thoughtful fare that shows deference to the taco’s history and Mexican ingredients. Everything from the agua fresca to the signage and tortillas would be handmade. What a taqueria should be. So it’s been, and it’s been nuts.
That goes for the peppy peanuts claiming real estate on Resident’s tacos and for the buzz. Continue reading
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.
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
Filed under Austin, Best of, Dallas, DFW, Fort Worth, Houston, one of the freaking best, Reviews, San Antonio, Tex-Mex, Uptown
Just in case you didn’t know what this truck sold.
Fort Worth has a wealth of loncheras. They’re stationed at the far end of grocery store parking lots, they’re parked alongside convenience stores—wherever they call roll up and set a table with a few chairs. That’s where I found Taqueria Eva’s, a taco truck on the city’s Northside.
An older gentleman sat reading a newspaper in the truck’s cab as a friend and I walked up to the lonchera. As we stepped up to the ordering window, a boy young enough to be the man’s son it open, took our order and immediately set to making our tacos, working the flattop and heating the tortillas like he—a kid—was a seasoned taquero. Continue reading
The restaurant and tortilleria share real estate.
La Mexicana Tortilla Factory supplies taquerias and Mexican restaurants across North Texas, including El Come Taco. And for large-scale production, the tortillas the Duncanville, Texas, operation has been selling for nearly 20 years are dependable and respectable Rarely has the use of La Mexicana tortillas resulted in a poor taco for me. Occasionally, even though the tortillas aren’t fresh-off-the-press job, their application can push a mediocre taco into the realm of admirable nosh.
Unfortunately that wasn’t the case when I lunched at the seven-year-old restaurant attached to the tortilleria, Sabor a la Mexicana. The kitsch factor was turned up to 11, though. In the desolate Sunday afternoon parking lot, rusted sculptures of banditos and musicians adorned in spark plugs welcomed us.
While we ordered, the server told my wife that the restaurant is known for its enchiladas. That’s all she needed to hear to request the spinach enchilada platter: fresh spinach (Sabor’s website makes it clear it doesn’t use frozen or reheated ingredients) cozy in corn tortillas topped with silky sour cream sauce, not the magic shell stuff. They were excellent examples of a Tex-Mex specialty. My wife went so far as to call them the best spinach enchiladas she’s ever had. Continue reading
Make time for Taco Stop.
There are taquerias I visit for years before writing about them. It’s not that the taquerias are played out or that I want to keep them to myself. Sometimes, when juggling a day job, a family and get-in-the-way adult stuff, I just want to eat at a place I know is good and don’t get around to completing a review. Taco Stop, a two-year-old walk-up joint in the Dallas Design District, has been one of those taquerias. But it’s more than good. Taco Stop is fantastic.
It’s been that way almost since the beginning. Weeks after its 2012 opening, a friend and I dropped into Taco Stop for breakfast and had our ordered bungled. It didn’t matter. An order of Taco Stop’s breakfast tacos are a great way to start the morning, especially if you’re going “all in.” This deluxe breakfast taco is equipped with bell peppers, onions and bacon or chorizo, giving you bites of sweet and salty. A follow-up visit did not disappointment. Continue reading
Tacos al pastor stand in Mexico City. Photo: Markus Pineyro.
If Mexico City, and by extension Mexico, were to have an iconic taco, it would be the taco al pastor. This bantam assembly of marinated pork shaved from a trompo (a vertical rotisserie) on a corn tortilla with pineapple, cilantro, onions and salsa is the object of lust for many taco enthusiasts. Spikes of heat, patches of char, citrus pep here and there: What’s not to like? It’s also considered the most authentic of tacos but it is not the first taco and was not adapted from some ancient Aztec recipe. Rather, the taco al pastor appeared in the capital in the mid-20th century, a product of native and immigrant culinary mash-up. It’s also not the only style of taco with meat from a vertical spit. It’s not even the first such dish in Mexico—several of which, including tacos al pastor, are outlined below.
Four hundred years after the Spanish came ashore on the Mexican mainland, initiating the birth of what would become Mexican food with pork, lard, beef and other comestibles, another group of non-indigenous peoples transformed Mexican food. This mass of people, immigrants from the Middle East, specifically Lebanon and Iran, into the city and state of Puebla, brought with them shawarma, lamb cooked on a vertical rotisserie, and their own flatbread, pita. The Mexican adaptation of shawarma popped up in the 1930s at Tacos Árabes Bagdad and Antigua Taqueria La Oriental, but took the form of pork (itself a Spanish import) served on a small pita-like tortilla called pan árabe. Continue reading