On a Sunday morning when our son was at his grandmother's house, the missus and I headed to Deep Ellum for brunch at All Good Café. Mike Snider's restaurant and live-music venue is a fantastic place for brunch -- if you can tolerate waiting in line. Then I saw the little building with a rooftop deck up the street from the popular eatery. It was closed, as it is every Sunday, but the sign on the façade told me all I needed to know: Santiago's Taco Loco Express, or eat here, Jose.
I did so on a weekday. Unfortunately, Taco Loco Express is shuttered on Sundays, which is a shame, because the stand could make a killing off the spillover, mostly due to the schmuck in the back corner who just had to have two orders of pancakes cooked on the griddle size that only accommodates eight pancakes. The servings at Taco Loco are just as large as those at All Good. Actually, they're larger. A prime example is No. 17, El Santiago. The most popular item on the menu, El Santiago is composed of stewy carne guisada with cubed potatoes, sautéed onions, chunks of avocado, tender red bell pepper and diced tomatoes. The behemoth is messy -- the filling cascading from the ends of the tacos, staining the paper wrapper and subsequently the table beneath it -- suffering from the rampant bigger-is-better ideology of American eats. As well seasoned as the individual components were, confusingly the overall taco was a bland gut bomb insufficiently contained by the wonderfully chewy and Herculean homemade flour tortilla.
Another stunning failure was the vegetarian No. 4. The appropriately named La Suerga ("The mother-in-law") came with jalapeños, a poorly chopped green bell pepper that the menu claims was sautéed in butter but tasted as bad as a vinegar-powered fart stink, browning avocado, a smatter of onion and flavorless bits of tomato more appropriate for insulating a new home, all atop three small corn tortillas. It would have been better served in a flour tortilla. Or not dealt with at all, like many a man wishes he didn't have to put with his mother-in-law.
The No.7, El Camarron, came with bantam, briny and elastic grilled shrimp, over-caramelized onions and -- again! -- slices of avocado over a trio of corn tortillas. While an improvement over La Suerga -- I wasn't nauseated after consuming it -- it was only barely so.
In contrast, the customized bacon, egg and cheese breakfast taco was an excellent example of the morning fill-her-up-and-go food. The scrambled eggs were moist, the crushed bacon was crisp, the sharp cheese melted in spider silk strands and bound all together in a portion suitable for the same tortilla used in the El Santiago. The No. 2, La Tia Juana, another breakfast taco, was a mini-burrito of sorts: chorizo and scrambled eggs with morsels of refried beans, wrapped in a flour tortilla. (Flour tortillas and breakfast tacos go together like, well, chorizo and eggs.) It was enjoyable, although nowhere near the caliber of the other breakfast taco.
If it weren't for such disastrous offerings, Santiago Peña's 9-year-old taquería would be a wise alternative to All Good Café, especially with the rooftop deck, from which the views of the Dallas skyline and Baylor Medical Center might allow customers a quiet respite before jumping head first into the churning sea of work or a midday break from said responsibility.
Keep the Dallas Observer Free... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Dallas with no paywalls.