There are very few foods that can elicit fondness and memories like the taco.
From mom's boxed Old El Paso version, to the lame version from Taco Bell, to the decidedly un-American street food version found throughout the delicious Mexican states, the humble taco has marked my tastes with each transition I've made in life.
Nothing develops a young man's palate like travel. The late-night walking tours through the streets of a foreign country often yield the taste-pleasing education that embeds into our memories and cultivates our desires to all things authentic.
I say authentic, and I really do not believe in the term. Can I get an authentic Mexican dinner, or a French plate in Dallas? I suggest we cannot. For to authenticate the meal would require the fresh, local ingredients plowed from the soil or fed to the beasts used in the dish. We would need the indigenous waters, the exact intensity of sunshine and of course the experienced loving hands that mold and shape these dishes from the raw ingredients.
To suggest that I could have the tacos made of peccary from summers past in the Yucatan Peninsula, or the agneau de pauillac from the Pyrenees in Dallas is hubris at best, and my palate memories are best served by revisiting the countries of origins for the true flavors.
That said, today we are in search of something that the Yucatecos or the Colomiers will never enjoy as we do in good old Dallas. Somethings can be replicated in a different fashion to produce a marvelous send up to the original "authentic" cuisine. We seek out such a dish today as we throw down in the "Al Pastor Playoff" Toque to Toque style.
Consider al pastor an homage to the Lebanese shawarma. Al pastor, meaning shepherds style, is created in a similar method using a spit when properly made. The pork for al pastor is marinated in Worcestershire and a variety of chiles for several days, then placed on a vertical spit called a trompo, topped with a pineapple then roasted over a gas flame only to be sliced "gyro-style."
The slices of pork are then chopped, griddled and placed on several small freshly made corn tortillas and served with chopped cilantro and onion, squeezes of fresh lime and shots of homemade hot sauce.
I searched the city for some excellent examples of al pastor, and Dallas is ripe with some wonderful taquerias. You will be hard pressed to find versions from the local taquerias using the trompo, as most simply use marinated bits of pork that are quickly tossed on a flat top griddle then placed in its warm nest of tortillas before being dressed and devoured.
El Si Hay is in good company nestled in the Bishop Arts District across from the tony restaurant Bolsa on West Davis. Approaching the funky building with the walk up window, I am taken back in time a bit to my Mexican street feasts of old. Plenty of activity and people scurrying about. Most are waiting for their tacos, or possibly an order of elotes being served from a cart planted on the side of the tiny building.
I get to the taqueria at a pretty busy hour when plenty of people are lined up to order their evening meal to eat in their cars or take home. I spoke with a few young guys, one name Manuel Garza, who ordered a full dozen leaving his friend questioning what he would order. Another dozen of the bifstek tacos, of course.
The lengua tacos (tongue) are suggested, and they would be amazing, but I ordered a few al pastor.
"I can eat a few dozen of these sometimes, but I have to go home later and eat dinner with my family," said the young Garza as he sat in his car eating the tacos. "These are the best in ever, even the cops eat here".
At a $1.30 each I can see why they are popular, but the taste is always the deciding factor. And the taste was sublime. Slightly spicy, plump, juicy, and a distinct lack of grease. Possibly the very best I have ever tasted this side of the Rio Brava del Norte. I loved the flavors of the seemingly fresh made doubled tortilla.
For the next order of al pastor I traveled north up Central Expressway to the tiny burg of Allen, where in a blatantly normal and unassuming strip center I found Burrito Grande.
The good people of Burrito Grande closed a bit early, but after making a phone call they opened their doors to me and made me a few tacos. These were made from the trompo and sliced and chopped.
The tacos looked delicious at first glance, and are a bit spicier than those of El Si Hay. The tortilla was single but larger sized. They were obviously manufactured tortillas. Good, but not as fresh as I would like. They do not burst out that amazing cry of "just made."
The meat was sauced a bit more than that of El Si Hay, but they left a tell-tale splatter of oiliness that coated the roof of the mouth. Fair examples, but a bit greasy and the meat less tender.
It should be noted that you can find these tacos made by Burrito Grande at Allen Event Center for each of the Allen All American hockey games. Not bad game food for sure.
Hockey pucks be damned, I ate some good tacos today.
For their amazing example of a taco, use of fresh tortillas, and the ability to enjoy a lime Jarritos and elotes in the same visit without a trace of greasiness, we award today's Toque prize in the Al Pastor Playoff to El Si Hay.