Unless your mother kept a five-pound bag of masa in her kitchen and scratch-cooked Mexican dishes every day of the week, your first introduction to tacos was likely crafted in part by the folks at Old El Paso. I bet you can still picture those pre-formed taco shells warming in the oven while a mixture of ground beef and the contents of a sodium-heavy spice packet simmered away on the stove.
The table was set with a bowls of shredded lettuce, shredded cheese, diced tomatoes and a plastic cup of sour cream with a spoon handle protruding from the top. And there was salsa, usually old El Paso as well, in medium and spicy versions, neither of which was very hot.
The magic of the meal was the act of taco construction. First you'd layer just enough beef in the bottom the shell, bright-orange oil dripping from the serving spoon. Then came the lettuce; from there the sequencing of tomato, cheese and sour cream application was user preference. Then you took one bite and the entire thing fell apart, and repeated until you popped.
I still make them at home on occasion, though I usually fry my own shells and season the meat with spices from my cabinet and as little salt as necessary. I've called them Mom Tacos my whole life. The term does not translate here in Texas. Try crispy tacos or tacos dorados when trying to order at a restaurant.
Semantics aside, I finally found the perfect Mom tacos here in Dallas. They're served at Luna Cucina, a restaurant I've tired to visit least five times in the past three years, but it never seems to be open. City of Ate visited Luna and found an impressive gordita, and I'm sure it's good, but these tacos -- I ate them with four other taco teammates and the consensus was unanimous -- are outstanding crispy tacos.
The shells are fried to order and filled with a blend of spiced beef and potatoes. Lettuce and tomatoes are already tucked inside and they're served with both green and red salsas. The shells are so crispy you can hear taco bites from across the street, and true to my childhood memories they each fell apart with a bite or two. With a little work, though, I was able to finish these without a fork.
Luna has a small, covered patio that provides the basics, and if the weather is nice a few customers will probably be sharing the space with you. Some of them will bring beer and you should do the same. Trust me: Mom would approve.
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