While Shinier Restaurants Rise Around It, El Padrino Keeps Raising the Bishop Arts Bar

Tacos al pastor.
Tacos al pastor.
Lauren Drewes Daniels

Standing at the stoplight where North Bishop Avenue meets Davis, the center of the Bishop Arts District in Oak Cliff, Gloria's, Cafe Brazil and Lockhart's Smokehouse are all a stone's throw away, assuming you have a pocket full of stones and decent aim. Just one block south is Tillman's, Oddfellows and ZEN Sushi, all of which are ace-high eateries that have helped revitalize this small part of Oak Cliff.

Just 20 yards east of this particular T in the road, though, is a cement structure that sits in the back of a mostly empty parking lot. Somewhat of an architectural anomaly, it's built like a cement bunker and is about as tall is it is wide. Painted white with two red stripes at the top, the building obviously lacks the same design budget that other new restaurants in the area have benefited from.

But El Padrino, at 330 W. Davis St., hasn't made it in this area for nearly two decades because of art-deco lighting fixtures. Actually, the only ambiance it offers customers is Mexican music on a set of outdoor speakers and two heat-blasted round cement picnic tables at the side of the parking lot. El Padrino relies on one thing only: the food.

The menu hangs on the front of the taco stand, next to the sliding screen window where they take your order. It offers a full range of basic taco-stand standards, including street tacos, burritos, tortas, tamales, all either as plates or individually. And they dive deeper with items such as chile rellenos, menudo and milanesa (a breaded meat fillet).

I visited the other day and ordered the tacos al pastor (marinated pork) and a chicken torta, which is a thick stuffed tortilla. The sweet ladies working the stand also gave me a free sample of horchata, the traditional Mexican drink, after I asked about it. Everything is made to order, but they're fast. It only took a few minutes.

My tacos were wrapped in warm tortillas with moist, well-seasoned pork, topped with fresh cilantro and onions. I think I could eat them every day of my life. I'd yet to try a Mexican Coke, popular because it's made with refined sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup, but on this occasion it seemed the right thing to do -- and for some odd reason, it was.

The food at El Padrino is fresh and flavorful, but the beauty is in the simplicity of it all, and the proof is in their 18 years of business. It'll be interesting to see how many of their new neighbors last that long.

There's also an El Padrino on Jefferson that has a small dine-in area, but I haven't tried it yet. Be sure to visit their Facebook page for hours, which vary from day to day.

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