Category Archives: Reviews

Tacos Mariachi

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Cesar, the Tijuana donkey zebra, welcomes you to Tacos Mariachi.

For months I watched as demolition and renovation of the old Taqueria La Chilanga plodded along. I peeked in the windows, took photos, snooped (I mean, acted like a journalist), and waited. I got to talking to Jesús Carmona, owner of the restaurant replacing the husband-and-wife-run La Chilanga, and learned what was coming: Tacos Mariachi, a Tijuana-style taqueria. The idea excited me. In less than a year, Dallas had become home to Mi Lindo Oaxaca, an Oaxacan restaurant, La Norteña, a Sonoran-style tortilleria, and Resident Taqueria, a chef-driven Lake Highlands neighborhood spot. And soon, a joint would be slinging Baja California border-inspired fare, broadening Dallas’ taco diversity.

But I had to wait longer than expected. Tacos Mariachi’s opening was repeatedly delayed. My anticipation increased. The first opportunity I had, I bit into the seafood campechano, an octopus-propelled taco studded with juicy chopped steak held firm to a crisped flour tortilla by a layer of melted asadero cheese. Adding thin lines of tart salsa verde and fruity habanero-mango salsa transform the package into something as bright and playful as the patio mural honoring Tijuana’s iconic tourist attraction, the donkey zebra. The mural also includes cheeky statements like Hasta puedes tomar agua (You can even drink the water) and a streetscape representing the Mexican city’s Avenida Revolucion with painted structure outlines standing in for Banorte and Oak Cliff’s Araiza Tortilleria, where Tacos Mariachi gets its tortillas.

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Filed under Reviews, Texas, West Dallas

Curbside Tacos: Leo’s Taco Truck, Tacos La Guera, Los Originales Tacos Arabes de Puebla, and Mariscos Jalisco

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As far as taco capitals north of the border, it’s hard to beat Los Angeles. Often called the largest Mexican city outside of Mexico, the city is home to an intimidating array of tacos styles served in fast-casual spots, full-service restaurants, makeshift corner setups and food trucks.

Faced with compiling a survey of those options for a two-and-a-half day LA taco trip the first week of February proved difficult but fun. The list was revised from 25 stops to 40 and then down to approximately 20. It could have been 70! Four businesses that were on the itinerary from the start were Leo’s Taco Truck, Tacos La Guera, Los Originales Tacos Arabes de Puebla and Mariscos Jalisco. Continue reading

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Filed under California, East LA, Los Angeles, Reviews

Tacoqueta [Update]

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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

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Filed under Dallas, DFW, Oak Cliff, Reviews, Uncategorized

The 2015 Taco Trail Year in Review and Taco Honorable Mentions

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It’s been a sweet year for tacos.

It was a banner year for tacos and for the Taco Trail. Not only was the Texas Monthly taco issue published, but also Mike Sutter of Fed Man Walking sought out #500 Tacos, and taco books and Mexican cookbooks were let loose into the world. They included Lesley Tellez’s Eat Mexico: Recipes and Stories From Mexico City’s Streets, Fondas and Markets, an excellent introduction to Mexico City’s cuisines through visually fetching photographs and hunger-inducing accessible recipes. The book takes its name from the food tour company Tellez established while living in Mexico City from 2009–2013. If you want an authoritative, immersive account of Mexico City and it’s food culture, Eat Mexico is the book for you. Alex Stupak and Jordana Rothman’s TACOS: Recipes + Provocations takes the outsider’s audacious stance, mingles it with what the rest of the country might call a New Yorker’s cockiness, and then infuses it with the sincere desire to learn and adapt. Stupak who is often falsely accused of gringo-izing and cheffing tacos understands the fundamental truth of the taco as a regional representation of a specific time and place based on the tortilla. It’s the use of adjuncts to make tortillas that fascinates me the most. In Mexico and in America’s taco hubs, it’s not unusual to find corn tortillas made with the addition of nopales and chiles. In their book, Stupak and Rothmam offer tortillas made with rye, saffron and more. As for the tacos: I get a kick out of such renditions as the pastrami taco. This is a thing of beauty. It gives us a glimpse of the developing regional New York City taco style, something as legitimate as the San Antonio’s puffy taco or Mexico City’s taco al pastor. Also released this year is Phaidon’s English translation of La Tacopedia, billed as the first comprehensive encyclopedia of taco in Mexico. The original, written by Alejandro Escalante paints taco history and styles with a broad stroke, highlighting major historical markers before diving into regional provenance and the populist nature of taco culture. Infographics displaying the proper method to eating tacos, interviews with longtime taco masters, content listing the breadth of diversity that leaves the reader salivating, a fanciful illustrated map to Mexico’s regional specialty: It’s all there and all cool. It’s everything a taco lover could want. I love La Tacopedia. The English translation, however, is uneven. Take the name of the taco styles: Whereas tacos al pastor are left untranslated to “shepherd-style tacos,” tacos de guisados becomes “stewed tacos” and tacos de canasta becomes “basket tacos.” Readers confident they have a grasp of authentic tacos when they step into a taqueria might be dismayed when stewed tacos or basket tacos aren’t on the menu. That is a minor quibble, because if you want a useful, solid introduction to tacos as an American reader, Tacopedia is your book.

I met Alejandro when he was an honored guest at the North Texas Taco Festival, an event I co-founded in 2013, and was immediately charmed by his humor, passion and knowledge. That trinity was on display during my visit to La Casa de los Tacos, the taqueria co-owned by Alejandro, in Mexico City’s Coyoacán neighborhood, in January of this year. It was at La Casa de los Tacos that my traveling companions and friends Nick Zukin, Robert Strickland, and I began our last night in DF. The dinner there, which included food blogger Gastrobites, artist-food blogger mexicanfoodporn, and Jason Thomas Fritz, Mexico City guide for the great food tour company Club Tengo Hambre, was a mezcal-fueled lesson in how taco history and the innovation can share real estate. You can read more about it here.

What follows is a collection of memorable, noteworthy tacos I enjoyed in 2015, including a few scarfed in Mexico City. Some, like the crab taco at Kiki’s Restaurant, were included in one of my Texas Monthly web exclusive taco roundups but not in the final print edition of The 120 Tacos You Must Eat Before You Die. Maybe they didn’t score well enough to merit listing in the definitive Texas taco list. Perhaps they weren’t candidates for evaluation during the issue’s research period because they hadn’t been opened for at least a year, or were in a city I wasn’t assigned to evaluate, but nevertheless deserve an honorable mention. Continue reading

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Filed under Best of, Mexico City, Reviews, Tacoventura, Texas

El Mercadito Taqueria

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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

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Filed under Dallas, DFW, Reviews

First Bite: Resident Taqueria

A taco tray at Resident Taqueria.

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

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Filed under DFW, first bite, Lake Highlands, Reviews, Texas

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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Filed under Dallas, Reviews, Texas, Uptown

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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Filed under Dallas, Oak Cliff, Reviews

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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Filed under Dallas, Oak Cliff, Reviews, Texas

Habaneros — A Taco Revolution

Fuel up after filling up your car's gas tank.

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

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Filed under Arlington, breakfast tacos, DFW, Reviews, Tex-Mex, Texas