Another year, another sensational new taco restaurant on Singleton Avenue. The story of West Dallas is one of gentrification, generational change, young politicians clashing with old and a “restaurant theme park” that changed everything. But another part of the story, and a less flippant part than it might sound, is the story of West Dallas tacos.
Up until a few years ago, this neighborhood wasn’t on the radar of fancy-pants critics, fashionable diners or Bon Appetit magazine. Odom’s Bar-B-Que has been here for decades, as had Wimpy’s Hamburgers. But the culinary scene has shifted to reflect the community. In the late 1980s, around 85 percent of West Dallas residents were African-American; now, according to Serve West Dallas, the total population has nearly doubled but a clear majority of the neighborhood is Hispanic.
Now a new wave of development, like Trinity Groves and Sylvan Thirty, looks to transform West Dallas, but it’s worth remembering that this area has, in some ways, already undergone a recent transformation. The easiest way to see that is to eat the neighborhood’s tacos, at sudden hot-spot hits like Tacos Mariachi and Trompo.
And now there’s a new kid on the block. Taquero, which opened a few weeks ago at the corner of Singleton and Chihuahua, occupies one of the more Bon Appetit-unfriendly stretches of Singleton, surrounded by small homes, cramped streets and the kind of financial distress which makes a cheery afternoon of taco tourism seem very distant.
Taquero is in a tiny little building with a parking lot that fits maybe two cars, tops; most customers park down Chihuahua Street. The indoor space only has room for a kitchen and bathroom, so the menu is on a poster next to the window, and there is outdoor seating for about 10 customers – which, given how popular Taquero is already becoming, suggests that this is going to be the next cult spot with Trompo-style lines.
It’s a tiny operation. Place your order with chef Fino Rodriguez, who’s still perfecting some of the menu items, so don’t expect them all to be available. But what’s there is affordable and often great. Try the taco al pastor ($2), made with chicken instead of the traditional pork. Marinated with chiles and achiote, topped with fine cubes of pineapple, it’s a terrific taco. The choriqueso ($2) is fine, with not quite my favorite chorizo, but how can a mini-quesadilla of molten Oaxacan cheese and chorizo go wrong?
There are some seafood tacos on hand, like the Huachinango ($2.50), a fried fish taco with a deep, dark, super-crisp batter that’s described as “tempura” but tastes more like you'd find in a good English order of fish and chips. Jalapeño crema helps make sure you don’t get this confused for pub fare. The Carmen ($2.50), a combination of grilled shrimp and poblano peppers, is another winner: not too crazy, but plenty good.
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Rodriguez was still fine-tuning his “Mexican grits,” but “Mexican Brussels sprouts” were available for $2, seared, topped with crispy slivers of jicama and tossed in a powerfully spicy, maybe chipotle-based sauce. The flavor balance leans hard toward savory-salty – a squeeze of lime would finish this dish off perfectly – but hey, Taquero is learning.
There are other temptations here, too, like tacos of carnitas, tripe and lengua, or the “machete,” a popular snack of an elongated tortilla stuffed with meat, beans and extras ($5). And we didn't try the "Mexican puff" desserts.
This part of Dallas is transforming quickly, and a burgeoning restaurant scene is not a distraction or sideshow from that change. Eateries like Trompo, Tacos Mariachi, Herrera’s Cafe, Ten Ramen and the Trinity Groves development have written themselves into the history of West Dallas. Taquero is the latest star attraction to arrive in the neighborhood. If the new place keeps serving such good food, they’re going to need a few more tables.
Taquero, 1601 Singleton Blvd., 214-429-9493. Mon-Sat 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sun 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.