Despite a modest campaign to right puffy-taco wrongs, there remains a great rift in Dallas' puffy-taco universe. The issue centers around an impostor, a sham, a fraudulent taco promising supple puffiness that never makes its way to the plate. You'll find this taco at many Tex-Mex restaurants, including Ojeda's, which is pictured above, and most recently in Leslie Brenner's review of Raffa's, the Tex-Mex restaurant that's been busting up bellies on Lovers Lane for two decades now.
I'm not, in any way, trying to deny the deliciousness of what is paraded around town as a puffy taco. Any time you combine crispy, fried masa, seasoned ground beef, cool lettuce and tomato and few spoons of salsa, the results are going to be good. But they're not puffy tacos.
Let's think of puffy things: pillows, comforters, your aunt Lucinda, my left eye after I publish this blog post and meet a Rafa's fan on the street. Puffy refers to a soft and supple, swollen characteristic that impostor puffy tacos lack. The puffy tacos served in Dallas are as crunchy as tortilla chips. They break into shards like glass and require a fork or shovel to properly consume. How is this indecency allowed to continue?
I wrote about the genesis of this problem last year, after discussing puffy tacos with Eddie Dominguez, who owns and runs Tupinamba on Inwood Road in North Dallas. Perfect, pliable puffy tacos got their start in San Antonio, but by the time the got to Dallas, they were completely bastardized. Puffy tacos require that wet masa dough be pressed out into a tortilla shape and then fried and bent into shape while it's gently frying in oil. The resultant taco shell should have some flexibility and give in addition to an addictive crunch.
But by the time the technique made it to Dallas, cooks simply threw pre-cooked tortillas into the oil as a shortcut. "Look, it's puffed," they said of the softball-shaped, crunchy shell. And the puffy taco never reached its full potential in Dallas.
Commenters were quick to dump hot queso on my head and dust me with broken tortilla chips when I published that article. One called me a donkey! And then they sent me the names of restaurants that served the very taco I was trying to denigrate. They didn't let up even when I turned my own kitchen into a fry den to show exactly how puffy tacos should be made. I gave up. I'd had enough Tex-Mex, anyway.
But Brenner's review has renewed my zealotry for The Puff. I thought Dallas had aspirations to be a world-class dining city. If that's so, I think it's time we claim Tex-Mex for our own. We need a humble but careful chef -- not a Matt McCallister or a John Tesar, who might top your enchiladas with a guacamole foam, but someone who is careful and competent and above all a visionary -- to travel around Texas gathering the very best of Tex-Mex to bring back to Dallas. Crown it all with a perfect rendition of the puffy taco, soft, pliable and fried to order, and everyone might finally understand what a puffy taco is all about. Even Leslie Brenner.
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