All-American is a series that looks at beloved, longstanding North Texas eateries and examines their history while exploring how the food has changed — for the good or bad — over the years.
Before you walk through the doors, you have to admire the tenacious spirit of Tupinamba Cafe.
On March 26, 1953, Eddie Dominguez’s parents opened their first restaurant in Oak Cliff, on the corner of Fort Worth and Hampton. They named it after a spot they knew of in Mexico City, where bullfighters would walk across the street, right by the ring, for food and beer. They were open from 11 a.m. until 2 in the morning.
“I’m thinking back — because I was 10 years old — about how my dad and mother used to stay up late, and close that place up and go up the next day and open it again,” Dominguez says. “It’s unbelievable that they were open for that many hours.”
From there, his family never slowed down: The Oak Cliff location of Tupinamba would be the first of six moves within the city. For a brief time (from 1958 to 1968), there were two locations of Tupinamba, one on Lovers Lane, which eventually consolidated to one when they moved the restaurant to Northwest Highway in 1968.
“We started off with 6,000 square feet, and, by the time I sold the property in ’85, we were a 13,500 square feet,” he says. “We sat 350 people at that location.” They had grown from a restaurant that seats 140 or so people to a massive flagship.
Tupinamba ran strong on Northwest Highway until 1985, when Dominguez sold the property to Taco Cabana. It took him about a year to find a new location at Midway Road and LBJ. Then, in 1995, they took over an old Crystal’s Pizza on Inwood Road. They planted there for 18 years. I used to visit weekly for chips and salsa and sour cream chicken enchiladas during my high school years at Jesuit College Preparatory School across the street. In March, they’ll have been at their current location — in a strip mall at Walnut Hill and Central — for two years.
“This is really our sixth location in the city, but we’ve always just really had one,” Dominguez says. “It’s always been family-owned.”
Since the beginning, Tupinamba has been leading the pack of one of the great food groups of all time: the hangover cure. Is there anything more Texan (and more satisfying) after a few beers than mind-clearing spicy salsa and deep-fried tacos? Tupinamba is, as true-blue as the sky, the spirit of Tex-Mex.
Eddie Dominguez’s father honed his comforting recipes as a cook at El Fenix and met Eddie’s mother while she was a waitress at El Chico. Enchiladas, cheese tacos, chalupas and guacamole (nachos rose to power soon after opening) were the backbone of the restaurant.
On a busy lunch hour, I’m downing a Dallas Tex-Mex icon: the deep fried Tupy Tacos. They are a Valhalla-entry to the great halls of good drunk food. You might even be able to imagine the shattering shells and spicy ground beef right now. Break them in half, dip them into Tupinamba’s hot salsa and take a sip of cold beer. It’s great.
“Lot of people have gone to the pre-fab shell. Ours is fried altogether. It’s a lot, really, like the Jack in the Box tacos,” he chuckles. “I have customers come in the other day that live in Hillsboro, and they said they come up here just for the Tupy tacos.”
They sautée the ground beef for three hours with garlic, onion, cumin, paprika and chili powder. A little flour helps bind things. They stuff the shells, deep fry the whole thing, and you get this wondrously greasy, burn-your-brain hot meal. Their puffy tacos — imagine little taco pods instead of the classic shell — are also delicious with a glass of Negra Modelo.
I can’t think of a cuisine besides my parents’ Italian cooking that I ate more than Tex-Mex as a kid. Maybe all of us Dallasites can gather and discuss the joys of mowing through bowls of insanely crispy tortilla chips, the kind that taste like cold margarine, with a never-ending carafe of red salsa, until you feel like you’ve ruined your meal. It’s part of the spirit of Texas.
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Thankfully, Tupinamba, for all its location changes, hasn’t lost its backbone. It’s still got it.
“When you think of Texas, you think of Tex-Mex,” Dominguez says. “That’s the old food of Texas.”
Tupinamba Cafe, 9665 N . Central Expressway