Monday, December 13, 2010
Dallas foodies went on a taco tour to find best tacos in town
Don't read this story if you are hungry.
The troops were rounded up once again on a journey hot off the heels from the success of the burger tour. Our cruise director, Steve Doyle, invited a variety of guests including bloggers, a chocolatier, taco enthusiasts, and folks who just enjoy good food. The itinerary for the day was compiled from wisdom provided by local food writers such as Andrew Chalk from the D Magazine SideDish blog and the discerning taco fanatic at City of Ate, Jose Ralat. I also made a couple contributions here and there.
The metroplex has several neighborhoods with pockets of taquerias. For example, in Carrollton, they are scattered all over Josey Lane within close proximity to the Belt Line intersection. The tour specifically targeted Oak Cliff, East Dallas, and the area nearby Bachman Lake, which is remarkable for having such a massive number of taquerias and Mexican eateries in a small area. We whittled down about two places in each neighborhood, and there was one particular spot selected as a point of investigation. I’ll share some light commentary on each stop, but all in all, the primary focus is directed on the tacos themselves.
All tacos were ordered con todo (with everything; typically cilantro and onions) y de maiz (on a corn tortilla). Feel free to correct me, but I’m fairly sure that none of the tortillas at these stops were made by hand.
My gut instinct told me that there is no way I’m going to be able to down more than one taco at each stop, so I opted to share tacos with Andrew so we could comfortably taste each taqueria’s offerings. At La Paisanita, we ordered a lengua (tongue) and barbacoa (braised beef).
Take another glance at the texture of the tortilla (posted above). I point this out since I wasn’t fond of the Frito chip-like crispiness which wasn’t far off from a greasy fried shell. The cilantro and onions were served on the side to taste, along with a sauteed sweet onion. The filling on both tacos were good; the barbacoa was soft from the braising and the lengua was tender. However, they also did not leave a lasting impression, and greatly benefited from the spicy salsa verde.
El Atoron claims to do 100% Districto Federal-style tacos, which sounded promising. After this visit, seems to me they have other strong points such as their huaraches and tortas gigantes that are bigger than my face.
The order at El Atoron included suadero (brisket), al pastor (pork), and chicharron (pork skin). The tortilla offered at this taqueria was an improvement; slightly charred while not soggy. Jose raised an immediate red flag because of the pink texture of the suadero as opposed to the mental image of dark, burnt ends that you’d typically picture from hearing the word brisket. Don’t take this as a sign that you could get sick; maybe this could have just been an off day. The slightly sweet al pastor made up for the shortcomings of the suadero. Enjoyed the charred ends, but it was about average on juiciness.
Steve hit a home run by making an off menu request to put together a chicharron taco. Ordering one of these is typically a dice roll as I haven’t found any pattern that would indicate which variation you’ll receive: stewed or (my preference) crispy. The chicharron at El Atoron had a little bit of both, showcasing contrasting textures bathed in a slightly spicy sauce.
Yelp might actually be making a step towards reliability since the feedback on that site put this taqueria on the radar. A quick skim down the menu shows typical offerings, but I immediately locked onto cabeza (head). When you walk in, you’ll be asked, “¿esta la primera vez?” (is this your first time?). If so, you are greeted with a suadero taco, gratis. I’ve read reports where they’ll even give out a cabeza taco, so this might simply be a rite of passage to permanently convert newcomers into taco gueros.
The wonderfully moist suadero had remarkable variations in textures, indicating that there are other cuts of meat that played a supporting role for this delightful taco. The beefy flavors were contrasted by the cilantro and zest of the onion and a light squeeze of lime. The soft tortilla just barely grazed the grill to have the perfect level of light char and minimal grease. El Guero’s tortillas were unmatched on this day.
Our full order included three tacos: suadero on the bottom right (previously discussed above), the minced up bits of cabeza on the top left, and a generous hunk of lengua on the top right. This was the first time I had seen lengua served as a solid chunk of tongue that was tasted lean and beefy, while holding a firm texture. I recommend, in the words of the clever Andrew Chalk “getting a bit o’the old tongue.”
The cabeza is primarily cachete, which are cuts from the cheek, but further examination into the massive pot behind the counter leads me to believe that they have to be using as much of that yummy cow head as possible to get the full effect. These heads stew for hours upon hours in their own juices. If you’ve ever had uni (sea urchin), imagine that unctuous, smooth, yet greaseless texture. Exchange the light brine of the sea for an assault of beefy goodness. And everyone likes some good head, right? (That’s what she said.)
The pictures and the flavors say it all: El Guero was, by a massive landslide, the overall favorite of the tour. I wish I could have eaten much more.
