The Great Dallas Brisket Taco Hunt

Five brisket tacos at five places in five hours: It's more meat -- and more fun -- than it seems.

Joe, our third fellow glutton, had joined us by now, so we made him eat two to catch up. He finished quickly — too quickly, really — and we tossed our baskets in mock triumph and headed for the door.

Taco Republic, 2:07 p.m.

"This looks like a Whataburger," Nick said as we walked (or did we waddle?) into Taco Republic, which hangs on the edge of U.S. 75 in Richardson. He was being generous. The salmon-colored tables and terra cotta tile floors invoked a fast-food joint from the late '60s. The place had a fresh coat of paint and a new sign out front, but inside things were pretty drab.

Taco Republic's version had actual barbecue sauce. And pickles.
Sara Kerens
Taco Republic's version had actual barbecue sauce. And pickles.

Ron Guest, the co-founder of Café San Miguel, turned this former La Paloma Taquería into a new-style taco joint. Thankfully he put more thought into his menu than he put into his interior design. He uses traditional techniques for his slow-braised brisket meat, which was juicy, rich and fatty. But then he gets weird, adding crispy fried onions and smoky barbecue sauce to give the delicious and basic filling a distinctly Texan flare.

Taco Republic's smokehouse taco demonstrated that shunning tradition can sometimes lead to some amazing taco innovations. Those innovations are on display all around the city, and they may have started at Mia's Tex Mex, the stroller-friendly fajita factory in Oak Lawn. I'd had their tacos before, but a recent conversation with Lisa Fain, the author of the Homesick Texan cookbook, shined a new light on what has become one of Dallas' most important tacos.

"The use of melted white cheese with meat in a taco wasn't really seen in Texas until the Dallas-style brisket taco," Fain told me, describing the addition of Monterey Jack, sauteed onions and poblano strips, along with a pan gravy, a byproduct of meat braising, that's served on the side.

Fain gives Mia's credit for the Tex-Mex brisket taco, and Mia's menu gives credit for the recipe to Butch Enriquez. He opened the restaurant with his wife in 1981, and those gravy-drenched tacos have been a hit ever since. Many Tex-Mex restaurants now offer a similar taco.

New-style taco restaurants, however, continue to try to put their own spin on things, and Taco Republic's offering is a worthy addition to the brisket tacos of Dallas. A sprinkle of fried cilantro added nothing, but a small plastic cup of pickles livened things up. The acid from the brine was a necessary addition, cutting the rich flavors of that fatty brisket.

Those pickles also brought a hint of roadside Texas barbecue to my mouth. Guest, I realized, had replaced a slice of white bread with a pre-made corn tortilla, and a Texas taco was born anew.

Torchy's Tacos, 2:42 p.m.

My seat-back was nearly horizontal by the time we shoved off from the Republic, but the soft murmuring sounds of discomfort didn't seem to bother Nick, our driver, who proved to be a great fellow taco hunter. As two of us moaned about the meat and masa expanding in our guts — three brisket tacos is a lot more than it sounds like — Nick bolstered morale, greedily diving into each taco and leading the charge to the next stop, all while proclaiming his constant and ravenous hunger. Truth be told, I needed this support. As we pulled up to Torchy's, a shiny gringo taco shop in the heart of shiny gringo land, the enthusiasm I'd basked in at the beginning of our adventure had festered into a dark and seedy taco resentment.

The logo for Torchy's blares like a bad tattoo. The Austin-based chain caters to young people who like to spend big money for big tacos. Apparently Preston Hollow has a lot of these folks — now well into the afternoon, the line at Torchy's stretched to the door.

Four bucks may seem expensive for a single taco, but Torchy's piled loads of irregular cubes of pink, intensely smoky brisket into a sizable flour tortilla. "Is there bacon on this?" someone asked. "No," our champion eater answered. "It's just that smoky." And it was good.

It became apparent that none of these tacos was going to easily outshine the other. While some were executed with more culinary acumen than others, they were all different tacos. Some incorporated elements of authentic Mexican techniques, others leveraged Tex-Mex flavors and some were borne out of Texas' barbecue culture. All of them brought something new to the taco table (but sadly, none of them used handmade tortillas).

Buttery onions, shredded jack cheese, an avocado slice and pickled jalapeños made for heavy eating at Torchy's. It was a true Texas taco: If bigger is better, way bigger is way better. Still, it had its appeal. "I'm kinda into this one," I told my taco compatriots, after wiping the brisket grease from my fingers. My body disagreed.

Rusty Taco, 3:16 p.m.

As we pulled into the small parking lot of Rusty Taco, I experienced a temporary bout of synesthesia. I swore I could see the smell of browning meat that poured over my senses, and I could smell my pending fear. I was so full I thought briefly about purging into one of the paletas carts, lovingly staged out front of a taco shop that now represented my personal hell. I say this only to provide context to the following statement:

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29 comments
Guest
Guest

Casa Milagro in Richardson has awesome briskey tacos.

Steve
Steve

That bottom taco looks way 70's.

Seanewell
Seanewell

Check out Long Boat Key Tacos & Catering at the Deep Ellum Arts Festival over Easter Weekend!!!

RGV41
RGV41

Does the O have something against Fuzzy's? I never see Fuzzy's mentioned in the myriad of taco articles...

Raine Devries
Raine Devries

LaGrange's tasty brisket tacos are sadly missing from this list!

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin

For what his taco hunt was, it was a successful trip. Almost any true taqueria or mexican taco joint is not going to have brisket tacos, they all use the barbacoa style. Im just glad fuzzys didnt make the list, probably the shittiest tacos Ive ever eaten. and since Scott or the CoA is taking requests, how bout a chicken parm crawl. I need to know who has the best in town please

Putomamon
Putomamon

This is much more like an short outing than a "Great Hunt". It's merely a single sortie in a larger war.

