El Rincon Tapatio: Make Yourself at Home

Latin American businesses line many of Oak Cliff's streets. Because of those mom-and-pop operations, the Dallas enclave is reminiscent of my old Brooklyn nabe. Walking about the barrio was a bit of a homecoming. There was warmth, fuzziness, all that sentimental crud. Then, the tacos at El Rincon Tapatio slapped me out of my nostalgic stupor.

The spacious restaurant is casual. Just grab a table and the almost too-attentive (just like mom!) waitress is ready to take your order. While I was tempted to get a licuada or an agua fresca, I settled on my usual Coca Mexicana along with six small tacos: carne asada, pastor, avocado, lengua, pierna and barbacoa.

Laughing Catholic school children weaved around tables while their mothers gabbed, as weathered men -- ostensibly the fathers -- sat in an adjacent booth, silent save occasional short sentences about work and sports. A teenager played an arcade game near the front door. Twenty-somethings with laptops traded barbs at another table. I barely had the opportunity to take all of this in before my order was quietly placed in front of me. This was home.

The best of the tacos were the carne asada and the pastor. The former was served curbed with a lightly charred surface and a soft interior that gave the meat a pleasant, chewy texture. The latter had a slight heat increased by the incredible salsa roja. However moist, rich and redolent the pastor, it was chewier than the carne asada, requiring more masticating than I would've cared for. That was a minor quibble, one so minor I'd order the pastor on return visits.

The avocado taco, an item rarely seen on a taco menu, was, of course, buttery but lacked much flavor. Naturally, dumping salsa onto the two slices within the double-ply tortillas did the trick. This was the only instance in which I wished the tortillas had the sweet quality characteristic of even the best store-bought variety. The lengua was bland regardless of the fact that it was marinated with red chile and minced tomato. Thankfully, the meat was smooth and easily dissolved on the tongue. The chunks of fat in the pierna (leg) taco excited me. They gave the pork the expected juiciness. But as whole, the taco had none of the salinity that rockets expertly prepared pork to the top of the glorious meat pyramid.

Then there was the barbacoa. The poor, sludgy, dirt-flavored barbacoa. Not everything about home is wonderful. Not everything about home is worth telling your friends about.

Still, I came away satisfied, thanks to the carne asada and pastor and the comfortable atmosphere.

El Rincon Tapatio 127 W. Jefferson Blvd 214-946-1610

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José Ralat Maldonado

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