Fortunately, our stomachs had a brief opportunity to relax. The travel time to our next stop was a little lengthier, as we were transported from East Dallas to Oak Cliff.
Walking into El Tizoncito, a couple things immediately stuck out.
1. Their space was not in a run-down shack. I thought El Fuego up in Richardson was pretty nice, but this place occupies a new-ish looking space in a strip mall and the fixtures appeared to be very lightly used. As Andrew put it, you wouldn’t feel hesitant using their restroom facilities. Based on poking around online, it looks like El Tizoncito is a franchise in DF. They have a second location near the corner of Forest Lane and Webb Chapel in North Dallas.
2. The prominently placed trompo (vertical spit) as you enter cuts to the chase: They want you to order tacos al pastor. Each table was provided with accompaniments to add based on your preference: salsa verde, salsa rojo, cilantro, onion, and remarkably, pineapple. To me, the pineapple on the table places additional emphasis on trying their al pastor.
The choriqueso was a must-order because of Jose’s mouth-watering writeup. The tacos come in sets of threes, so an order of al pastor was shared. We were given an amuse bouche of black bean soup with some ham as an earthy and hearty start to our meal. I also ordered a tamarindo, which had a subtle and fresh tart profile without being too acidic or cloyingly sweet. I can see why the tamarind margarita gets good feedback as it (and possibly, their other margaritas) tastes like it was made from fresh ingredients.
The moist pork on the al pastor was shaved to order, right off the spit. I enjoyed the delightful crunchy char on the ends.
Adding in a little diced pineapple provided textural and flavor variations between the crusty pork and soft pineapple. The tortilla had some corn flavors, but was a little too greasy for me.
I used a spoon to eat the choriqueso (not pictured) as eating by hand involves wrangling the mess of gooey cheese and pork spread across three tortillas. The flour tortillas on the choriqueso was much thicker, which makes sense as it had to hold firm against the weight of the chorizo and the fresh queso.
El Tizoncito was one of the high points of the tour for me. I’ll make a point to try the location in North Dallas that is closer to home. The next stop was supposed to be Taqueria El Si Hay, the taqueria located across Bolsa. However, we voted to omit the stop in the interest of time, and move along.
The stand in the gas station practically needs no introduction as it has been consistenly hailed as one of the top destinations in Dallas by many. However, there’s one key point that most fail to consider: Pat Sharpe’s Texas Monthly article provides zero support for the thesis that the picadillo taco is the best taco in Texas. Nothing in that article explains why you should order that taco over the others on Fuel City’s menu, or for that matter, any other on that list.
I can attest to only having less than a handful of pleasant experiences with the picadillo taco. Many can also wax poetic about the charm of eating tacos off your dashboard at 1 a.m., but how is that any different than just about any other decent taqueria? Are Fuel City’s tacos truly destination-worthy?
It depends. We ordered barbacoa (on the left) and a picadillo (right). The tacos weren’t necessarily bland, the flavors just didn’t spark excitement. The moisture of the barbacoa wasn’t from its own juice; it was from grease. The potatoes were tough to chew. Two super thin mass-produced tortillas couldn’t hold up to the weight of the fillings. A generous squeeze of lime and addition of salsa verde provides massive benefit for flavor. I avoided adding any salsa throughout the past stops, but a large portion from Fuel City’s won’t ruin the palate since it is not too spicy. As much as I hate to agree with Leslie Brenner, I’m with her that the local chain La Paloma does a better taco.
I say it depends because Fuel City does serve a useful purpose. They are open 24/7 and if I’m in that area, that is certainly not a bad option. Especially if I’m out late with friends who seek enlightenment apart from Whataburger taquitos (you know who you are). Overall, I think that Fuel City still gets buzz since it serves as a gateway for people to move past gringo tacos, but that doesn’t mean they’ll step out of that box.
Here’s the final stop of the tour.
Bachman Tacos and Grill (located inside Bachman Lake Chevron)
Similar to El Tizoncito, there’s one major draw to this place: There’s a prominently placed trompo and “tacos de trompo” is located dead center with all capital letters on the menu. They also have a system for taking your order: Go to the gas station’s register, pay for your food, then bring the receipt to the grill area.
The taco de trompo is a taco al pastor that is shaved to order. The char on these was brilliant, but also rode the edge of being overcooked. The red sauce served on the side was a delightfully spicy accompaniment to the pork.
As stated previously, common consensus puts Tacos El Guero at the very top. Just about everything was flawless and I loved the availability of offal options. The tour concluded by sabering a bottle of champagne, and I have a video available on Facebook if interested. It was a pleasure meeting all the interesting people on the tour. Shouts to Steve for putting together another top notch day, keep me posted on the next one.
This story was submitted by a member of the Pegasus News community.