What’s better than Saturday shopping for the holidays in December? Several intrepid souls decided it would be a better idea to take a tour of local taquerias in a groovy school bus. The agent provocateur was Critic’s Guide writer, Steven Doyle. You know Steven. He’s the one who recently conducted the 2010 Dallas Burger Tour. We armed ourselves with coolers of beer and wine (and even a saber-wielding Champagne decapitator) and headed out to sample seven of the alleged best in Dallas.
jump to read more…
I jump ahead to one of the findings on the tour as it will help explain my scoring: There seems to be no single taqueria that is best at everything! People will tell you there is, but it ain’t so. It depends what you eat. For example, we found one establishment where the chicharrón taco was very good but the suadero was totally off color. So I won’t be scoring establishments, but rather foods (either the tacos or the tortillas).
I also needed a means of conveying the meaning of the results of tasting such a revered food. It turns out a tire company in France has found a solution to that one. I am not referring to the pounds of pressure too many tacos can impose on one’s stomach wall, but rather the star system, or in this particular case the asterisk system, denoting the very best. So food examples will receive stars (asterisks) denoting the following:
* Worth an order
** Worth a detour
*** Worth a journey
Zero stars means that it was not anything special. I tasted tacos with onions and cilantro, but initially without salsa. I found salsa can so transform a taco that you have to omit it if you want to taste the meat and tortilla. At every stop, I had corn (rather than flour) tortillas except for the one stop that corn was not available). I also added my own seasoning (typically just salt) as it seems more common than not for tacos to arrive unseasoned in the expectation that the customer will season them to taste.
We started from the parking lot of Elliott’s on Maple Avenue and drove the just a few blocks to our first stop. Here are the taquerias, listed in the order visited.
1: La Paisanita Taqueria at Maple and Lucas. This is a different branch of the same chain reviewed here a few weeks ago. This branch has doors, and walls, and even a bathroom. Each branch of La Paisanita is owned by a different member of the same family. We scanned the taco-heavy menu. I wanted to try every one, in a gesture towards comprehensiveness but, faced with the prospect of seven stops, this was going to require some pacing. I settled on trying to do the same type of tacos at every stop and sharing them with another blogger who both had the same respect for his digestive system and did not have any communicable diseases. The latter proved easier than the former. It turns out that the only sure things in taco types are chicken and beef.
Lengua (tongue): * Moist and tasty. Correct gelatinous texture.
Barbacoa (barbecue): ** Made from cow neck meat. Chewy texture with a strong beef taste.
The salsas were good, with the red being hotter than the green. Tortillas were bought in, but were fresh and warmed for service.
2. El Atoron. The first of our two stops in East Dallas. El Atoron is situated on the part of Henderson Avenue where there was once a park and now there is Park Restaurant. Its foursquare premises are unmistakable Gothic architecture minus the flying buttresses. The drive-thru sign is authentic McDonald’s, and the shopping cart conveniently located just down the street has been there most of the week. Inside our group crowded out the tiny place but friendly staff took our visit in stride.
El Atoron Suadero (belly/leg area): A weird light pink color resembling canned salmon. After cautious testing we agreed that it was cooked. However, little taste. I wonder if they boiled the meat?
Al pastor (pork): * Designated as ‘carne al pastor’ on the menu. The meat was tasty and moist.
Chicharrón: ** Not on the menu but His Doyleness knew to ask (I take back half the bad things that I have said about him). This taco was one of the discoveries of the tour. Piquant red sauce and salty, expressive pork. I will make this a regular order. Candidate for Taco of The Tour.
A special mention has to go their tortillas (**). They don’t make the taco tortillas (although they do make their quesadilla tacos from local masa). However, they lightly toast the tortillas on the same hot grill used for the meat. The result is a singed edge that has all the comfort food associations of toasted bread.
3. Tacos El Guero. Is Bryan and Carroll the most fru-fru part of town? No. It is kind of shabby actually and we had heard that the pan handlers were aggressive (however, the only one that we asked for money from was very nice). This is the location for a liquor store with one corner turned over to a tiny taqueria containing a handful of indoor seats hard up against the wall next to the serving counter. Under the distinctive yellow awning is an owner so friendly that first-time customers get a free taco.
Lengua: * One big chunk (rather than shredded) was a surprise but it was fork-tender when we pulled it apart.
Barbacoa: *** ‘Cabeza’ is the menu designation. Made from jowl of the cow. Candidate for Taco of The Tour. The meat was succulent and soft. The taste was mouth filling.
Suadero: * Correct color and taste.
The lady in charge showed us inside the million gallon pot where they prepare the cabeza (cow head). The picture is rather steamy but those are dozens of jowls cooking away.
4. El Tizoncito. This place is positively upscale compared with every other one on the tour. The seats are padded. The walls are painted a pleasing ochre. The trompo on prominent display behind the counter is a carefully composed centerpiece and the menu is the most extensive of any of the establishments we visited by a long way. Owner Leo Spencer has already expanded to another branch north of the Trinity River and could probably franchise this concept if he chose to.
Pastor: * Reliable pork tacos. We could eat these all day. They come chopped from the trompo (vertical spit).
Choriqueso: *** Another discovery of the tour. Chorizo is topped with melted cheese in the classic cheese and meat combination. Flour tortillas provide an earthy foil to the salt in the meat. Candidate for Taco of The Tour.
An honorary mention should go to El Tizoncito’s tamarind drink. It is unusual and food friendly.
5. Fuel City Tacos. This place had to be included on the agenda due to the virulent followers that claim Fuel City has the best tacos in town. Putting it on the tour would give us all a chance to put them into context.
Barbacoa: The roast beef is hearty and filling. The problem with our tacos was that meat seemed to have sat too long, giving them a burned and stewed taste.
Picadillo (beef, potato and green chili): * . I am told that this is the taco that put Fuel City tacos on the map. I can see why. Clever idea adding potato to a meat taco. It makes the taco more like an empanada filling in a tortilla.
6. Trompo Taco. Several places with this name populate the city. This one is at the end of the Love Field runway next to Bachman Lake. We went because it is His Doylenesses’ favorite and formerly a secret known only to him and, apparently, chef Kent Rathbun. It is in a Chevron gas station and you order your taco at the gas station counter and take the chit they give you next door to the taqueria where they prepare your order.
Pastor: * Meat has a tasty char. Nothing like this taco elsewhere on the tour.
The salsa was the hottest on the tour but did not concede taste. The thing that let us down here was the tortillas. They were boring. They came straight from a plastic bag and not prepared in any way. The dull tortillas cost this taco a star.
Taqueria El Si Hay: Our seventh stop was scheduled to be Taqueria El Si Hay in The OC, but we could not make it. We begged not to be forced to eat any more and swore that we would not eat any more tacos as long as we live. But we will, and when we do, another taco tour will scratch a little deeper below the surface of what is a fascinating food.