The ubiquitous taco force surrounds DFW always, like a layer of cheese and a coating of salsa. The taco has become an overpriced art form at some boutique joints, which is well and good in its time and space, but for strict taco constitutionalists, taquerias are shrines to the simple authenticity of Mexican cuisine.
This list is not meant to be a comprehensive one. Think of it as a conversation starter, a primer for damn good tacos on the cheap on that other side of DFW. In no particular order:
1. Tacos La Banqueta, Fort Worth (2621 Hemphill St.)
OK, I lied. We're going in order from most awesome to also awesome. You've heard about the suadero plenty before, so no belaboring the point here. I'll just say this: the suadero here is every bit as good as fellow Fort Worth establishment Salsa Limon's El Capitan, but for less than half the price. Also, there appears to be no drop-off in quality from either of the Dallas locations to the one in Fort Worth, which is notable for a taqueria chain. Both the salsa verde and roja are great, just like the Dallas locations, so don't be afraid to load a taco with both, if you can handle the sting. Their tacos al pastor might be just as good as the suadero, and better than any other item listed here. I got the first horchata of a new batch, and watching the staff simply dump the three necessary ingredients in equal amounts from buckets into the horchata holding tank was the only disappointing part of the visit. You'd think, based on the ambrosia that comes out, that more went into the preparation.
2. Meli's Taqueria, Fort Worth (4304 Vickery Blvd.)
Beautiful gifts come from a shack on Vickery Blvd at Meli's. Hand painted siding panels and signs take customers through the simple menu that features four broad choices: tortas, tacos, burritos and gorditas. But the outer fug gives way to some inner beauty at this place because the plating and presentation at Meli's was far beyond expectations for a taqueria, even in its Styrofoam takeaway box. Pick your meat and your medium and you cannot go wrong here. Now, Meli (if that is a real person) knows she's Fort Worth famous, and the prices are a little higher than at other taquerias in the area. But you're by no means breaking the bank, and the portions are bigger here than anywhere else on the list, save maybe No. 3. The onion, tomato slice and avocado added to the gargantuan gordita are a nice touch that gives life to an item that at other spots is simply masa and meat.
3. Taqueria Acapulco, Fort Worth (1515 N Main St.)
This place easily wins best rice on the list. And best carne asada. And best supporting corn tortilla in a dramatic taco role. Portion to price ratio is stuck in 1980s dollars at this and most of the other spots on this list, and thankfully so. If a blogger is ever dying of starvation, she could simply gather coins from the nearest public fountain and get a taco at a place like Acapulco to keep going in style. There is no inside seating, just four covered picnic tables, so don't go on a day quite as sideways rainy as I did. To-go orders are out in about the same time frame it takes a NASCAR pit crew to change two tires anyway, so, no excuses. Just eat this Juarez-style fare and be glad you're not a starving blogger.
4. Frezko Taco Spot, Southlake (3105 E. Southlake Blvd.)
Yes, Southlake has en entry on our favorite Tarrant County taqueria list. No, we haven't started drinking yet. If a place is good, it's good no matter where it lies, and Eliazar Salinas' taqueria-in-the-burbs experiment is taking off. Frezko, with its cohesive interior design, certified Angus beef and ample patio space shaded by palm trees, doesn't give off the taqueria feel until that first spoonful of frijoles charros kicks you in the back of the throat with a dose of spice. Try the papa asada, a loaded baked potato filled with your choice of taco meat, for something off the beaten path. Even though it's in Southlake, it's still very easy to get out of here for under $10.
5. El Piquin, Grapevine (2638 William D Tate Ave.)
Piquin takes its name from a pepper more than 10 times hotter than the jalapeno, and it delivers on that front. If you go on a day when the pre-meal chips are a little stale, keep the faith. White folks' pre-meal chips are relatively low on the priority ladder here. Higher on the priority scale seems to be making sure everyone in the square block can hear the next Tigres del Norte video blaring from the most recent episode of Banda Max. Tex-mex favorites like fajitas and enchiladas are available on the menu, but get frisky with a torta or fill a taco with their lengua for the full taqueria effect. Like most on this list, Piquin cooks in the D.F. style of Mexican cuisine that dominates the country's capital, but unlike the others, their Facebook page made mention of karaoke on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights. This development has potential to make a good thing great.
6. Tres Betos, Fort Worth (2418 NE 28th St.)
Tres Betos gets right to the point as soon as you're close enough to read the signage on the windowed store front along NE 28th St.: $1.50 breakfast tacos and $1 tacos after 5 p.m. Get four tacos, and three more for a friend, and then get the hell out of there before they realize you've stolen from them. Really, what could be a better draw than those price positioning statements? Here's one: the pastor. A dollar never tasted so good. For those not in the know, tacos "al pastor" is literally translated to "of the shepherd" and applies to the pork seasoning, co-opted into Mexican cuisine, probably originating from Lebanese immigrants to Mexico who commonly filled flock-tending positions in the day. Just eat this.
7. Pancho Tacos, Arlington (3209 E. Division St.)
You know it's going to be a good taqueria experience when you have to dodge empty beer bottles in the parking lot on your way to the entrance, and when the salsa dispensers are clearly repurposed ketchup and mustard containers. Check, and check for Pancho Tacos. Tacos al pastor have a tendency to drip grease out the backside as you tilt and lift toward your facehole, but Pancho apparently solved that riddle, too. When I went, the pastor was a little crunchier than most other places, lending it great texture and flavor, helped out by the red and green salsas. Often more creamy and less chunky, the dual-sauce approach is another tell-tale sign of the D.F. style of Mexican food that dominates Central Mexico, and apparently the Tarrant County taqueria scene. The horchata was on point as well, perhaps inspiring a spin-off listicle idea all its own.
8. Taqueria San Luis, Fort Worth (multiple locations)
With three locations in Fort Worth (I tried the one at 1901 8th Ave.) and one in Dallas now (2731 W. Northwest Highway), the word has been out on this salty gem for a while now. Throwing in frijoles charros is always a nice touch, and the barbacoa here (pictured above, top right) was dead on. Upon first bite I began to wonder what this place was doing differently than the rest, and a couple bites later I realized it was just saltier (but good salty). Good (not great) salsa verde is good enough to beat out the red stuff.
9. Tacos Ernesto, Fort Worth (3778 McCart Ave.)
Tacos Ernesto's are the juiciest tacos on the list, bar none. The perplexing part is that they rarely if ever make a soggy taco mess by busting through their corn tortilla holding cell. Quite the balance has been struck at Tacos Ernesto; I could just use a little more seasoning.
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10. Los Paisanos, Fort Worth (1446 N Main St.)
Nearly right across Main Street from No. 3 on the list, Los Paisanos is a solid sit-down affair with another really nice offering of tacos al pastor. This one was a little drippier out the backside than Pancho Tacos or San Luis, but tasty nonetheless. You'll have to again excuse stale chips every once in a while, but it's a good rule to not fill up on chips anyway, especially if the restaurant doesn't make its own, which no one on this list does anyway.
11. San Diego Tacos #3, Richland Hills (7116 Boulevard 26)
Many tend to judge a taqueria on its tacos al pastor, and this place's pastor is a highlight. They also do a nice rolled taco plate. The mini-chain has two Irving locations, so Dallas Countiers can report back on the findings from the flagship locations there.