All-American is a series that looks at beloved, longstanding North Texas eateries and examines their histories while exploring how the food has changed — for the good or bad — over the years.
It happens in about 25 seconds.
You can clock it next time you're waiting in line if you’d like: Jose Gaytan plucks steaming corn from a drawer in his cart, skewers it for balance and walks a serrated knife through each side more quickly than you can imagine. The roasted corn kernels fall into a bed of tin foil, where he lops off a rectangle of butter — about the size of a Klondike bar — and tents up the foil. He swipes sour cream into a foam cup, slides in the corn, dusts it with crumbly cheese, does it all again, hits it with chile sauce, jabs in a plastic spoon and then covers everything with tin foil.
If you’re doing things right, you don't wait to eat it — you grab a seat on the ground or the sole bench outside Taqueria El Si Hay, remove the foil and let the corn steam rise around you. You should take a deep breath and enjoy one of the most beautiful, simple, inexpensive meals in Dallas.
On a moonstruck night, the line is starting to curl into the street. While I’m standing in line for elote in the El Si Hay lot, one car, perhaps panicked by the growing line, tries to turn into the parking lot so abruptly that it scrape-bangs into the curb. It makes a horrendous screeching sound that causes everyone to turn. No matter — El Si Hay fans understand. And there are a lot of them, as evidenced by the line winding around the corner every night of the week.
Gaytan fills one side of an elote cup with a mind-clearingly hot, maroon chile sauce, gesturing to one customer to ask if the amount is acceptable. Families dive into their cups quietly and happily. There are almost no words being exchanged at the elote cart. The customer nods, and Gaytan smiles warmly.
Gaytan’s been working the cart for more than two decades. He's there on evenings. When I confirm the timeline, he smiles again, warmth beaming off him.
Waiting in line, I find it hard not to be mesmerized by Gaytan’s speed. The roasty steam is visible as he slices each wall of corn. Stand back far enough and you’ll see pork fog pumping from El Si Hay’s chimney (the taqueria’s been around since 1996), and everything feels right. There’s no menu for the elote cart, there’s no credit card machine (elotes are 3 bucks, cash), there's no rewards program and there’s certainly no fuss. Gaytan’s serving simple, belly-warming food, and that’s it.
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Behind him, at El Si Hay, the phone’s not working, either. The staff zips with lightning speed, too: Poke your head into the window, and you’ll catch the cooks layer foam to-go boxes with pastor tacos in double tortillas, lined up quickly. When I order two pastor tacos and a lengua taco, they say, “Give me five minutes.”
Elote and El Si Hay’s tacos — fast, hot and real — are eaten perfectly off the hood of your car. This is a food experience at its purest. These elotes are not Dallas' best, and they're not worth ranking or Instagramming — just eating and smiling. Forget everything else for a minute. The only things you might want are a stopwatch and a Mexican Coke.
I tap on salsa from a foam cup, a little into the corn, too — the Coke cools the chile heat down sweetly — and it’s a good night in Oak Cliff.
Taqueria El Si Hay, 601 W. Davis St.