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Archive for January, 2010

Before we get to this weeks taco joint we wanted to say how excited we are to have received the attention of a few of our favorite local publications, Advocate Magazine and Oak Cliff People (Oak Cliff People is revamping their website..rumor is that it will be updated by Monday) as well as a mention from the Dallas Morning News. We knew something must have been up since our website hits went from about 100 a week to 150 the day Advocate posted us on their website. What a rush it was to see our beloved blog among the great investigative reporting pieces that make up the magazine’s Back Talk Blog. So if you are a new follower thanks for checking us out. And welcome to our adventures in taco land!

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We smelled our taco destination while driving down Plymouth well before we ever saw the building on the corner of Davis.  You may have visited this same building when it housed Sason, an upscale take on authentic Mexico City dishes. El Pollo Regio has occupied the location ever since. The house specialty is flame grilled chicken, similar to what you’d find at Pollo Fiesta. But Pollo Regio has a leg up on the competition. Its location on a sloped street sends plumes of white smoke across Plymouth, an olfactory siren’s call beckoning drivers to stop and pick up some of this delicious fare on their way home from work. Its nearly impossible to resist and we’re glad we didn’t!

The restaurant is spacious and bright, perfect for our afternoon taste test and meet up with local photographer Chris  from Oak Cliff People (We’ll let you know when the article about our little blog comes out!).  Chicago born and bred but a Texan at heart, he was easy going, enthusiastic about his work, and knowledgable of a few great taco joints in east Dallas (We’ll get out there some day Chris). We sat in one of Regio’s rustic hardwood booths with a mexican tile table, a beautiful backdrop for a potentially not so pretty photo shoot of us eating tacos. Tacos are delicious but never dainty.

In addition to selling whole grilled chickens, Pollo Regio has a few answers to Chipotle’s or Freebird’s over-stuffed burritos. Tacos and burritos overflowing with carne asada or pollo asada make up half the menu. A few other offerings include a baked potato stuffed with steak fajita meat and hamburgers topped with avacado and ham. We chose 6 small tacos (3 chicken and 3 steak) rather than one forearm sized taco. Of course the chicken stood above the steak. Both meats were deliciously flame kissed, but the chicken kept its juiciness much better than the steak. The salsa bar offered at least 3 different salsas as well as limes and pickled onions. Each salsa added something different but our favorite taco included chicken, onion, cilantro, salsa verde and a squeeze of fresh lime juice. Good stuff!

So the next time you see smoke driving down Davis, know that it will lead you to fire…and chicken…and tacos!

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Three years ago we went searching for our first home.  Alison had just taken a full time design job, quite the jump from the $9/hr.  day care job she had just left.  Despite the instability of one spouse in school and the uncertaintly of beginning a new job, we jumped feet first into looking for a home with a nice big porch, hardwood floors and crown mould, the older the better!  Our search led us to our little barn on Burlington Blvd that we have been blessed to call home these past few years. We love the house, but love that we are surrounded by the most neighborly of neighbors, kind and giving, always quick with news or a story about the area.

As we began to explore our surroundings we both noticed the quaint blue and yellow restaurant on the corner of Hampton and 12th, Taqueria Tepatilian.  In the evenings cars would flood the parking lot, filling the interior with throngs of people. We often looked into the bright and lively restaurant windows from the windows of our station wagon (may she rest in peace).  Our fear of the unknown steered us toward Country Burger (not a bad choice!). Many times we found ourselves wanting to try a new place, yet unwilling to step out into the unknown.

Finally, three years later, we found ourselves pulling into the parking lot of this corner tacqueria, now called simply Tepa.  Once inside, David instantly recognized his surroundings from late night childhood dinners following his mom’s annual piano recitals held at Tyler Street Church down the street.  Painted ceilings, warm sun colored walls, and brick columns helped invited us into our new adventure.  We were also greeted by a chalkboard easel displaying the day’s specials: Menudo and Pozole.  The hostess spoke to David in Spanish and surprisingly, he held his own!  I’m not positive,but she must have said “we can sit where we want” so I chose a cozy wood veneer booth with a scenic view of the Saturday afternoon drizzle on Hampton Road.

