934 W. Jefferson Blvd.
Dude Factor: 6, or "Cheap Floor Tiles" on a scale of 1 ("Montezuma's Revenge") to 10 ("Cheap Prescription Meds")
One of my favorite things about visiting Mexico is haggling over the price of souvenirs. There's nothing like the rush of taking home a belt buckle marked $10 for only $6. You can't try it at Wal-Mart...at least not without looking like a jackass. But in the open-air markets of border towns, good old-fashioned negotiation is accepted--nay, expected.
Tacos Chano's in Oak Cliff replicates that border-town price tension--simply because there's not a price to be found on the menu. Now, when you're picking up, say, a pair of switchblades in a Tijuana market, this uncertainty adds to the sense of adventure. But on my first visit to Tacos Chano's, not knowing what the meal would cost only gave me indigestion.
I mean, c'mon. I don't want to get to the register and find out a single taco was more expensive than my belt buckle.
At least the food is dude-friendly, mostly consisting of meat, grease and tortilla (the base of the food pyramid). With standard-Mexican-but-still-pretty-daring-by-American-tastes cuts like lengua, barbacoa and tripas also featured on the menu, it makes you feel like a worldly hombre just by proxy, even without actually consuming innards or scrap meat.
Also adding to the tourist-y feel of the counter-service taqueria was the staff's complete lack of English fluency. I may have minored in Spanish, but I was never very good. Since graduation, I've moved on from construction and restaurant jobs where I actually used the language (with coworkers who found my bookish Castillian a constant source of amusement). My Spanish has woefully atrophied as a result.
But I managed to place the order.
Also, I know enough English and Spanish to know that "Tacos Chano's" sounds funny in either tongue; the words are reversed for English, and "Chano's Tacos" in Spanish should be Tacos de Chano. Or maybe that's just how it goes in uppity Castillian.
Whatever the case, Tacos Chano's' food is estilo al Jalisco, which I thought translated as "Jalisco-style" but is actually Spanish for "you don't get free chips and hot sauce." Other characteristics of this Jalisco-style restaurant are carne en jugo ("meat in its juices"--just like your mom likes, hey-o!), tortas and a weird pickled mixture of carrot slices, celery and whole jalapeños. The server brought a huge bowl of this relish out first, along with several halved key limes and another bowl with cilantro and diced white onion.
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A few minutes later, our platillo fajita de res ("resting platypus fajita," I think), tacos and burritos arrived. Unlike the familiar char-grilled skirt steak of Tex-Mex restaurants, this fajita meat is chopped, barely seasoned and practically swimming in brown gravy. The platter comes with pinto beans somewhere between refried and borracho-style, along with rice, lettuce and tomato slices. No guacamole, sour cream or cheese--the next tier of the food pyramid, missing.
Tacos consist of the same juicy meat as the fajitas--and nothing else. It was all very minimal, but also pretty damn satisfying...although the hot sauce on the table had almost no heat, so I was forced to experiment with biting into the jalapeños and chasing with fajita. The vinegary carrots and celery were interesting crunchy diversions, but I can't imagine ever saying to myself, "You know what would hit the spot right about now? Some spicy, briny carrots."
The bill came to $23.27. How that divides, I have no idea. All in all, it was pretty good. Certainly worth visiting once, but I doubt I'll be back. Oak Cliff's got more taquerias than Laredo's got drug runners. And if I want mysterious pricing, I'll head south of the border.
Which isn't a bad idea, come to think of it--Mother's Day is coming up.