Some of life’s greatest joys are mysteries. For example: How can a fried taco retain its crispy tortilla shell after it’s slathered in a warm bath of spicy salsa?
This is the magical mystery at the heart of Maskaras Mexican Grill, Dallas’ best destination for tacos ahogados. “Ahogado” is Spanish for “drowned,” which is the perfect word for this classic preparation from Guadalajara.
Maskaras prepares three of its excellent carnitas tacos and serves them up inside good corn tortillas, which are gently fried to crispiness ($10). (If you know to ask, they’ll use colorful chile-flavored tortillas which, lined up, form a green-white-red Mexican tricolor.) Then the whole plate gets drowned in a gently spicy homemade salsa, the kind that warms up your insides without scorching your taste buds, and topped with a tangle of raw white onions.
Sure, by the time you tackle the last taco on the plate, patches of tortilla will be getting soggy under the weight of the salsa. But the meat within will still be firm and succulent — and other bits of tortilla will still bend your plastic knife.
A lot of first-timers at Maskaras don’t know about the tacos ahogados, and they might not realize how rare this genre is in Dallas. That’s because many of Maskaras’ first-time customers come here to see co-owner Rodolfo Jimenez, a former Mexican talk-show host and actor who also occasionally appeared on The Real Housewives of Miami. Or they’ve read about Jimenez’s extensive collection of luchador memorabilia, much — but not all — of which is displayed in Maskaras’ dining room. One wall is lined with framed masks, while the front windows are guarded by mannequins in full costume. There are vintage posters and magazine covers, action figures, a neon lucha libre sign and even explanatory plaques.
“All masks have been worn by the wrestlers either in a match or a special event and have been collected for the past 35 years, and have been autographed by each luchador,” one plaque explains.
The now-famous lucha libre collection brings first-timers into Maskaras. For more than two years, the outstanding food and hospitality have kept them coming back.
It’s hard not to be charmed by Jimenez and his wife and business partner, Zulma Vanessa Hernandez. They remember seemingly every face they meet; you’ll be a regular by your second visit. They check in on each table to make sure the food is at its usual high standards, and over the two years Maskaras has been open, they’ve gently tweaked the menu away from the usual tacos to specialties of Guadalajara, Jimenez’s home town.
Now the signature dishes are items like carne en su jugo, a brimming stew served in a shallow cazuela ($12) with a side platter of fresh tortillas. Dip your spoon through the bowl to find finely diced pieces of carne asada, bacon, beans, onions and cilantro, and the broth is (as the name says) the meat’s own juices, making for big flavors and superb assemble-your-own tacos.
There are tortas, too, and tacos dorados, which are rolled and fried but not dunked in salsa, in the style of San Juan de los Lagos, a small town 90 miles northeast of Guadalajara with religious significance and a lively street-food scene ($10). Get them topped with cueritos — shavings of pickled pig skins.
The more familiar offerings are just as good. Maskaras’ massive burritos clock in at 15 inches wide, and the spicy shrimp burrito is a classic of its genre, loaded to the brim with tender shrimp, avocado, seasoned rice and cheese ($11). When you place your order, you’ll be asked how spicy you want it; if you’re a spice fiend, speak up. We ordered a four out of five and had to add more of Maskaras’ fiery hot sauce.
Unlike run-of-the-mill burritos at fast-food chains, Maskaras’ burritos are sheathed in the kind of fresh, soft, warm flour tortillas that make you want to do a little happy dance. And unlike some burritos, they don’t feel too indulgent or unhealthy — aside from their size.
Maskaras’ enchiladas verdes are first-rate, too, a trio of enchiladas topped with a swirl of crema and just enough crumbled queso fresco ($11). The chile relleno is a poblano stuffed with cheese, breaded and fried ($11). Pockets of extra batter around the pepper’s stem have the bubbly texture of actual bread, and the pepper itself has a soft fried crunch that’s the opposite of a grease bomb. Both dishes come with rice and the kind of beans that taste like they’ve been in the pot building flavor for hours.
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Want a side dish? Add another taco to your order. The Taco Eclipse — which, by the way, would make a great name for a band — arrives at the table looking like a bowl of Texas chili in a flour tortilla: It features carne asada bathed in a deep-red chile sauce and a heap of shredded cheddar ($3.50). It is, of course, wonderful, as is the house specialty Taco Maskaras, featuring steak, pico de gallo and avocado on a blanket of molten, bubbling cheese ($3.50).
Maskaras opened in fall 2016 and immediately nabbed headlines for its lucha libre collection. But the kitchen’s food deserves headlines, too, especially the carne en su jugo, enchiladas verdes and those glorious drowned tacos. And if the tacos ahogados leave you hungry for more foods bathing in pools of salsa, you’re in luck: Maskaras’ torta ahogada is a champion ($11). Its bun filled with carnitas lies like a glorious shipwreck under waves of faded red salsa and onions. This is truly a knife-and-fork sandwich — maybe the best knife-and-fork sandwich in Dallas. Dig in.
Maskaras Mexican Grill, 2423 W. Kiest Blvd. 469-466-9282, facebook.com/maskarasmexicangrill. Open Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m.-10 p.m.