During Hidden Gems Week, the Observer food and drink writers are celebrating an abundance of diverse, delicious restaurants and bars around Dallas, places that don’t often (or ever) get mentioned by big-name food media, trendsetters, bloggers or chefs. We’re taking you outside of the ordinary to help you discover something new.
It begins with a steaming hot bowl of mom’s chicken noodle soup.
The soup comes in a plastic foam cup, churning with enough heat to fog your lenses, a mist of chicken stock and garlic, and the aromas encircle you. Grabbing a cup of Vanesa Roldan’s chicken soup, the kind with the long stick noodles, is the first thing to do.
“It’s my mom’s,” says Roldan, smiling behind the register.
The second thing to do is to order a torta that’s the size of the moon and a Mexicana quesadilla envelope that spans the length of the plastic basket it comes in. Then sit, relax and wait to dip your torta bread into the hot soup. Put your phone away and wait to knife and fork into this griddled quesadilla.
This is Aca Las Tortas, the spot with the sizzling flat-top that’s serving East Dallas some sincerely underdiscussed comfort food and piping-hot, underutilized hangover cures.
On the corner of Carroll Avenue and Worth Street, hiding in plain sight in Peak’s Suburban Addition, there’s a paprika-red sign that reads "TACOS" in all caps. Under it, as you swing your car in off the Oregon-trail bumpy roads of Carroll Avenue, you’ll find what’s probably one of the last few pay-phones in the city. Flautas are advertised in balloon red, with soda, for a penny less than 8 bucks. The door clangs as you walk in, and there’s a good chance you’ll find Roldan behind the counter. She’s ready with a pen and a cup for the soup.
I order the quesadilla first this time — it’s the dish you’ll spot on the far right panel of the menu, not the more Tex-Mex quesadilla you'll find next to the burritos. Not long after, seconds really, a homemade tortilla is pressed into the griddle with a flat spatula. The cook puts some weight into it, crisping it all over, charring the thicker parts of the tortilla’s edges bronze. He seals in tender and saucy pork, a zag of cotija, shredded lettuce and plucks of crema. It’s Aca Las Tortas’ autumnal cure for everything. It’s mighty street food, eaten with a plastic knife and fork that bend as they dive into the quesadilla. Do not forget to fire on some of Roldan’s homemade salsa.
“We make everything from scratch,” she says.
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The torta is washed with mayo and mustard, pounded flats of pork, ham and breaded-to-crispy steak. Jalapeños and American cheese will absorb bad feelings, booze and beastly headaches. I felt better after eating half of this torta, like the bread had been swiped with mashed-up aspirin. Dipped in soup, it's comforting, easy, bright food. It’s also quick and painlessly inexpensive.
Aca Las Tortas isn’t a place that you look for calorie counts or sources for your meats. Honestly, it doesn’t matter when you’re there. It’s a place where you lean over and share how damn tasty your food is with your neighbor, or, maybe, ask Roldan a few heartwarming questions about her chicken soup.
Aca Las Tortas, 4420 Worth St.