Restaurant Reviews

Review: On Taquero’s Huge Menu, Mexican Tradition Is the Star

As opposed to the original West Dallas location, the new spot on Greenville Avenue boasts a spacious dining room and patio.
As opposed to the original West Dallas location, the new spot on Greenville Avenue boasts a spacious dining room and patio. Alison McLean
What a difference a location can make.

Taquero started in West Dallas in a building with no room for indoor seating and hardly any room for cooking. Chef-owner Fino Rodriguez served meals out of a window to customers who sat at bar stools or on parking spaces he’d converted into a patio. From his tiny space, he managed to produce spectacular San Luis Potosí-style ceviche, cups of beans and a handful of tacos, not all of them good.

Now Taquero has landed in a new location at the lowest end of Greenville Avenue. There’s indoor seating and a partially covered patio which feels much cozier than the original.

But the real difference is in the kitchen, where Rodriguez finally has the room and tools needed to fulfill his ambitions as a chef. His cooking consciously features pre-Spanish Mexican traditions, as in the quesadilla Olmeca and a dish (of roasted bone marrow, $19) that’s called “Prehispanico.”

At its best, in ceviches, appetizers and some tacos, the new Taquero is better than the original location ever was. The only weak point in the business is an ambition, even in a bigger space, to serve too many menus. Moles, cheeseburgers, Tex-Mex combos, cake and even a kale salad all come from a small open kitchen staffed by only one or two cooks.

click to enlarge The tostada fresca built with a layer of mashed avocadoes topped with shrimp and Oaxacan cheese. - ALISON MCLEAN
The tostada fresca built with a layer of mashed avocadoes topped with shrimp and Oaxacan cheese.
Alison McLean
Start with ceviche, of course. Ceviche Fino ($17) is as terrific as it ever was — a creamy, rather than purely acidic mixture of red snapper, red onion, tomatoes and cilantro — but now it’s plated with geometric elegance, as a sort of brick of raw seafood topped with fanned avocados. Dig in with a fork or ask for an extra basket of the thick, crunchy house tortilla chips.

Another raw preparation, tiradito, features pinky-fingertip-sized baby scallops with finely diced cucumbers, cherry tomatoes and chunks of avocado ($17). The light vegetables are a balance against the marinade, which is razor-sharp with lime juice, red onions and the spice of habanero peppers.

The tostada fresca is piled 4 or 5 inches high with mashed avocado, marinated shrimp and Oaxacan cheese ($10). It may pose a challenge to eat a tostada this tall, but the work is well worth it, and the dish can easily be shared by three or four.

If you’ve ever wondered what a cup of elotes would be like if a chef added lots of grilled shrimp and went easy on the crema, order the appetizer called Rey Cently ($11.55; it’s a multilingual pun pronounced “recently”). Since shrimp and corn are both naturally sweet, they grill well together.

click to enlarge Taquero's queso Oaxaca - ALISONMCLEAN
Taquero's queso Oaxaca
There’s something a bit misleading about the queso Oaxaca ($12). It’s a bowl of queso, but it doesn’t actually contain any Oaxacan cheese. Instead, it’s a mixture of mozzarella and white cheddar with sweet corn kernels, brisket and leaves of spinach. Yes, this sounds like a New York Times recipe for queso. This author isn’t a fan, but others around the table loved it and couldn’t eat enough.

Each taco plate here offers two or three tacos and a handful of side dishes, usually including grilled onions, peppers, a scoop of rice and one or two other bonuses. Try the Texano, with pulled brisket and a spicy tomatillo crema ($12), or the tacos de barrio, with housemade chorizo that is some of the most flavorful in the city ($12). Take a bite and every seasoning in the meat comes through at once. It’s not hot-spicy. It’s just rich with spices.

There are misses on the taco list, too. For the pulpito (octopus) tacos, the main ingredient gets coated in a sauce that masks the seafood’s flavor and means that, in the taco, it is basically just a texture ($13). Sometimes the mashed pinto beans on the side were divine, sometimes a little salty.

A dish of “cochi pork,” which comes with great tortillas for make-them-yourself tacos, is far from a traditional cochinita pibil ($18). Instead, it’s a heaping mound of diced pork chunks coated in a chile de arbol salsa that’s as salty as it is spicy. The salt is so powerful you’ll find yourself piling rice and beans onto the tortilla, too. At least the resulting bite will be edible.

The torta de barrio, an $18 sandwich, is another mountain of food with pork at its center. The ultra-tender cubes of meat are bathed in a flavorful red chile sauce (advertised as pastor-style) and topped with a slaw of raw red cabbage and too-thick-cut carrots. The bottom half of the bun falls apart pretty quickly, but the real letdown is a side of steak fries, which have no crispness as if they were steamed.

click to enlarge Chef-owner Fino Rodriquez - ALISON MCLEAN
Chef-owner Fino Rodriquez
Alison McLean
Luckily one of the stars of the West Dallas Taquero menu is back in full glory. A celebration of very old Mexican foodways, the quesadilla Olmeca brings together huitlacoche, fresh corn kernels, grilled onions and Oaxacan cheese on a housemade tortilla made from red corn ($17). It’s vividly colorful and delightful to eat, but so generously stuffed that it gets served open-faced. In our book, that’s not a problem.

You have to admire the energy and drive of a chef opening a restaurant with such huge goals. Rodriguez is an almost permanent presence; on some weeknights, he is the only cook in the open kitchen. His portions are huge, too, which means a table for two could order a couple of appetizers and call it a night.

With insightful pre-Hispanic cooking and tiny kitchen staff, it’s not clear why we also need cheese enchiladas or beet salads. Give them a skip, but do take a table on this patio and see how far Taquero has come from the little window where its journey began.

Taquero, 5434 Ross Ave., 469-372-6049. Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
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Brian Reinhart has been the Dallas Observer's food critic since spring 2016. In addition, he writes baseball analysis for the Hardball Times and covers classical music for the Observer and MusicWeb International.
Contact: Brian Reinhart