There's 10 taco places near my old job in Carrollton, there's 10 near my house, 20 near my current job, 20 near my wife's job, 15 more over on the other side of town if we are visiting the in-laws...

I recommend a full monthly spot devoted to this great battle. It would take years to get through them all and would make you a true scholar of the subject.

To be a true taco nerd, you must envelop yourself with your subject matter. As is, you have simply done the "wikipedia book report" version.

Kevin
Kevin

Is this a Dallas Morning News article? Or maybe D magazine blog post? I expect something a little less 'OMG I'm living on the edge by leaving Uptown/Park Cities' from the Dallas Observer. Gringo tacos are almost as overdone as upscale burgers.

Wayne L
Wayne L

I think it's also worth mentioning that brisket tacos are simply another alternative to barbacoa tacos. Obviously the gringo taco spots you went to and friendly tex-mex places aren't putting a cabeza into the ground overnight and also dont allow for too much unsightly fat. So enter brisket. Still nice and beefy and recognizable to any local, yokel, bbq-fan or texan.

I think they have a place and are not a "bastardization" at all. Sometimes you want some beef in a taco...and not shitty-ass ground beef.

btw, I'm not so sure DC is considered the "North" neither in current nor historical context.

Jim Brashear
Jim Brashear

If you're in the mid-cities, try El Taco.H, which is co-located with Baja Grill in Grapevine and Watagua. http://www.eltacoh.com They have a new concept, Funky Baja Cantina on FM 1709 in Keller, with a menu of tacos. The best is the "Espanto" brisket taco with chorizo.

Gregg
Gregg

blue goose makes some mean brisket tacos. get there early to get it fresh.

kyle
kyle

This article makes me SO sad. These are boutique tacos! If you want REAL tacos, try Tacos La Banqueta in East Dallas, Taqueria El Si Hay in Oak Cliff, Fuel City, or Taco Hut in Lewisville.

Guest
Guest

Who are you targeting with these stories? Someone from up north comes and visits all of the least authentic taco stands in the city, makes a huge deal about eating five tacos over four hours (Really, shut up. It's not that much food), and then the favorite is RUSTY TACO because it reminds you of authentic street tacos? One of the worst tacos places in the entire city is your favorite because you claim it is the most authentic. Has anyone told you that the entire damn city is filled with... you know, actual authentic tacos? El Guero, El Si Hay, etc. You must have passed dozens of these places. Are you scared of Mexicans? You are a complete failure as a food writer.

Aaronstew2003
Aaronstew2003

I was sorry you omitted Mia's. Its my personal favorite brisket taco. Nice to hear about these others though.

Daniel
Daniel

Dude, Mia's invented the damn thing. I like your premise and your writing, but your omissions (the aforementioned being principle among them) are kindalike glaring. Manny's. Hell, even uber-honkytown Fernando's. For the love of St. Christ, man, even Mi Cocina knows better than to stick lettuce in that shit. The places you went to are all good and well, but their target demo is drunk college kids from places like Tyler and the Northeast who know neither Mexican food nor Tex-Mex from the hole in their gosh darned arse (Good2Go excepted and winning special plaudits for creativity).

Guest
Guest

Guess it would help if I could spell brisket.

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin

Fuzzys sucks, it way overrated by it cult following

Daniel
Daniel

Fuzzy's does indeed blow. Its success is mystifying.

Scott Reitz
Scott Reitz

....I'm not so sure DC is considered the "North" neither in current nor historical context...

Tell that to these other guys...

Daniel
Daniel

Brisket tacos are an authentic local specialty in a city that is, frankly, inauthentic most of the time. Give'em some lovin' fer chrissakes.

And BTW, Fuel City is way overrated. El Si Hay is awesome, though.

Beda
Beda

Guest, it's really chicken of you to make the rude remarks about Scott that you did without using your real name. Please be man enough to make such statements out in the open instead of hiding behind the anonymity of "Guest."

Deep_Sigh
Deep_Sigh

Good grief as soon as he gets the urge for a tripas taco, I'm sure he'll find a sufficiently authentic place to please the purists.

Craig Greene10
Craig Greene10

This is my family that owns the Rusty Taco and i agree with Scott about this carpet bagger. I am glad you liked them Scott.

Scott Reitz
Scott Reitz

What a carpet bagger this guy, huh?

Thing is, I wanted to go on a brisket taco crawl so that's what I did. I didn't want to go on a suadero, or a barbacoa crawl, but a brisket taco crawl because one of my readers requested it. The word brisket is English which led me to research Americanized brisket tacos in Dallas. I ate at Mia's, Avilla's and Manny's to gain some understanding of the original Dallas brisket taco and Tex-Mex influences. Mia's got its very own blog post and a mention in this story. And then I went to five places that I thought built on that theme in some way or another, and offered something new.

And by they way I'm not afraid of Mexicans. I find them delicious.

Scott Reitz
Scott Reitz

I like some other things at Good 2 Go, but I'm just looking at brisket here and Taco Republic's was far more innovative.

RGV41
RGV41

I'm not a Fuzzy's cultist, but I'm not a hater either. They don't suck.

informed opinion
informed opinion

Yeah you're right, in order for them to grow from 1 store in 2003 to 42 in 2012 they must suck hard. Haterade?

CheeryBitch
CheeryBitch

Fuzzy's is to tacos what Olive Garden is to Italian food. just because they're everywhere doesn't mean they're good. (They're not!)

 
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