Turns out this tacqueria is full of kind, beautiful waitresses who mostly speak Spanish and very little English.  It was one of the few encounter’s we’ve had where we’ve had to rely on David’s high school Spanish education.  It makes it so much more fun when ordering leaves some room for the unknown! Fortunately the menu is bi-lingual and even if it wasn’t, we’ve become accustomed to the words Pastor, Lengua, Tripas, Pollo, and Barbacoa and, of course, the word TACO!

Chips and salsa were served almost as soon as we sat down and they were a welcome site for our hungry stomachs. As we surveyed the 3 or 4 other tables for ideas regarding what to order, we noticed most patrons enjoying just a beer and conversation . We ordered pastor and tripas tacos de maiz and a pollo fajita on flour. The menu boasted some enticing seafood choices including ceviches and shrimp/seafood cocktails.  But the dreary rainy day demanded something heartier, something to warm us up from the inside out. A bowl of Pozole (pork soup with hominy) seemed to promise such warmth, so we went for it, not knowing what we would end up with when our food arrived

As we waited our little Lucy enjoyed her surroundings.  She clapped and  grooved to the beat of the juke box pounding out the happy beats of Tejano music all while gumming on a fresh, homemade flour tortilla.  The restaurant seemed to be both a family friendly place, with dulces and candy sold at the cashier’s stand. However, it would not take much to make it a hopping late night venue, centered around the beautiful Tequila Bar at the back of the restaurant beckoning us to “Try a Teparita!” Yum!

I can almost hear you screaming, “Less talk! More Tacos!  So…

Our dishes arrived, the pozole being the most impressive.  A huge bowl of brothy, adobe red soup with heaps of fresh cabbage, onions, limes,  jalapenos and tostadas on the side let us know that we had made the right non-taco choice. Hidden away in the broth was beautiful pearls of white hominy, tender and toothsome. But the main attraction was the pork, served in large tender chunks, easily flaked into spoon size portions. The tenderness of the pork was reminiscent of beef stew meat and at the same time a completely unique experience.

On the plate the tacos sat as we quickly ladled out a few spoonfuls of pozole. They looked good, but we were enamored by our encounter with the soup. But, wow! The tacos quickly stole the show once we finished topping them with the ubiquitous onion and cilantro. The corn tortillas were melt in your mouth delicious. We have not encountered such tender corn tortillas anywhere! The fillings were delicious as well, especially the pollo taco which contained chunks of moist, spiced chicken. Unfortunatly we did not order enough tacos for each of us since we also had the pozole. This left us clamoring for the last bits of these excellent tacos.  We’ll be sure to not make that mistake again on our already planned return visit to this gem of a corner restaurant!

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Tres Arbolitos

Food is so much more than just a way to nourish our bodies. If that were the case, we would most likely enjoy our meals through a straw, sipping our nutrients rather than taking the time and effort to prepare elaborate meals. Instead, food is used to help us celebrate life achievements, to lift our spirits when life inevitably gets hard. The foods we create and consume may express artistic vision, philosophical or religious convictions, or link us to our earliest memories of the pleasures of eating. I remember swapping turkey sandwiches for bean burritos made with homemade flour tortillas in middle school, savoring the rich creamy texture of both beans and tortillas. I am sure both parties involved in the trade enjoyed the break from the mundane  repetition that is a sack lunch. I tasted those same rich flavors at Tres Arbolitos this past week, where the tortillas are homemade and the food is much more than nourishment.

The owners of Tres Arbolitos have created a gathering place for  family, friends, and the community.  This made it the perfect spot to meet some culinary companions who blur the lines between friend and family. The husband and wife team who run the establishment greeted us with sincere warmth. The open seating, freshly painted red walls, and inviting bar with chairs and stools to match set the mood for eating while also serving as a portent of the flavors to come.  The couple were busy this Saturday, often coming out into the dining room to take orders, running back to prepare a taco or torta plate, then back out to serve the food, and also to distribute samples of hot off the grill Carne Asada (more on that in a minute), never slow with a smile or “How is everything?”. We even heard a story about tamales stolen from a church kitchen on New Years Eve! As the owners told another story on the name of the restaurant we knew were in a special place, much more than a store front selling food. The owner’s mother, now passed, came up with the name symbolizing the couple’s three sons, long before they could afford a business of their own. All at once the name honors the memory of a past generation as well as generations to come and shows that family is at the heart of this taqueria. We met one “arbolito” and possibly a grandfather, both of whom swung by to pick up some food on their Saturday, but lingering to say hello and talk a little. By the end of our visit, our 10 month old daughter was gladly swept up into the arms of the gracious señora behind the counter, receiving her first spanish lessons and making us feel like part of the family.

