Taco Libre is a fun festival — and obviously Dallas agrees, since this year's fest, held Saturday at Main Street Garden Park, sold out before taco VIPs even got in the gate. For the 5,000 people who got in, the weather was great and the tacos were even better.
Aside from the fact that tacos may be one of the greatest festival foods — they're portable, quick to assemble and not hard to churn out in great numbers — Taco Libre has created a festival Dallas should be proud of. Why? Because in the era of white people arguing over which city invented the taco, this festival didn't whitewash the humble taco. Along with curious, modern takes on the dish, there were traditional tacos aplenty and the lucha libre wrestling matches were entirely in Spanish. And those wrestling matches were seriously fun.
And then there was the music: Mariachi El Bronx and Grupo Fantasma headlined, creating the perfect music to dance off those tacos, and Dallas band Mayta played a killer set in Spanish that ran the gamut from Afro-Cuban to Cumbia, all of it with a psychedelic rock backbone. Having attended the Old 97's County Fair — which, to steal a line from 30 Rock, was about as diverse as a Wilco concert — at the same park just a couple weeks prior, I was impressed with Taco Libre's firm roots in traditionally Hispanic food, music and entertainment. It would have been easy to fill a fest with Del Taco and Fuzzy's Taco Shop — slapping a white DJ on the stage to play Black Eyed Peas all day — but Taco Libre went a more authentic route, and the extra work paid off. The only thing missing was local craft beer options — like Old 97s' fest, there wasn't a single craft beer on hand, local or not, which feels weird in a city with such a vibrant craft beer culture. At Taco Libre, a little Mexican beer softened the blow.
There is one thing about Taco Libre that may be a turn-off for festival-goers, but it shouldn't be: The festival's admission ($16 in advance for GA) doesn't actually include any tacos, which at that price point, shouldn't be surprising. Instead, taco fans had the option of picking from more than 20 vendors selling tacos that cost $2-$4 each. Why is this actually a good thing? Because sometimes at food festivals, restaurants find themselves ponying up the cost of all that food and labor just for "exposure." But at Taco Libre, these vendors — most of which were small, independently owned taco spots — had the opportunity to gain exposure while making serious bank. According to organizers, one vendor alone sold more than 2,700 tacos.
Even though the fest was centered on one singular food item, there was a lot of creativity to behold — and a lot of taco fillings we'd never tried before. Here are six curious tacos we tried at this year's Taco Libre.
Tacos Mariachi's Pulpo
This awesome taco made us wish octopus tacos were more of a thing — but if we're to believe the multiple octopi-slingin' vendors at this year's Taco Libre, it may very well be. Grilled, marinated octopus sat perky and bright atop asadero cheese and avocado on a corn tortilla. Any concerns about octopus being chewy or too fishy were immediately quashed by this delightful little bite — it was tender, flavorful and felt like the ideal summer day taco.
Taco Heads' El Año del Cazador
One of our favorite tacos from this year's fest was a surprising one — and it had a lot going on. Taco Heads' El Año del Cazador featured teriyaki pulled pork topped with bright citrus slaw, onion, cilantro, crumbly queso fresco and a wasabi drizzle. The zing of the citrus, the salt from the teriyaki, the subtle punch from wasabi with a sprinkle of creaminess from queso fresco — all of it combined to create the perfect bite, and it made us consider making the trek West to see what other flavor bombs are on this Fort Worth taqueria's menu.
Revolver's ostrich taco
Tucked away in the VIP section, Fort Worth legends Revolver Taco Lounge had some serious fun with duck, lamb and ostrich tacos. Revolver owner Regino Rojas committed hard to his ostrich taco — topped with mole negro, sautéed onion and sweet potato — by cooking it sous vide in advance and searing it on the grill at the fest. The act of procuring ostrich was its own intensive dilemma — despite the fact that Texas is one of the country's largest producers of ostrich, Rojas says, he couldn't find a distributor that carries the meat and had to buy from a farm in Iowa. The meat's flavor profile was reminiscent of beef and beautifully tender thanks to its sous vide bath.
Flatlanders' cactus taco
With sautéed cactus strips, diced avocado, tomato, cilantro and arbol salsa, this Denton taco spot served up a fun meat-free option. It was also one of the spiciest tacos we ate all day — but after loading up on pork, beef and ostrich, some veggies were definitely in order.
Resident Taqueria's cauliflower taco
Speaking of meat-free options, Resident Taqueria delivered with a grilled cauliflower taco filled with kale, cucumber, pumpkin seeds and topped with an aioli reminiscent of ranch dressing. They also went hard with a braised short rib taco that we nearly inhaled in one bite.
Taqueria Saltillo's Taco Dog
Taco purists, look away — Arlington's Taqueria Saltillo served up a heaping helping of taco meat in its Taco Dog by filling up a hot dog bun instead of a tortilla. Would we be inclined to order such a monster in a traditional taco setting? Probably not — but hybrid foods are pretty hot right now, and there are no bad ideas in brainstorming.
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