It is, by ever-changing neighborhood standards, a small and understated space, just 49 seats and an open kitchen located across the street from Pecan Lodge. But for Regino Rojas, it's the culmination of three years of hard work despite numerous setbacks.
Tonight, beloved Fort Worth Mexican restaurant Revolver Taco Lounge finally opens its Dallas location in the heart of Deep Ellum.
"This place is not supposed to fucking exist at all — everything was against it," Rojas says, sipping tequila in the empty restaurant on a sunny afternoon the day before Revolver was set to open. "I lost investors like three times. It was just a mess, but my plans were always there."
At one point, Rojas had all but decided to scrap the taqueria's second location entirely. That's when Deep Ellum landlord Scott Rohrman stepped in.
"Scott came to the rescue; he believed in me," Rojas says. After Rohrman offered to help open the new Revolver Taco Lounge, Rojas entered into the project with a renewed sense of purpose.
"Especially right now, with all this political bullshit that we have, if somebody has a dream and [Rohrman] invites me and at the same time helps me to create my dream, shit, that’s America right?" Rojas says. "I say yes and come in and do my thing and I'm gonna do it the best I can. How can I fuck that up, you know?"
For Rojas, the American dream is not an abstract concept. Born and raised in Michoacán, Mexico, Rojas left home at age 15 and crossed the border into the United States by foot.
"I came here illegally," Rojas says. "When I was jumping the border, it was five of us, some friends from the neighborhood."
After arriving in the U.S., Rojas settled in Chicago, where he worked in construction for several years before relocating to Texas and eventually becoming an American citizen more than 12 years ago. For Rojas, whether or not to become a citizen of the U.S. was never a choice.
"The first thing in my mind was I'm not gonna fucking walk again that much in my life," he says. "Somehow I have to get papers."
Before opening the first Revolver Taco Lounge, Rojas brought his family to the U.S. and helped his father, Arturo Rojas, open a gun shop and custom engraving business in Fort Worth. His son may be a legend in Texas tacos, but Arturo, too, is a legendary figure; he's known for engraving intricate, hand-etched scroll-work on firearms that Rojas still helps him sell to this day. Rojas originally opened the first Revolver Taco Lounge, in part, to employ his mother — family is a big part of Rojas' businesses. As an immigrant, the path to entrepreneurship hasn't always been easy, but now, more than ever, Rojas says, he's determined to remind people that the American dream isn't just for people who were born in this country.
"Just get your ass to work and keep being a good citizen and nobody should be afraid of anything if you’re a good citizen," Rojas says. "We are here because we’re here, and we’re helping to create something. If they fuck with you after being a good citizen, after doing your shit legally and not breaking the law, then the system is broken."
Rojas' new restaurant may be in Deep Ellum, but he's hoping the new space will transport diners to his hometown in Mexico.
"Shit, I'm bringing Michoacán here," he says. To start, the menu will be small; four or five tacos priced from $2.50 to $3, all served on fresh, house-made corn tortillas. The tacos — al pastor, carne asada, Rojas' popular pulpa taco stuffed with tender, flavorful octopus — will be available daily for lunch, dinner and late at night via a takeout window that will be open until 2 a.m. during the week and 3 a.m. on weekends. Eventually, Rojas will expand the menu with a raw bar of oysters and ceviche, and he'll also serve dishes like mole. He also plans to offer what he calls the "illegal burrito," a recipe based on a burrito he bought from a stranger in the desert while crossing the border into the U.S.
In the small open kitchen, you'll often spot members of his family. His sister will run the Revolver location in Fort Worth while Rojas focuses on Deep Ellum.
"My mom is gonna be here tasting sauces and making sure we’re doing everything right," he says.
Rojas' staff will pull in some major heavy hitters in the Dallas dining scene; his general manager, Hugo Galvan, left Stephan Pyles' Flora Street Cafe to run the new restaurant. Rojas also employs a number of older Hispanic women who help him develop recipes for things like house-made corn tortillas.
"The woman, in Mexico, is a big part of everything," Rojas says. "They're the soul of the kitchen."
Soul is a big part of Rojas' food; each and every taco, from the pulpo to a vegetarian taco filled with Mexican squash, feels like a slice of time and place. Even when utterly simple, Rojas' tacos are exquisite; the love and history and attention is apparent in every single bite. With this new restaurant, Rojas is poised to become the best taco-slinger in Dallas.
But eventually, Revolver will be more than just tacos. In the back of the small shotgun space is an intimate private dining room where Rojas will host multi-course prix fixe dinners featuring the dishes he grew up eating in Michoacán. The dinners will cost around $100 per person and will be reservation only.
"It’s gonna be all traditional Mexican food," Rojas says, "again just using the best product available but always keeping the basics."
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Revolver opens for dinner tonight around 5 p.m. and, starting tomorrow, will be open daily at 11 a.m. At first, the restaurant will be BYOB; once Rojas gets a liquor license, they'll have a small cocktail menu with a robust selection of tequila, mezcal and cocktails such as a basil-cucumber margarita.
But at first, he's starting small.
"It’s gonna be a process, man," Rojas says. "This is gonna be the Revolver that I always wanted to have."
Revolver Taco Lounge, 2701 Main St.