Our intention was to order some breakfast tacos, and the menu boasted some classic choices: huevos con chorizo, papas, jamon, and an intriguing “Mexicana”. But our conversation over coffee and horchata lingered into the lunch hour so we opted for regular tacos. Well, most of us did.  My wife muttered the words “I’m tired of tacos” last week, and actually I’m surprised she has lasted this long. She has never been much of a meat-eater, especially not the sorts of meats we have encountered on our taco tour. So, while she will still be tasting most of the tacos reviewed here, she will be ordering some non-taco menu items in future posts. Expect to read about some great vegetarian selections for you herbivores out there and even some desserts.

This week we ordered Lengua, Al Pastor, Barbacoa, and Fajita Beef tacos as well as “A’s” Beef Milanesa Torta. A torta, though possibly unrecognizable by name, is familiar when seen. It is a sandwich on a soft bolio roll, with typical fillings of lettuce, tomato, cheese, and meat. However, a torta steps up the flavor by usually adding fresh avacado, onions, and refried beans to the toppings. This makes for a tasty combination when paired with a thin piece of meat quickly breaded and fried on a griddle. Described as a south of the border chicken fried steak sandwich it was filling and delicious.

We have not found many made-from-scratch tortillas since beginning this blog. It has been something we have not missed until tasting the wonderfully fresh tortillas from Tres Arbolitos. There is a difference and when paired with the right fillings, an ordinary taco is thrust into a realm close to perfection. Our fajita beef taco in a flour tortilla was one of the best tacos we have had so far. This may have been because of the hot chunks of Carne Asada placed on our table as we received our food. After many months, we finally found the flame-grilled, “Well-seared crusty meat” Rick Bayless’ writings described in one of our first posts. And it was well worth the wait. They sell this tender, perfectly seasoned, beautifully charred meat by the pound, which would make a quickly prepared weeknight meal at home that much quicker. I added some of this meat to my fajita beef taco and fell in love with the pairing of grilled onion and jalapeno, smokey meat, and soft tortilla. While I dared not spoil this holy union with salsa or other toppings, the two salsas offered were delicious, one a salsa verde, the other more tart, with an orange hue.

Our friends bravely tried some items that were out of their normal ordering habits, asking for lengua tacos which they read about on our blog. Filled with disbelief in regards to the tastiness of something that itself has tasted, the two ordered anyway, prodded on by “A” and myself. I think I speak the truth that both were pleasantly surprised and enjoyed their meal. We plan on meeting regularly at this location, prodding each other to try new things, think new thoughts, and enjoy each other’s company in new ways, all while enjoying more carne asada as well as the benefit of regular spanish lessons for our daughter!

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Chill Out!

Its a fitting week to visit Chill Out. The neighborhood hot spot specializes in summer weather fare, including ice cream and snow cones. But I was a walking paleta most of this week, chilled out by temperatures in the teens and not interested in foods containing the words “ice” or “snow”. Now, those of you reading from more northern latitudes, cut us some slack. This is Texas. Tornadoes and hurricanes we expect and may possibly enjoy the occasional bout with Mother Nature, ala Pecos Bill. But a whole week of freezing weather is not fighting fair. But an outpost manned by three young men out in front of Chill Out was doing their best, fighting the chill with tacos, hot off the grill!

