It all started innocently enough. One taco restaurateur took to Facebook to accuse another of attempting to poach his employee, and the other denied the charge. Then – mostly with light hearts – they issued an escalating series of taco challenges.
But of course, Dallas foodies couldn’t leave well enough alone, and now we’re stuck with a stupid taco war. My advice to everyone: Calm down before you say things you regret.
The accuser: Regino Rojas, the mad genius behind Deep Ellum’s Revolver Taco Lounge and its older sibling restaurant in Fort Worth. The accused: owner Sam Wynne and chef David Peña of Bowls & Tacos, a new poke-taco hybrid concept at the far end of Deep Ellum. (Wynne is also part owner of Braindead Brewing, and his father, Shannon Wynne, is responsible for Meddlesome Moth and the Flying Saucer chain.)
Outsiders like us can’t assess the original employee-poaching claim. But we can judge the reaction, and boy, is it ugly.
The first post came from Rojas, whose social media posts often oscillate between Spanish, English and a hybrid of the two.
"Surprised and desapointed!" he wrote. "That the guys from bowls and tacos are trying to get my tortillera, sad! And its sad because the chef is mexicanish! And all he have to do is reserch is fucking heritage! Instead of going around and let others do it for you!"
Wynne responded with an unhappy but polite Facebook post directed at Rojas.
“Regardless of how you feel about me, I'm happy to have you in my neighborhood, and happy to see you helping to change us from a pizza neighborhood to a Tacos and Octopus neighborhood,” he wrote. He also targeted José Ralat, the Taco Trail writer and vocal taco critic, who had called Bowls & Tacos “mediocre to bad” on Facebook and was equally harsh in a post on Instagram.
My first visit to Bowls & Tacos was a disappointing one. The tacos are mediocre at best. Let's start with the menu, which is a desperate attempt to join the cool kids table. There is no need to spell out "del trompo." That can be made clear through social media & journalism. It's obvious there is a trompo in the kitchen. The kitchen is wide open. The trompo is a sloppy job & it's big. Too big. Their attempt at being "legit" is going to cost them in labor and food costs, especially when lunch is a light rush. A trompo that size won't be safe through dinner service. I suggest they hold off serving pastor until the traditional evening to late night hours. Tacos al pastor are drunk tacos. Also, if they're so keen on being "authentic," why not make corn tortillas for the al pastor? Their housemade flour tortillas are uneven in texture & thickness. They also harden quickly when they cool. I wish the guys well, but they have a lot of kinks to work out. #tacotrail #tacos #tacolife #tacotime #tacosofinstagram #instataco #tacofingers #tacobouttleg #deepellum #deepellumtx
Things quickly spiraled. Bowls & Tacos’ Twitter account snarked, unreasonably and even irresponsibly, that Revolver’s $7 duck breast taco is too expensive. Wynne played the race card on Ralat, and soon Eater and CultureMap were racing to cover the social media implosion.
This is the point in the story where we all need to step away from the computer, have some carnitas and come back with an open mind.
Rojas stepped away from his computer first, it seems; his subsequent public comments have been limited to Twitter invitations to a taco duel with Bowls & Tacos, which clearly come across as lighthearted smack talk.
Apparently "lealtad" and "respeto" costs $7 per taco. https://t.co/adohVRZwgc— BowlsAndTacos (@BowlsAndTacos) May 31, 2017
Ralat stepped away from his computer next as commenters started accusing him of racism and incompetence. Even Wynne got in on that act.
“I looked up to your writing,” he told Ralat in a Facebook comment on his original post, “only to find out you don’t respect me because I’m white.” That accusation is baseless, but more on that in a moment.
Next, I’d suggest CultureMap step away from the computer. CultureMap writer Teresa Gubbins decided to escalate this goofy taco duel into a bigger debate about racism and cultural appropriation.
“Who gets to make tacos in Dallas, and who gets to decide?" she wrote. "If you're making tacos and you're not Mexican, are you stealing someone's culture or are you executing a loving homage?”
But that’s not even up for debate here. Nobody ever told Bowls & Tacos it's too white to serve Mexican food (though Rojas did refer to Peña as "Mexican-ish"). Peña, the restaurant's (nonwhite) chef, responded directly to the CultureMap story.
“White and Mexican have no part in this," he wrote. "My tacos are mine. Gino's are his. They are very personal and different.”
The only things that matter here – and I suspect Peña, Ralat, Wynne, Gubbins and Rojas would all agree – are that (1) a chef truly respects the culture and gastronomy he or she serves, and (2) the food is awesome.
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When Ralat called Bowls & Tacos’ food “mediocre to bad” and faulted the flour tortillas, he was addressing the “food is awesome” side only. His past writings amply demonstrate his appreciation for “white people tacos” from places like Resident Taqueria and Asian-American-owned kitchens like OMG Tacos.
There might be a discussion to be had about whether the Bowls & Tacos concept – half Hawaiian poke bowls, half “street-style” Mexican tacos – constitutes appropriation. But if such a discussion is needed, the bloviating we have right now sure ain’t it.
Speaking of subject changing, I’ve got one genuine beef with Wynne, and it comes from this remark he made on Facebook: “In Dallas, in order to get a good taco you have go to a shitty gas station.”
I’m almost embarrassed for you, Sam. And I definitely feel sorry for your taste buds. Step away from the computer, pop out of Deep Ellum and try any (preferably all) of the following: Tacos Mariachi, Taquero, Mi Lindo Oaxaca, La Nueva Fresh & Hot, El Come Taco, El Si Hay, El Pueblo, José, OMG Tacos, Maskaras Mexican Grill, Trompo and Resident Taqueria. Then come back and let me know if the only good taco in Dallas comes from a "shitty gas station."