Kathy Tran
A platter of picadas: soft masa discs topped with different colors of salsa, black beans, pork

Limon's Is the Oak Cliff Mexican Classic You've Probably Never Heard Of

During Hidden Gems Week, the Observer food and drink writers are celebrating an abundance of diverse, delicious restaurants and bars around Dallas, places that don’t often (or ever) get mentioned by big-name food media, trendsetters, bloggers or chefs. We’re taking you outside of the ordinary to help you discover something new.

Next time you’re hungry for dinner in Bishop Arts, hop in the car and drive west on Davis Street. Not a few blocks, to a mainstay like Bolsa; no, drive farther west, past the macaron and popsicle shops at Polk Street, past the Kessler Theater. Drive by even the legendary dive bar Tradewinds. Your destination is two blocks short of Westmoreland Road, in a landscape dominated by auto repair bays and elote carts. Across the asphalt from a tire shop and a brake shop is Limon’s.

Limon’s is one of the best-kept secrets of Oak Cliff, a restaurant with roots in the bright Caribbean flavors of Veracruz and Tabasco. There’s a reason it’s not better known across Dallas: This tiny spot has just six booths and a large communal table. (When it opened two years ago, several of the tables were the folding variety you might use for card games.) The menu is posted on one wall, with pictures of every item; order at the counter and grab a seat if one is available.

Limon’s may be small, but the flavors coming out of its kitchen are big.

Kathy Tran
Owner Francisca Limon cooks with Maria Elia, while Francisca's daughter, Dania, serves guests.

The kitchen here showcases Gulf Coast specialties like mole veracruzano ($12.25), rather than the more popular mole poblano. It’s the sweetest of Mexico’s celebrated mole sauces, as complex, rich and chocolaty as poblano but without the bitter edge. Mole veracruzano still brings some modest spice, though, and works magnificently on enchiladas, especially paired with a slab of vivid red pastor-marinated pork.

Many of the loyal customers who crowd the booths come for antojitos and tacos, especially on Cowboys game days, when the waiters wear team jerseys and hats. Picaditas, empanadas, garnachas, tamales, sopes: Limon’s has them all.

Kathy Tran
Cochinita pibil tacos

Cochinita pibil tacos ($1.79 each) are bursts of color double-wrapped in good corn tortillas, the slow-cooked pork tender and citrus-sweet, the garnish a ferocious slice of pickled habanero pepper. Tacos de barbacoa de borrego (lamb), served on weekends for the same cost, aren’t quite as exciting. Another weekend special, pozole rojo ($9), makes a hearty, deeply comforting cold-weather (or hangover) cure, especially the meltingly tender, just-fatty-enough morsels of pork among the hominy.

Limon’s sports three variations on tamales: the common corn-husk variety ($1 each), a variation called chanchamitos ($1.49 each) that are fatter and rounder, and tamales veracruzanos ($2 each), larger still and wrapped in banana leaves. All are good, and the rounded chanchamitos are flecked with red chile pepper, but don’t miss the tamales veracruzanos, with a moist, rich masa and a generous portion of your chosen meat, like pulled chicken coated in deep red spices.

One special not posted on the menu wall — instead, it’s shown in a photograph leaning against the cash register — is picadas y huevos ($10.15), one of the most satisfying brunch dishes in Dallas. The platter comes with two soft masa discs topped with different colors of salsa, a generous serving of scrambled eggs and an equally heaping helping of creamy black beans. The eggs are mixed up with diced tomatoes, onions and green peppers, and the beans are topped with a handful of chips, which helps to make the platter as photogenic as it is delicious.

Bring enough friends and you can justify adding gorditas ($10 for four) to the banquet, stuffed with meat and potatoes and served still glistening hot from the fryer. A similar, even more delightful option: garnachas ($9 for four). Garnachas, which are still tragically rare in Dallas, are a variation on tostadas, in which a corn tortilla is gently fried until crisp but not crunchy, with air pockets bubbling up around the edges. The bases then get topped with a small scoop of beans, a helping of meat, onions and queso fresco. Simple, hearty, perfect.

Kathy Tran
The enchiladas verdes plate

Even the more common Mexican standards are different at Limon’s, like the daredevils-only enchiladas verdes ($12). The salsa verde here is a kick in the face, one of the hottest salsas in the city. It comes on the side with other dishes — try it on gorditas or the picadita plate — but real spice lovers should order salsa verde slathered over the enchiladas, where there is no rest and no reprieve from the sauce’s tangy heat.

Truthfully, everything at Limon’s ranges from pretty good to great. The service is friendly and genuine, and after a couple of visits everyone is likely to remember you. The restaurant charges for water, but it’s also BYOB, and during Cowboys games or marquee soccer matches it’s common to see jersey-clad fans chowing down on tacos with a case of Corona on their table.

After Oak Cliff’s beloved Tex-Mex institution El Corazon de Tejas closed and was demolished to make way for a CVS, the neighborhood has been searching for a new favorite family place to eat enchiladas and feel a true sense of community. Don’t tell any of those searchers about Limon’s. It’s too small and too welcoming to handle the crowds. These garnachas, chanchamitos and enfrijoladas will have to be our little secret.

Limon’s, 3105 W. Davis St., 214-330-0947. Open 9 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday,  9 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Brian Reinhart has been the Dallas Observer's food critic since spring 2016. In addition, he writes baseball analysis for the Hardball Times and covers classical music for the Observer and MusicWeb International.