Fito’s Tacos de Trompo is open outside Chill Out every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Their menu includes tacos, tortas, and warm stews like Menudo. I didn’t see it on the menu, but they also had a few baked potatoes out on the grill that looked amazing, stuffed with cheese and easily topped with steak fajita meat, I’m sure. The tacos offered were pretty basic, either bistek or pastor. I ducked inside Chill Out for a moment to order and pay, then was sent back outside with my ticket to be handed over to the outdoor cooks. While I was pretty cold as I waited, the activity within the tented outdoor kitchen looked to be keeping the cooks warm. I did not have to wait long, and quickly returned home to find my wife snuggled under a quilt with our daughter, ready to eat. The patio would make an ideal place to spend a June evening, eating tacos and snow cones in front of a large water fountain and rose garden. On a day like that, the tacos would have been okay, overshadowed by the pleasant evening or the decadence of Fresas con Crema (Strawberries and Cream). The tacos were a little oily, the meat overpowered first by grilled onions, then by raw onions and cilantro, and the salsa was nothing spectacular either. Definitely not the highlight of a perfect evening of al fresco dining.

But how are they at about 8pm in the middle of January right after standing outside when wind chill is around zero? You can keep your decadent strawberries and cream and give me a greasy taco to keep my hands warm and my insides warmer.

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We’re back after an unexpected break from blogging over the holidays. It doesn’t take much to distract us, so you can imagine what a house full of family, friends, and a computer crash did to our posting priorities. Not that we forgot about eating tacos…on the contrary. Tacos were eaten by the dozens. But communicating that with our faithful readers was certainly neglected. So, time to catch-up. Its a new year and we are back with a slightly updated look and a constantly updated list of taco joints to visit.

This time of year is full of motivation and resolve. It shows how perception changes everything. There is nothing intrinsically different about today as compared to a week ago (maybe less snow here in Dallas). Yet January feels different compared to December. January is a time for  new beginnings, a fresh start, a clean slate.

Well, good luck with whatever your resolutions are. Just remember that it will be hard work, but that conflict and hardship are fertile ground for change.

To make keeping your resolutions a little bit easier, and a lot tastier, here are some ways tacos can help out.

Tame the Bulge: Unlike a plate of fajitas with the mounds of sour cream, cheese, and guacamole, taco stand tacos are comparatively lean. Its guilt-free fast food at its best: flavorful, nourishing, and cheap. A steak, pastor, or chicken taco is usually made from lean meat, wrapped in a corn tortilla (flour often are made with shortening or lard), and topped with fat free salsa, cilantro, and onions.

Tame the Budget: The most we have paid for a taco is $2.25 and have paid as little as $.50. Great for a group of friends or family gatherings. Way cheaper than an 8 dollar plate of enchiladas.

Learn Something New: This is one of those vague resolutions, but a good one. We’ve learned a lot about different meats, cooking techniques, and flavors we had no clue about one year ago. As our bellies grow, so do our minds!

Stop Smoking/Drinking/Etc.: Try trading in that old worn out addiction for a fresh one, full of carne and salsa. Sure your hands might smell like tortillas and onions, but isn’t that better than tar stained teeth or blood-shot eyes. And I hear that nicotine gum tastes horrible…just saying.

On to this weeks tacos:

We paid a visit to the King. The Tacos King that is. Poor grammar aside, this place has got it going on. Tacos KingHoused in a small strip center on Ft. Worth Ave., surrounded by new commercial development on either side, it remains comparatively ugly and run down on the outside. But inside boasts an enticing menu, full of things we have not found anywhere else so far. Pupusas, whole roasted fish, and breakfast plates galore are some of the non-taco items on the menu. On this trip we ordered fajita, carnitas, pollo guisado, and cheese tacos. All but the cheese taco (just a lump of coagulated cheese and jalapenos by the time we ate it) were amazing. Pork carnitas are quickly becoming my favorite, because of the tender meat and mildly flavored meat which, when paired with lime, cilantro, onion and salsa verde, achieves perfection.

The steak was chopped into small crisp chunks, seasoned with pepper and chiles. The chicken was stewed in a red sauce that made us think that it would be the perfect enchilada filling.

There are 10 taco filling options on the menu so we are sure to make it back soon. Also its a few doors down from a great looking panaderia. Just have to make sure to visit when both are open.

Happy New Years!

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