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Thoughts from Tacolandia: Fresh Tortillas Required, Envuelto en Queso Is Big and We’re Not Tired of Tacos

On Saturday, City Council member Adam Medrano and I joined my Observer boss Taylor Adams to judge the taco entries at the best taco festival in North Texas, and several thousand of you were kind enough to be there, too.

We gave five awards, and y’all picked a People’s Choice. But I learned so much more and there were so many other good things to eat than just the five winners that I promptly sat down to record these valuable observations. If I had a penny for my thoughts, I’d be a millionaire.

The envuelto en queso taco from chilangosEXPAND
The envuelto en queso taco from chilangos
Taylor Adams

The most important thing to know is that Tacolandia was awesome. Dallas Farmers Market is a great place to stage the event. The attendance was enormous and diverse. Dallas is well over 40% Latino, at least 20% black, and more than a quarter of us weren’t born in this country. I always tell people to be aware of social and professional settings where they don’t see that diversity reflected and wonder why. It’s no surprise to me that tacos bring us together. The event also raised money for the North Texas Food Bank because not everyone has delicious tacos to eat. Thank you.

If you’re looking at the awards we handed out, that House of Blues one isn’t a typo. They brought it. I never think of eating at HoB, but now I think that’s because I’m ignorant. They have a new chef over there named Rob Slater, and I now want him to cook everything.

There were standout tacos that we just didn’t have enough awards to recognize properly. My buds from Alamo Club made a great chicken tinga. I’m learning Mexican cuisine this year, and I just made tinga for a dinner party last week. AC’s was better than mine. Dammit. Tortas Insurgentes was one of my favorites from last year when they brought their namesake food. The tacos they served this year were just as good.

Elotes tacos from House of Blues Dallas
Elotes tacos from House of Blues Dallas
Philip Kingston

Here’s a massive overreaction that I believe will be a lame-ass trend story 18 months from now: The two best tacos of the day were both envuelto en queso. This is a form of DF street taco that I’d never even seen before last year — on the street in DF. It’s not some dieting moron’s attempt at a keto taco. Both Riki’s and Chilangos were in a tortilla. They griddle up a little puddle of cheese and put the filling in that before folding up all the cheesy goodness and slapping it in a tortilla. Holy shit! I’m having a flashback!

I can’t say enough about Del Sur Tacos. I repeatedly and viciously derided Taylor for even having a Best Vegetarian category. This is another in a long line of things I’m pleased to have been wrong about. Go eat their nopalito taco right now.

A few gripes:

The lines! I was with Medrano for whom there is no such thing as a line, especially in his home district. I had to cut; I was judging. But the rest of you were so patient!

It's hard to be patient when you know you're close to getting tacos.EXPAND
It's hard to be patient when you know you're close to getting tacos.
Kelsey Shoemaker

The tortillas. Y’all. Tortillas are not that hard to make. Make your own damn tortilla, and put some lard in it for Pete’s sake. This is the last big deficit holding Dallas back from having a credible taco scene. Our tortillas are straight trash. Some of y’all chefs spend months growing, harvesting and perfecting individual ingredients because the stuff in the store isn’t up to your standards. Why does everyone grab a tortilla out of a plastic bag? I’ve been here 20 years. I’m an actual expert on Dallas history, politics and food, and to this day I can’t understand why I can’t buy groceries at an H-E-B or find a decent tortilla. Is this even Texas?

Cheers to those taco chefs, nay, artistes who showed up and claimed glory. It was truly a pleasure to do my Mr. Creosote impression trying to pick among so many delicious entries. But where were all my other friends? Do I not spend enough money at Mariachi to ask them to bring the octopus taco to Tacolandia? I lead pilgrimages to Taquero. No Trompo, no Taxqueno, no El Si Hay, no El Come? Fine. I’m talking up Cuates and Riki’s for the next 12 months. This is what you get.

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