Goat carcasses unfurl over the grill like flags in the breeze. It’s a massive grill, at least 3 feet across and as long as a small car, not quite an earthen pit in a backyard but as close as you can get indoors without offending the health inspector. Part of the pit is covered with grill bars, for steaks and to heat up fajita platters, but the whole goats tower over smoldering logs and chips of mesquite wood.
Above the grill, long metal poles rise, a goat lashed to each one, head and hooves removed but nearly everything between still intact. Each animal was slaughtered little more than a month into its life — true cabrito must be between 30 and 40 days old. Their ribcages splay out in woozy semicircles; the shoulders and back legs slowly turn subtly different colors, one growing yellow, the other with a suggestion of pink. There is no spice rub on these goats, no coating of sauce; they will perch high above the coals for as long as is needed to cook them through, with no flavoring added except a kiss of smoke.
Cabritos Los Cavazos keeps its grill behind a glass wall and encourages customers to walk up, ogle at and photograph the brutal, mouthwatering display of slowly cooking goat meat. It’s hard to resist because as soon as you open your car door in the parking lot of this new restaurant, the timeless aroma of meat over slow-burning wood will put you under its spell.
The motto at Cabritos Los Cavazos is “The First in Dallas, The Best in Texas.” The second part is hard to verify, but the restaurant, which opened in March, is indeed a Dallas milestone. It's the first place in the area dedicated to cabrito al pastor as it is cooked and served in Monterrey, Nuevo León, and the border towns of the Rio Grande Valley.
The ritual of dining on cabrito is preserved here as it is in Mexico. Your portion of meat — which is no bargain at $37.50 for the standard portion or $235 to feast on the entire animal — arrives with a grilled spring onion and grilled serrano pepper, tortillas, a small plate of basic veggies and a bowl of meaty refried beans.
If the restaurant is busy, the goat may take some time because each goat is ready when it’s ready. Take a look at the open kitchen: If a cut of meat is listed on the window with a red X, it’s gone.
Whether you order paleta (shoulder), pierna (leg) or riñonada (the kidneys and their surroundings), the meat will arrive seasoned with little more than salt, pepper and embers. That’s on purpose, as is the suggested choice of flour tortillas; fresh corn might bring too strong a flavor into competition. The differences between paleta and pierna are subtle and have to do mostly with gaminess and color.
Take a taste of the meat, then poke around the cast-iron skillet to unearth more succulent morsels from near the bone. Some of the skin is not crisp, which makes finding a piece with crunch feel like winning a treasure hunt. It might sound surprising, but squeeze a few drops of fresh lime over a bite. The gentle smoke and citrus are a perfect match.
Once you’ve met the full flavor of the kid goat meat, think about assembling tacos with all the trimmings on hand. Borrow one of the three salsas that came with the chips. Each $37 portion of cabrito, with all the fixings, is enough to leave one person extremely full or to satisfy two people who have also shared an appetizer.
Offal fans will drool over machitos — huge logs of goat meat, fat and organs rolled up in the animal’s stomach and intestines like a pancetta, then set on the grill and sliced to order ($24 for a sizzling platter). The machitos here are fabulous, with crisp exteriors that seem to collapse while cooking surrounding a layer of juicy, extravagant goat fat. The bite from grilled onions and tomatoes helps to counteract the richness of the meat.
As accompaniments go, you can do worse than queso flameado, the crock of molten cheese ignited tableside and served with a fat stack of flour tortillas ($11).
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There are menu items here that don’t require the grill, and they aren’t bad, necessarily — they’re just the side show. If you must avoid goat or steak, lengua entomatada — huge, ultratender cuts of beef tongue in a rich gravy with simmered white onions and hints of tomato — is a good order ($13). Asado, cubed pork in a stew of guajillo and ancho peppers, is disappointing. The meat hasn’t stewed long enough to really absorb the flavors of the sauce or reach ideal tenderness ($12).
Cabritos Los Cavazos takes over a huge space in northwest Dallas that various long-defunct liquor stores occupied for more than 30 years. It’s almost too big to be a restaurant; a bar and performance stage suggest a good place to go dancing. But at lunchtime, the crowds are here for one thing only: Dallas’ only source of true Monterrey-style cabrito. Workers from nearby warehouses hold the corn tortillas up to their noses, inhaling deeply. Then the goat legs and machitos arrive, and they dig with enthusiasm into a generous helping of Mexican history.
Cabritos Los Cavazos, 10240 N. Walton Walker Blvd., 972-707-7020. Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.