The tacos come artfully arranged on a platter, each small taco filled with juicy, flavorful meat served on a fresh, housemade tortilla. The colorful tamales, wrapped in banana leaves, are made with an addictive, fresh masa also made in house. The salsas are vibrant and creamy, adding another touch of color to already colorful dishes.
A few weeks ago, Dallas saw the opening of yet another above-average taqueria making authentic, modern Mexican fare — but unless you're a mezcal drinker, you may not have heard of it. This new taqueria is actually an Expo Park mezcal bar.
Las Almas Rotas, which opened in July across from Fair Park, is a rustic, candle-filled mezcaleria serving a well-curated selection of artisanal Mexican spirits from mezcal to sotol to tequila. It started in Oak Cliff as a private club where mezcal drinkers gathered to share bottles and sip mezcal neat, toasting an ancient Mexican spirit that's rapidly growing in popularity in the U.S.
When the owners — Taylor Samuels and husband and wife Shad and Leigh Kvetko — decided to turn their private mezcal club into a mezcaleria, they initially shied away from serving food. After all, the trio has no experience running a bar or a restaurant; this is their first foray into the world of food and drink service. But when they found an Expo Park bar with a full kitchen, they decided to take a gamble.
When they tried chef Jose Luis Benitez's food for the first time, they knew they were onto something. Benitez's small menu of tacos, tamales and other regional Mexican fare has already given Las Almas Rotas a reputation as one of the city's best new taquerias.
For the barbacoa, Benitez wraps herb-marinated beef cheek in banana leaves and slowly steams the meat for six hours until it's juicy and fall-apart tender. The masa used in his tamales is made with lard and the broth created when Benitez cooks pork for al pastor and carnitas. Everything — from the chorizo to the tortillas to the rich, creamy salsas — is made fresh in house, and the attention to detail has created a small but thoughtful menu of truly excellent Mexican food. While it's not the cheapest Mexican fare in Dallas (tacos are $3 apiece) there's nothing on the menu over $13, and it's all meant to be shared.
"When I met this couple gentlemen here, I was so excited because they wanna have a unique place and I try to use unique flavors, too," Benitez says. "The menu’s pretty simple right now, but we’re gonna add little by little."
Las Almas Rotas has added lunch service, which began last week, and plans to serve brunch in the near future.
Benitez is working on a ceviche made with mezcal and is looking into other Oaxacan flavors like mole and chapulines, crunchy, seasoned grasshoppers that are a popular protein in Oaxaca. With Las Almas Rotas, Benitez — who has decades of food-service experience, 13 of those years with Mico Rodriguez's restaurant group — has an opportunity to really stretch creatively.
"One of the things that impressed me about chef Jose Benitez is his innovation," Shad Kvetko says. "He's slowly expanding the menu with specials, and he got a standing ovation the other night in the back room by everybody that had his food. It’s been really great to see the reception that people have had for it."
Considering that Las Almas Rotas was never meant to serve anything but straight mezcal and a few tamales, the success of Benitez's menu has been a welcome surprise.
"We’re definitely selling more food than we thought we would," Samuels says. "We’re not selling more food than Jose thought — he was very confident, and rightly so."
Las Almas Rotas serves a small menu of cocktails, but owners encourage patrons to sip spirits straight, slowly savoring the smoky agave taste. They also serve flights, allowing customers to taste the subtle differences among mezcals, tequilas and sotols — which means some customers are sipping more straight liquor than they may be accustomed to.
"It was just a responsible thing to do to put food in people’s stomach," Shad Kvetko says. "We realized it was gonna be important to have those items for people to eat so that they wouldn’t just be drinking all night."
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One of Benitez's recent menu additions is the drunk food of our dreams: chicharron de queso, a massive, crispy roll of straight Oaxacan cheese that's grilled until it has a crispy, crunchy texture. The shareable dish encourages diners to break off a piece of cheese and dip it in salsa, and it pairs beautifully with straight mezcal. The lightly greasy, crispy cheese cuts through the heavy-handed heat of straight mezcal, and the resulting pairing is downright dreamy.
Las Almas Rotas is also working on collaborations with CocoAndre Chocolatier — think mezcal-filled Mexican chocolates and a chocolate skull that the server will crack open at the table, revealing an interior of rich mole mousse. Much like Las Almas Rotas' recent tasting events — which included a lecture last week about bat-friendly mezcals — owners hope the food, too, introduces Dallas diners to Mexican flavors they may not have experienced.
"One of my things with this place is the educational aspect," Shad Kvetko says. "If that extends to other cultural foods in Mexico, like chocolate, I'm down with that."
Las Almas Rotas, 3615 Parry Ave. Open 11 a.m. to midnight Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday; 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Thursday through Saturday.