One of the "joys" of working from home is having the role of caregiver thrust upon me when my son is sick and prohibited from attending daycare. Since first matriculated in daycare several months ago, he's spent almost one day every week at home with a fever. If I build him a fort in the living room, he is content to nap in it while Lightning McQueen and Mater perform their Abbott and Costello shtick on the TV. Caring for a sick child while tasked to write about tacos also means taking my kid to work, but with a spiking temperature I wasn't about to schlep him across town to Oak Cliff, as much as I'm sure he'd enjoy the "choo-choo train" and bus ride. This has been one of those weeks.
Luckily, eight taquerías and Mexican restaurants are within proximity of my house. This time, we made a short jaunt to the Holly Hill outpost of Torteria Insurgentes, named after the longest avenue in Mexico City and specializing in tortas, a type of Mexican sandwich. The shop, with a drive-through window, is adjacent to a sketchy bodega with gambling machines, a counter staffed by a young Mexican woman shilling bootleg ranchera and Norteño CDs and a kitchen in the back where pupusas and tamales are made. The coolers are stocked with selections from the St. Ides line of fine malt liquor. Torteria Insurgentes has a similar off-putting quality. At night, it's packed with raucous immigrant day laborers blowing off steam and spending what little coin they can afford not to send home on warming comfort food and drink. A section of reinforced glass poorly disguises a bullet hole in a window.
It's a completely different establishment during the day. After school, the restaurant is the gathering place of boisterous schoolchildren and their bedraggled parents in search of a snack before homework. At lunch, Insurgentes is a quiet place (salsa music notwithstanding) ideal for families, such as a young parent and his ill toddler. All the leeriness is swept aside at the sight of the festive tile-top tables lining the walls, blue cocktail tables running down the center of the small dining room. Framed photos of Mexico City street life hang under the corrugated-aluminum awning from the walls. The waitresses, young, raven-haired, were sweet, dropping the Spanish equivalents of "dear," "honey," and "sweetie" while wearing white T-shirts announcing a specialization in sandwiches in iron-on appliqué. I was wowed. One look at the boy and I realized, he was wowed too. However, his bopping to salsa was half-hearted. I was going to order para llevar, to-go.
When we returned home, I saw that my order had been bungled. There were no lengua tacos. In their place, two tripe tacos, the fried, bumpy tubes slimy between my fingers during the brief trip to the trashcan. The suadero tacos, filled with diced cuts of beef and succulent fat made all the better by the bright salsa verde were highlights of our meal. After a couple of bites, I set one of the tacos down to savor at the end of the meal.
But the tacos par excellence were the campechano (meaning someone from the Mexican state of Campeche as well as peasant and genial). A mixture of chorizo and steak, the meat was a playful exercise in texture and flavor. My taste buds and palate ran, skipped and shouted free of the restraints of responsibility, something that the bistec and chorizo couldn't achieve alone.
The pastor should have been the signature taco, being the unofficial taco of Mexico City. At Insurgentes, however, they flop like the mini-asteroids of pork from the double tortillas. It wasn't the flavor: the meat and slivers of pineapple paired adequately. It was the leaden feel of the pork and its adobe hue.
Good thing I saved some of the suadero.
Insurgentes may specialize in tortas -- which I will return to order -- but the tacos left me confused as to why I waited so long to sample them. They rejuvenated me. Especially the suadero and campechano. They rejuvenated my son. There is no better antibiotic than a taco.
Torteria Insurgentes 7019 Holly Hill Drive 214-750-5542
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