Dallas is home to some seriously gorgeous restaurants, but some places serve food so good, they have no need for fancy build-outs or plates that aren't made of Styrofoam.
Taquerias in particular lend themselves to low-key settings where even individual menus are an unnecessary luxury. While places like Revolver and El Come show that great taquerias certainly can be pleasant on the eyes, spots like El Si Hay and Trompo stand to remind us that sometimes a more unassuming façade means a tastier taco. Located on Lake June Road just outside of Pleasant Grove, Barbacoa Estilo Hidalgo drives this point home in furious fashion.
After driving 15 miles from downtown via 175, by the time you arrive, you'll wonder how you could possibly still be in Dallas. Barbacoa Estilo Hidalgo shares a block with various automotive shops, salvage yards and fenced-off residences, and there’s not another restaurant in sight. The building itself more closely resembles an auto-shop than a restaurant, and the lack of windows and unlit “open” sign may do little to signify that the place is indeed open. But if you make it out there between the hours of 7 a.m. and 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, the only times the restaurant is open, you’re in business. Get there early, though. Popular meats like barbacoa may sell out before 3 p.m.
As you move through the door, take notice of the “cash only” sign. Once inside, the vibrant colors and dated, Mexican décor do little to make the place feel like less of a garage, but the full seats should be a good indicator that the food here is legit. The communal picnic tables come pre-equipped with bowls of cilantro, onions, jalapeños and salsa roja, presented in the same Styrofoam and paper plates that your food will be served on whether “para llevar” or “para aqui”.
If you missed the giant menu at the to-go counter when you entered, you can find it at the tables, printed on the sides of the napkin dispensers. The menu has about six options, and it’s unlikely that most diners here require it at all. Barbacoa Estilo Hidalgo specializes in two tacos: pancita and barbacoa. Each can be ordered by the taco ($2) or by the pound ($16). Ordering by the pound will get you a chaffing dish of meat with an accompanying – and beautifully decorated – basket of tortillas; ordering by the taco will get you tortillas packed with at least four times the amount of meat you'd find in the average taco.
First try the pancita, a rich, savory mixture created by filling a lamb stomach with hearts, livers, kidneys and other organs along with spices and chilis. Amidst the loose ground meat within the tortilla – with its earthy, spicy flavors – are larger meaty bits of liver, adding rich flavor and depth. This is a taco you won’t see on every menu in town, so take advantage of the occasion to try them.
As you may infer from the name of the place, the barbacoa is the star of the show here. This lamb barbacoa (barbacoa de borrego) is tender but not at all mushy, like a perfect pot roast. In a back room of the space, half a dozen or so whole lambs are prepared each day. While not heavy on seasoning, there’s plenty of flavor packed within the excellent barbacoa, which is stuffed inside house-made corn tortillas which, while nearly tuile-thin, feature an almost injera-like spongy quality. Dress your taco up how you like, and after a couple of bites, you’ll be forgetting the name of your previous go-to barbacoa spot.
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Rounding out the menu are gorditas ($3), quesadillas ($3.25), menudo ($10) and tamales ($1) that will likely be sold out if you're not there early. These are all solid options, but if you leave without ordering the consome ($9), you are doing it all wrong. This soup, filled with garbanzo beans and barbacoa, begins its life in a pot beneath the roasting lambs, collecting the fat drippings and inheriting their savory flavors. The broth’s aromatics will seduce you from the moment it hits the table, and with its complex arrangements of spices, rewarding hunks of barbacoa and soft, flavorful garbanzos, it will hold your attention until you hit bowl-bottom. Squeeze in some lime, pick up your plastic spoon and try not to be too upset that you didn’t find out about this soup sooner.
When you’re done eating, mosey on over to the pastry case. It’s packed with doughnuts, conchas, ojos de bueys and more. You may be too full to enjoy them, but they’re worth taking a few home for later.
As you leave, you’ll be glad you made the trip and maybe you’ll walk out with a newfound optimism toward the random, windowless taquerias and panaderias sprinkled throughout the city’s industrial areas. One way or another, with your belly full of barbacoa and your paper sack full of pan dulce, the sun will feel warmer and the world just a little bit brighter.
Barbacoa Estilo Hidalgo, 6131 Lake June Pl.