Bongos Latin Grill: The Only Catch of the Day

The odds were against us when we set off west on Northwest Highway armed only with the address of a taquería and a phone number that was out of service or recently changed. At least we knew there were other taquerías and Mexican restaurants in the vicinity of Webb Chapel and Northwest Highway: If we couldn't hit our taquería target, my family and I could eat somewhere else. Alas, our intended destination indeed proved non-existent.

The search was long, but in a nutshell went something like this:

"How about that one?" asked my wife, Jessica, while our 2-year-old chanted, "tacosbeansrice tacosbeansrice" from his car seat. "Or that one?"

"Nope. But that restaurant seems nice. Seems like it would be kid-friendly."

There was only one car, a pickup truck with an extended cab, parked in front of the Bella Vista Restaurant. Its colorful awning lured us. Its interior, however, stunned us. More of a club than a restaurant, Bella Vista's main dining area was confined to the front. The whole space was dark and in need of Windex. The portly gentleman who seated us looked equally stunned to see a young family cross the threshold. He escorted us to a booth, anyway. The tables and vinyl booths were tacky. A haggard woman poked at her food, questioning its edibility. If the boy decided that he was finally tired of tacos (for the day) and threw a tantrum, there would be no need to worry. The woman would surely be done soon, leaving us the sole customers. Then I saw an advertisement for a drag show. What I didn't see were tacos on the menu. "Let's go," I told the missus, not wanting a repeat performance of my time at Lupita's.

"What do you think of that one?" she said pointing at a low sign, the word "Bongos" spread across it. Below the sign was another, this one exclaiming "Tex-Mex & Beer Delivered!" next to the image of a headless, bikini-clad woman.

"Yes!" Bongos, a chunk of a Mexican spring break dropped across from Love Field, would have to do.

Out front was a patio covered with dried palm fronds and a net atop a wood frame. Hokey nautically themed tchotchkes and Mexican beer memorabilia decorated the outdoor space. A deteriorating boat "beached" on fine sand shook as planes came in for a landing. Toward the side was a counter, the words "Taco Bar" above it. Bongo would certainly do. Inside was much of the same with a disparate soundtrack bonus including Jimmy Buffett and Celia Cruz.

Ruddy-faced owner Sean "El Patrón" Gunnell staffs his beach-bum shack with young ladies dressed in tight shirts and even tighter shorts. I wasted no time ordering our food, and, beneath the blank stare of a fiberglass marlin, we feasted on unexpectedly good tacos.

The superlative offerings were the lengua and pastor. The lengua was simply presented and not overcooked to the point of rubber. The seasoning didn't conceal the fact that the meat was tongue. The pastor was dark red in color with touches of charring. It was nothing spectacular, but after a few hours on a plane, a taco al pastor will bring you back down to earth, welcoming you home to Dallas. That is, if you're not too afraid to enter any of the myriad dingy taquerías surrounding Love Field.

The picadillo was a mushy ball of grainy meat and mushy potatoes. Still, Jessica enjoyed the picadillo, saying it reminded her of the tacos her grandmother and mother made when she was a child. Shredded chicken was a bird's nest. One bite was all it took for me to offer it to the taco vacuum I call my offspring. He'd have none of it either. What he would have was plenty of the soccer game broadcasting in Spanish, the beach ball next to the TV, smiles from the waitress and the lengua taco. His first. If for nothing else, eating at Bongos was a success because my son decided to try something new. It's almost enough to entice a return excursion to check out the salsa lessons or the musical stylings of El Farahon and his keyboard, which pack the dining room on Sunday nights. Bongos was quite the catch for a last-ditch effort.

Bongos Latin Grill
3625 W Northwest Hwy

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