One thing that’s better than barbecue is a barbecue restaurant that has tacos on the menu.
In Dallas-Fort Worth, there are many choices when it comes to the barbecue, many of them on Texas Monthly’s Top 50 list. And since COVID-19 has taken over, more barbecue restaurants have added tacos to their menu, and we’re pleased about that. It’s a way for the businesses to incorporate the smoked meats and anything they might not sell into an item people can enjoy.
Here’s how some in the Dallas area are adding tacos to their concepts.
Zavala’s Barbecue in Grand Prairie was started in owners Joe and Christian Zavala’s backyard in 2015. For two years, they did preorder and delivery only. In 2017 with the help of a close friend, Zavala started doing pop-ups that lasted about seven months. Zavala’s has been selling tacos from day one: When they started, he gave out tortillas instead of bread.
The signature taco here is the Sloppy Juan, a brisket and pork taco with lots of barbecue sauce, based on the sloppy Joe sandwich ($5)
The tacos options vary, but Zavala’s usually has brisket and beef cheek tacos. In 2019, Zavala had the opportunity to secure a permeant location and has been serving from there ever since.
While the pandemic has pushed them to focus and do better to keep the doors open, Zavala said his team became closer, and they're working to give the people what they want.
Joe jokes and says COVID pushed him to “sell out” to Zavala, meaning he had to reevaluate the plans and start offering items that would bring people to the doors (drive-up service is available, there’s no dine-in option at this time). Zavala said he and the team are fully embracing the #yearofthesellout: They’ve started a podcast called Brisket and Main that's growing in popularity and is available on Apple and Spotify. One other thing Zavala has in the works is a program he called the 44 Farms Meat Box. They’ve collaborated with meat supplier 44 Farms (www.44farms.com) to offer different meat boxes at different price points that can be purchased directly from Zavala’s.
If you can’t wait to try the tacos, you can all check out Mas Coffee Co. in the same location. There you’ll find breakfast tacos made with meat from Zavala’s.
Zavala’s Barbecue/Mas Coffee Co., 421 W. Main St., Grand Prairie. Open 5 p.m. to sellout Friday and 11 a.m. to sellout Saturday.
Magallanes said COVID has reduced business by about 30%, and they’ve worked to overcome and adapt by offering curbside and to-go service. La Pantera is the name they use for the taco side of the business (La Pantera has been put on hold since the bars were closed because bar-going customers were the primary audience.) Panther City has always offered brisket tacos accompanied by the barbacoa (beef cheek), an occasional special.
Magallanes says the popularity of those tacos along with the need to use the trimmings from the daily meats is what led toward a full late-night taco menu. As for La Pantera, it focuses on blending the smoked meats and flavor profiles with traditional street tacos that are a favorite in Southside Fort Worth. Since restrictions were changed, La Pantera will resume operations shortly.
If you can't wait for late-night tacos, Pantera is blending the flavors into breakfast taco offerings 7 to 10 a.m. Wednesday through Saturday. From that, the popular “Flaco Taco” was recently born: the taco is a griddled corn tortilla stuffed with asadero cheese, cilantro, onion and your choice of brisket or barbacoa.
Panther City BBQ, 201 E. Hattie St., Fort Worth. Open 7 to 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday.
225 BBQ at Division Brewing in Arlington is a husband-and-wife operation by Rene and Joyce Ramirez, started in 2014 with underground pop-ups and catering to bring in extra income.
Ramirez said in 2018, they placed an order for a custom-built mobile kitchen that they use now, and the business has found a home at the Arlington brewery and also sets up in Balch Springs. When COVID-19 hit, Ramirez said he was worried business would slow down, but the reaction by the local community was the opposite.
Their 225 BBQ transitioned to curbside pickup and preorder only and business continued to grow. Ramirez even took a leap of faith during the pandemic and quit his job to focus on 225 BBQ full time. A taco option has been available since they opened the mobile kitchen, and Ramirez said the tacos are one of the most popular items on the menu. If you go, we suggest the birria taco. My taco of choice from 225 BBQ is the birria taco.
225 BBQ, 506 E. Main St., Arlington. Open 2 to 8 p.m. Friday and noon to 6 p.m. Saturday. The location at 3809 Peachtree Road in Balch Springs is open noon to 6 p.m. Thursday and Sunday.
Hurtado is known for his “Mexicue,” which is used to describe the style of cooking and flavors he uses and the influence from his dad’s Mexican roots. When COVID hit, Hurtado had to find ways to continue the business: he added online ordering, curbside and pre-order.
Along with barbecue, Hurtado offers, tacos, tostadas and elote. Also in the works for Hurtado is a full-service bar on the property he purchased next door to the barbecue restaurant (the former is projected to open early in 2021).
The bar and restaurant will share the outdoor courtyard/patio area. Hurtado said to expect a late-night menu serving street tacos with smoked brisket, carnitas, barbacoa and more. The cocktail menu is still in the works but will include Tex-Mex inspired mixed drinks with local ingredients and spirits.
Hurtado also said he wants to keep things simple and continue to make downtown Arlington a travel destination. Our favorites from Hurtado are the birria taco and brisket tostada.
Hurtado Barbecue, 205 E. Front St., Arlington. Open 11 a.m. to sellout Wednesday through Sunday.
Vaqueros Texas Bar-B-Q was started by owner and pitmaster Arnulfo “Trey” Sanchez in August of 2018 as a pop-up at a gas station and multiple breweries. In September of 2020, Vaqueros found a home at Hop and Sting Brewing Co. in Grapevine.
Sanchez has a family history of barbecue: His dad owned a catering company and barbecue restaurant in Dallas where Sanchez learned to cook and all the family recipes. As he adjusted to the pandemic, the popup’s stopped and Sanchez says the loss of catering income hurt his business the most.
Sanchez began taking orders via social media and delivering them himself, offering pickup and curbside delivery. Sanchez has always offered a brisket taco along with meats by the pound on the menu. In June, Vaqueros was featured on the Cooking Channel's show Man Fire Food; as expected, this immediately helped with business. He added tacos to the menu nearly a year ago — the brisket taco and birria tacos are the most popular menu items.
On Thursdays, Vaqueros has “taco night” with options like smoked suadero, pork, lengua, chorizo, chicken fajita and fish. My taco of choice from Vaqueros is the brisket or birria taco.
Vaqueros Texas Barbecue, 906 Jean St., Grapevine. Open 4 to 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, noon to 8 p.m. Saturday and noon a 5 p.m. Sunday.