Taco Stop owner Emilia Flores once called to notify me that she had been injured in a car wreck. As a result, she would be late setting up for the taco festival I was curating and at which Taco Stop was to be a vendor. Of course, I told her to go the hospital. Tacos weren’t worth the potential long-term pain from the accident. Flores would hear none of it. She and her team would be there, and they were. Standing rigid and clearly in discomfort, Flores served her rich, street-style tacos on Araiza Tortilla Co.’s aromatic corn tortillas. She did so for nearly eight hours — without stopping.
Emilia Flores is incredible.
She serves phenomenal tacos at her nearly 5-year-old walk-up taqueria in Dallas. There’s the picadillo, an occasional special so juicy you can just about drink it, carrots, potatoes and all. There’s the shredded carnitas, braiding crispy strands of pork with tender, sweet meat. And there’s the seasonal, off-menu stewed squash blossoms, so herbaceous that while consuming it, one believes there are happy children playing in a garden. That garden is your mouth.
But Flores is incredible for another reason: She serves the community with her Leave-A-Coat/Take-A-Coat program in Taco Stop’s parking lot. The setup is a clothes rack and a sign. But for Flores, it’s a subversive political act now in its second year.
“This year I did it again because it’s important in the times we are living in, particularly here in the United States where the rhetoric is one of hate,” she says. “We need reminders that people need to be kind to one another. Nothing else matters.”
A trip to her native Mexico was the inspiration.
“I saw it in a small town,” Flores says. “I thought it was a good idea to provide a space for people to do something for somebody else, and for people who needed something to come and get it without feeling embarrassed about it. They don’t have to ask for charity. They don’t have to ask for something. They just come and grab what they need.”
This year, with the erratic late-fall, early-winter weather — one day it’s 29 degrees, two days later the high is 72 — the program has seen major growth in popularity. Within five minutes of sitting for the interview with Flores, one coat was donated and another was taken. A gentleman I spoke with said he was going to tell his pastor and have news of the program put into the Sunday bulletin.
“Over one weekend, with donations, it was pretty crazy,” Flores says. “On that Monday I came in and most of my tables were covered with coats, sweaters, scarves, everything. I kept the coats and sweaters to give away. That’s all I can really handle. I took everything else to donation boxes. Some people take one. Some people take five. I decided last year it was out of my control. I put it out there and people do what their conscious tells them and what they need.”
The realization of the need for such a program is spreading across Mexico and North Texas.
“I found a page on Facebook that is posting all the places that have it Mexico," Flores says. "They have it in Veracruz. They have it in Hidalgo. It’s spreading.” That’s the point, Flores explains. “Noble Rey Brewing Company, they came and asked me if I minded, and I said, ‘Of course not.’ This year there is also the Power House, which is a gym down the street.”
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This is a counterpoint to the predominant cultural rhetoric.
“Whoever can, should do it. All it takes is a rack and a sign. It’s sort of like that movie: ‘You build it and they will come,’” Flores says, citing the baseball flick starring Kevin Costner, James Earl Jones and Ray Liotta, Field of Dreams. "It’s the same thing.”
There’s an expression in Mexico: A nadie se le niega un taco. No one is denied a taco. Emilia Flores is working to make sure no one is denied protection from the cold with tacos.
Taco Stop, 1900 Irving Blvd.