Los Torres Taquería opened last June, and like many small, family-owned Latino restaurants in Dallas, it began quietly turning out spicy, heady Mexican cooking right under the city's nose. Business has been a little slow, said Ramiro Torres, who runs the restaurant with wife Irene and her sister Evangelina, but he notes the weekends have been picking up on occasion.
Los Torres may have suffered more than other small, family restaurants on account of the previous tenant's reputation for unsanitary food conditions. According to Torres, many customers who came to the old market for tortillas and other staples say they don't recognize the place now that it's a neighborhood taquería. It took six months worth of fresh paint, new lights and kitchen upgrades to wrestle a coveted certificate of occupancy from the city.
The location doesn't help much, either. The small, stand-alone building sits on the corner of West Clarendon Drive and Edgefield Avenue, deep into Oak Cliff and far past the well-lit streets, sidewalks and ample parking of the Bishop Arts District. But those who wander into Los Torres will be rewarded. There is succulent goat spiced with cloves and cinnamon and rich barbacoa made not just with beef, but pork too.
Los Torres Taquera
1322 West Clarendon Drive, 214-946-3770. 8 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday. $
Order both the barbacoa roja and the birria at the back counter and be sure to specify hand-made corn tortillas. The tacos cost around 50 cents extra depending on the meat you choose, but the tortillas are larger, fluffier, stuffed with more meat and ultimately more economical. Freshly pressed flour tortillas are also available but they are dry, thin and gummy in comparison.
Whichever you choose, hand-made tortillas take time, and here each round is made to order, so spend some of your wait perusing the plastic buffet table turned salsa bar, stationed in the middle of the small dining room. Gather onions and cilantro and pickled onions so pink they look straight from a cartoon. Grab the creamy green sauce in a squeeze bottle if you're craving brightness and sunny serrano, or the red one if you'd like something with a more dark and sinister heat. There are various other salsas made from coarsely ground chiles, onions, cilantro and garlic for the taking, provided you have the patience to ladle them into small plastic cups.
When your tacos finally do arrive, you should practice some restraint. Take at least a bite or two to get to know each version before you pull a Jackson Pollock with the endless array of condiments. Irene has been honing these recipes since she was 9, well before she married a truck driver and before she had five daughters. With the help of her sister's offer to bankroll the taquería, she convinced Ramiro his vocation was dangerous and that a family restaurant would help keep the family together. She seduced him with tender shreds of goat meat scented with five different chiles and sweet spices. Now he's surrounded by it seven days a week.
Ramiro prefers his birria stuffed into warm tortillas fresh from the comal, with no embellishment. "Cilantro and onions are nice, but they change the flavors," he said as I looked down at a sturdy, plastic plate littered with the remains of a particularly enthusiastic taco session. My birria long gone, the white dish was a canvas littered with no fewer than five colorful salsas, a scattering of diced onion and the rusty drippings from my spent tacos.
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If goat is not your thing, try the barbacoa roja. To make the stew, Irene simmers large chunks of beef chuck and pork shoulder in enough dried chiles to tinge the meat the color of red clay, but the results are earthy more than spicy. Sometimes the barbacoa roja is presented in large chunks of meat so you can still taste a little beef in one bite, and a little pork in the next. Other times it comes out so finely shredded that individual flavors are indiscernible, but no less delicious. The stew is always rich, moist and exceptionally tasty — but never oily.
If you happen upon Los Torres in the morning, the breakfast tacos may pick you up. Salsa, chorizo, bacon, ham and other breakfast favorites are tucked into more of those freshly made tortillas, often patted out by Ramiro himself or his wife. There wasn't a single visit I made to this restaurant when most of the family wasn't there.
While owning a restaurant may not present the same hazards as driving 16 wheels across 48 states, the hours are no less grueling. Ramiro works seven days a week, as does his wife, and Evangelina is there most days too. Come in on a weekend or a weekday after school and a second Irene will be working the counter. Ramiro's eldest and two of her sisters are doing their part to help realize their mother's vision: a family-owned restaurant in Dallas that stays true to their Sinaloa, Mexico, roots while keeping an already close-knit family tightly sewed together.
You might wonder what it's like to be a man with a wife, a sister-in-law and five daughters wrapped up in a family business. I asked Ramiro if he's going to try once more for a son and his eyes got a little wide. "No more," he replied.