There are peas in the guacamole. That’s right. Before we get too deep into the details of Lake Highlands’ new taco restaurant Resident Taqueria, it is important to note that small, green peas have been added to the mashed avocado. The guacamole in question has other ingredients usually not found in Dallas’ favorite dip — toasted pepitas, a dusting of cotija and, wait … are those carefully arranged micro-greens?
But peas? In … the … guacamole? Why not just drop a crucifix in a jar of pee and whip out a quick cartoon of Muhammad while we’re at it and call it a day?
Earlier this year, The New York Times (of course it would be the Times) tweeted a link to a guacamole recipe that called for the same contraband. Judgment was swift. Angry responses took wing in the twittersphere, #peagate began to trend and even President Obama weighed in with an appeal for unadulterated avocado. Many of the angry tweets were thumbed by Texans, so adding peas to Dallas’ favorite side dish seemed like willful provocation or maybe a clever attempt to get a new restaurant some attention. Or maybe it was just another Yankee being, you know, Yankee. They’re the people who put beans in chili, after all. Legume crazy.
But Resident chef and owner Andrew Savoie doesn’t seem too bothered by potential controversy. When asked how the contraband ended up in the chunky purée, he answers that he simply likes them there. Savoie, who has worked at nationally recognized fine-dining restaurants including the Inn at Little Washington in Virginia and Bouchon in California, has seen many nontraditional additions to mashed avocado. Savoie first used the peas when serving guacamole at home to his children — a classic parental play on covert nutrition. Maybe this spring when peas really pop they will add subtle sweetness and crunchy texture to Savoie’s guacamole. For now, the peas recede into the background when scooped with a warm tortilla chip, and ripe avocado is still the star, as heaven ordained it.
If any break from tradition is likely to leave you peeved, Resident has plenty to get you hot-headed. Take the rice and beans, served separately as sides in small paper cups. They’re meant to mimic the filler that flanks every combo plate at every Tex-Mex restaurant in the history of ever. But just one spoonful from either cup reveals any resemblance is superficial. The rice has heat and savory flavors and is accented with tangy hot sauce. The beans are impossibly smooth and heavily scented with roasted garlic. If the combo plates at Herrera’s were served with fillers like these they would disappear before the sour cream enchiladas were touched.
Resident is a taqueria for sure, but don’t come looking for freshly grilled suadero garnished with cilantro and onions or pork freshly shaved from the trompo. Savoie’s tacos are tricked out in ways you’d expect from a taquero who spent considerable time working with a few of the country’s best chefs. But unlike the tacos served at similar modern taquerias, his creations remain recognizable as tacos. Each is nestled in a freshly griddled flour tortilla that’s extruded from a squeaking machine that spits the rounds out onto a searing-hot flat top. They’re small, delicate, almost translucent tortillas that puff up like pita breads and cook in a matter of seconds.
These are the sort of tortillas that will draw crowds, so if you’re craving tacos during typical lunch or dinner times, come ready for a wait. On a Sunday, a young woman working the front counter suggested I place my order for takeout as we scanned the packed dining room for a single open seat. I took my chances and managed to grab a place at the bar, where I watched the tortilla machine and eavesdropped on employees who were caught in the weeds. Spent plates lingered on the few tables that were empty, a worker cursed when hot beans nipped tender skin and wait times grew far longer than they ever should at any taqueria.
Despite the chaos, the tacos were delicious. Slow-cooked chicken heaped onto one of those tortillas went from mundane to delicious with the addition of crunchy peanuts. Braised pork shoulder was elevated with sweet pineapple and crunchy cabbage. Sliced, tender pork belly was dressed up with cucumbers sliced windowpane-thin. The recipes aren’t conventional, but the flavors speak honestly and consistently deliver. Vegetarians are in luck, too, as tacos that feature caramelized cauliflower and earthy mushrooms are especially good.
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Whichever tacos you choose (three to a person seems about right), make sure you sample the three salsas. A smoky guajillo and fresh-tasting verde salsa are what you’d expect at most taquerias, but an arbol chile sauce packs a serious wallop. One of the cooks told me the chiles for the searing hot sauce fill the air with a breath-stopping vapor as they toast. The salsa is made on Mondays when the restaurant is closed.
Don’t be afraid! Despite the heat, the arbol hot sauce packs the best flavor of the bunch, and if the burn gets too intense, there are margaritas and aguas frescas to cool you down. There’s also Resident Ice packed in small cups in a freezer by the register. The fruit flavors including lime and pineapple are zippy, but they’re frozen solid and take considerable work with those small wooden paddles. I preferred the coconut. The fat in coconut lends a soft, velvety texture to the dessert.
Choosing a favorite taco, on the other hand, is more difficult. I didn’t love the chorizo taco that delivered more potato than pork, but mostly because it lacked the vibrancy and creativity of its counterparts. The rest of the menu is surprisingly free of duds and a refreshing change from most modern taquerias, which typically serve heavy-handed tacos weighed down with cheese and sauce. Savoie cooks with restraint and style that permeates his entire menu, from his tacos all the way down to the sides that had me consistently scraping the bottom of their paper cups. Besides, any Texas chef taquero who can successfully sneak peas into his guacamole and not get shot is worth a look.