Digg's Taco Shop Piles It On and Doesn't Need Any Help From Austin

Someone with a restaurant pedigree ought to know what he's doing, right? Well, Joey Milan, owner of the newly opened Digg's Taco Shop on Hillcrest Avenue knows exactly what he's doing. That's a relief considering that Digg's is a specialty taquería, which by now should make for a yawnfest in Dallas. Another one? Yes, but one with talent and expertise.

This skill and capability by no means prevent Milan and chef Richard Rivera from falling into taco traps, some of which are on the menu, a wide-ranging spectacle of attractive options and unfortunate double-takes. For example, a margarita popsicle shares space with a souped-up torta that includes caramelized bread, cheese, lettuce, Roma tomato, purple cabbage, onion, cilantro and plantain chips, the latter a nod to the chef's Puerto Rican heritage. However, they can be ordered with "Hamburguesas" like the chipotle-cheese burger and a mushy grilled burger taco. If they seem familiar, it's because they are. Both items are derivative of the signature items of local chains Burguesa Burger and Tin Star Taco Bar, respectively.

The free-range chicken taco is another blunder. Not surprising, it is dry, but saved by the "amped up sauce," the house habanero-papaya salsa. The salsa is a brilliant turn not unlike the addictive edible-wildfire Doña sauce of Tacodeli in Austin. (More about Austin later.)

Thankfully, the other tacos are good examples of specialty tacos that gaze gallantly forward with a firm grasp on the past. These include the moist shredded beef and the smooth carnitas, tacos that I inhaled with gusto. However, my excitement was tempered with the gratuitous double-whammy garnish of coleslaw and cilantro. One of them would have been sufficient in the quantity presented. These are tacos worthy of return trips or double ordering. It's no wonder then that Milan told me, "The most popular food items this week have been the tacos. Probably the shredded beef. We have received a lot of great comments on the mahi taco."

Milan is no stranger to the taquería or restaurant business. Ten years ago, Milan told me, he was involved with another successful taquería concept in Houston. He's a partner with the Payne family in their Cousin's BBQ chain, and with whom he has recently opened the spin-off Cousin's Urban BBQ north of Fort Worth. Milan also has his hand in two other Fort Worth concerns, Lucile's Bistro and the H3 Ranch Steakhouse at the Stockyards Hotel. The man and his team clearly know what they're doing, which is why the heavy-handed garnish and sometimes befuddling menu should be taken with a grain of salt. Both are easily remedied. Stick with the tacos. Skim a little off the top of the tacos. It can work within Digg's modern setting of smooth light wood and orange accents with touches of metal.

The dining room is a relaxing environment bolstered by excellent service, for sure, which is why, when I learned Austin's South Congress neighborhood was an influence in the design, I groaned. Milan told me it was intentional but done with a twist. "We just love the vibe of the South Congress area of Austin. It just seems so minimalistic and unpretentious. I love the fact that several materials normally used outdoors are brought into the interior design. It just provides for a very laid-back, warm and comfortable setting, yet being a little edgy and industrial."

Indeed, but South Congress is nowhere to be seen and is better left out of the picture. Digg's Taco Shop is just fine on its own as a laid-back taquería with excellent selections across from a sure thing: SMU.

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José Ralat Maldonado