Dallas is a taco wonderland. When questions of the best local culinary offerings are raised, the taco is among the first victuals mentioned by the celebrity chef and vagrant alike. That being so, on Saturday, December 11, three friends and I, including tour leader and former City of Ate blogger Steve Doyle, shuttled 14 taco lovers through the streets and highways of Big D in the same Merry Prankster-like bus Doyle led the Dallas Burger Tour. Aside from the excited and hungry company, our constant companion was the carbon monoxide filling the vehicle that had many of us (myself included) lightheaded by the end of the five-hour, six-stop excursion. Sometimes, eating tacos is a risky proposition.
What follows are brief reviews of some of the tacos sampled throughout the day.
La Paisanita Taqueria 4447 Maple Ave. 214-521-0200 Our first stop was down the road from our starting point. The taquería is one of a chain of family-owned La Paisanita shops dotting Dallas. Here, the tortillas were oily discs with crunch, and lemon wedges replace lime. The barbacoa was as tough as butchers twine. The lengua was silky with hints of cinnamon, perhaps a dash of cumin, rendering unnecessary the bland salsa roja packed with chile seeds or the smooth salsa verde. Earthy and sweet, the lengua, combined with the barbacoa, was an auspicious beginning to our journey.
El Atoron Taqueria y Torteria 2023 N. Henderson Ave. 214-887-8846 An Orthodox Jewish friend once told me, "a Jew seen entering or leaving a church is a grave sin." Ungrilled suadero is a grave sin. The meat was carnation pink, having been steamed or boiled. From where I stood, it was difficult to see the kitchen. The chorizo was like magenta-colored, slightly piquant tofu crumble. That is to say, unappetizing. One of our group strayed from the day's mission and ordered a gordita. His reaction was one of stomach pains and grimaces. Needless to say, the consensus of the tourists was singular: El Atoron was a terrible place. For the record, this stop was not one of my recommendations.
Tacos El Guero 4500 Bryan St. 214-923-0394 The best taquería in Dallas continues to wow first-timers (who are given a free suadero taco, the joint's specialty). It's a ramshackle shop where the emphasis is on the kitchen, within which the staff moves with precision and serenity. Customers have little wiggle room and play a shuffling game where the object is to not squash toes or elbow ribs. But the suadero, a brisket cut with charred tips that flakes at a squeeze between index finger and thumb, is worth the wait. The cabeza (literal translation: head, better translation: cheek) deserves to supplant El Guero's suadero as the best taco in town. Juicy and packed with soft, plump globules of fat, the meat filling rests in warm white corn tortillas that confine everything but the glistening liquid released as the cabeza cools. Let it run down your fingers. Let the best taco in Dallas do whatever it wants.
El Tizoncito Taqueria 3404 W. Illinois Ave., Suite 100 214-330-0839 Mistaken for a chain (though there are now two outposts) for its sleek interior color scheme of oranges and yellows, El Tizoncito serves tacos al pastor, the unofficial taco of Mexico City's streets. This eatery is considered one of Dallas' top taquerías. The long knots of pork cut from a vertical spit called a trompo and nestled in sweet -- and of inconsistent quality -- corn tortillas certainly do put the Oak Cliff-area restaurant up there with El Guero. However, it's the choriqueso that deserves prominence here. Large ladles of perfectly cooked, finger-staining soft chorizo (not the dry pebbles offered up in tacos) married to gooey white cheese atop of a trio of spongy flour tortillas, this dish is why you visit El Tizoncito.
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Fuel City 801 N. Industrial Blvd. 214-426-0011 The storied picadillo (ground beef with onions and cubed potatoes) taco, the gas station/convenience store/longhorn ranch/car wash/amusement park's signature taco, is the Catcher in the Rye of tacos: over-hyped and underwhelming. Actually, underwhelming doesn't come close. The filling was hot and spicy vomit.
Bachman Tacos & Grill 3311 W. Northwest Highway 214-352-0010 Reportedly, a certain rotund Dallas chef's favorite taco is made at this taquería in a Chevron station across from Bachman Lake. At the last stop, we ordered from the cashier and walked to the rear of the store were taqueros took our receipts and sliced thin, wide cuts from the conical pork and flipped tortillas with deft attention. Filled sparingly to allow for easy manipulation, Bachman does make an excellent rendition of the pastor for 99 cents.
Lessons Learned Five hours -- and one Champagne bottle opened with saber -- later we had returned to our cars a little heavier and much happier than we were early on that blustery day. By all accounts, the Dallas Taco Tour was a success. Participants asked about future events. I confirmed that we were already discussing the second tour, but that next time we'd probably focus on one neighborhood, like the stretch of Maple Avenue from where we set off or East Dallas. Stay tuned.