Archive for March, 2010

This begins our special “Northern Exposure” feature which we will periodically post here at TacOCliff. Too many of our friends don’t live in the Cliff but love to eat tacos. We hear about great places over in East Dallas,  North Dallas, Denton, et cetera with regularity. We smile and nod, asking about the specialties of the house, inwardly noting that, if we continue reviewing Oak Cliff eateries only, we will not visit these places for a decade or so. By then we hope to have made progress, albeit slowly, away from the epicenter of our search here in ‘North Cliff’, toward the ring of highways that form the outer boundaries of our neighborhood (Oak Cliff is bound by these highways only in my own mental map).  So, here we are. Only 5 months into our project and we’ve headed north of the Trinity, venturing beyond our beloved Cliff. We hope youunderstand enjoy!

Taqueria San Luis

2731 W. Northwest Hwy.
Dallas, TX 75220

(214) 366-3355
Orden de Mixta (4 Tacos with Charro Beans)  – $6.25
Fresh Fruit Paletas (ice cream popcicle) – $1 each

What makes a lake? In Texas we’ll take whatever we can get. With only one naturally formed lake in this great state of ours, a body of water as small as the one just northwest of Love Field is deemed worthy of the name Bachman Lake. Perhaps the same people who named Greenland were called to help with the naming of this one. Its a charming area none the less.

The natural beauty of wildlife and water are not the most awe inspiring features of this area. Instead, the screaming engines of landing jetliners not 50 feet overhead make me act like a 9 year old, screaming back with giddiness, waving at the windowless red bellies of Boeing 737s. Its a great place for a rigorous run or leisurely walk, a party or a picnic. We recently visited on a Sunday afternoon after a meal with friends at todays featured taqueria and found the park filled with families as well as a parking lot full of cruisers making the rounds but who were soon asked to leave by a friendly police officer. This area of town has seen better times, but it has also seen much, much worse. The businesses along Northwest Highway include a newly renovated Target as well as new strip centers full of local mom and pop’s and restaurants. It vaguely reminded me of the renessaince close to Lake Cliff Park, with places like Beckley BrewhouseRush PatisserieSpiral Diner, and La Carreta Argentina. Its great to see new life in these areas that have been previously neglected.

Taqueria San Luis is housed in one of these shiny new developments around Bachman Lake. It is one of four taquerias of the same name in the Metroplex, with the other locations over in our neighbor to the West, Fort Worth. Surrounded by at least a five or six other taquerias, we were glad to be following the lead of a few good friends who knew where to go, and what to order. We were encouraged to get a side of beans with our tacos and reaped the rewards of delicious brothy beans, tender and flavored not just by salt, but herby epazote, briny jalapenos, and smokey ham. It was the perfect starter!

Our food soon came out. We made the easy decision to try the pastor tacos since a large spit with roasted pork meat could be seen in the kitchen. We were steered away from the bland chicken tacos, redirected toward the barbacoa and asada. The pastor was amazingly tender with an explosive flavor that was spicier than most we have tried. I (D) devoured the asada taco before ‘A’ could even get a bite! I’ll pay for that some day, but she was happy to take a few more bites of the barbacoa taco in her hand. It was one of the best we’ve had! The salsas were delicious eaten with chips or with our tacos, standard takes on salsa roja and salsa verde. The atmosphere was great for a prolonged hang out after we were done with our meal, the waitress leaving us to pay at the front when we were ready. By the time we made it up to the counter, we had a hankering for a sweet treat and grabbed a few fresh fruit paletas out of the freezer nearby. The perfect ending to a delicious afternoon!

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We’ll be back with a new review this Sunday. For now, we revisited Chilito’s to find out if a place with tacos and burgers just sounds good on paper or if the owners were able to successfully marry these two fantastic foods.

Why we didn’t try a burger during our first visit to Chilito’s a few weeks ago I’ll never know. The simple menu of Tacos, Tortas, Burgers, and Burritos (as well as a few other items and a separate breakfast menu) highlighted the Burgers. While we’re used to deciding between a half-dozen or so taco fillings, the burger toppings made my head spin at the possibility of dozens of combinations: FIVE cheeses(american, cheddar, queso, monterey jack, blue cheese), SIX other $.50 toppings (jalapeno, guacamole, ranch sauce, grilled onions, pico, and pineapple), and SIX $1.00 toppings (chorizo, bacon, ham, chili, fried egg, and an extra patty). I  trusted that the Fiesta Burger had a winning combo of Guacamole, Pico de Gallo, Jalapeños, Grilled Onions, and Monterrey Jack cheese.

The burger came out on a toasted bun and seemed to be toasted on the outside as well as the inside. The patty was plenty big, probably a half pound.  I’m no expert but the meat seemed to be of the frozen, preformed kind. However, this was determined just by the shape of the patty and not the taste. The delicious flavor of peppery beef convinced me that I was eating 100% beef. It was not overcooked but instead it retained its juiciness and a tiny bit of pink in the middle. The toppings were heaped on the burger but didn’t overpower the meat. In every bite I got a good amount of guac, jalapeno, pico, grilled onion, and cheese. My only complaint (besides the boring french fries which you have to order seprately) was that the cold guacamole cooled the burger down pretty fast, leaving the last half lukewarm. Maybe I’ll ask for the guac on the side next time. But there will definitely be a next time.

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Taqueria Los Altos de Jalisco
2515 S Westmoreland Rd, Dallas, TX 75211
(214) 467-0060‎
$1.50-$1.75 per taco

Friday celebrated one year of life for our little “L”.  We toasted the beginning of year two with a trip to Northpark Center to delight at the sight of awkward turtles and marvel at the 16 foot(?) fountain, “L”‘s most beloved thing she’s discovered in this world.  Early the following morning “L” and I (A) found ourselves packed into our car (Beatrice) and headed for the quaint Hill Country town of Bandera, Texas for a dear cousin’s wedding.  Our intent was to bring you a dispatch of cowboy-style breakfast tacos or a taste of San Antonio fare but the urge to just “get home” today instead brought us back to our dear Oak Cliff and in the arms of Taqueria Los Altos de Jalisco (#2).  After hour 7 of the trip back to Dallas, Jalisco was a welcome site for two weary travellers.  (I should mention that Lucy’s grandfather “Billy” drove the whole way and deserves a special taco treat soon!)

Jalisco sits on the corner of Illinois and Westmoreland competing (or complimenting) with it’s Church’s Chicken neighbor. Although the parking lot out front was full, the inside was spotted with only a few customers.  Don’t plan on Jalisco for your romantic candlelight taco dinner for two but do visit for “hole-in-the-wall” bragging rights.  The blue and white decor and random wall hangings are, well, random but there is a good amount of natural light.  Our hope in every taqueria is to see the meat sizzling on the grill or being freshly shaved off the spit but it was no where in sight not even visible when peaking into the semi open kitchen.  The brightly colored menu was easy to read and offered a wide variety of tacos; all our favorites plus the rare Chicarron and Cabrito (baby goat).  At $1.50-$1.75 per taco I ended up ordering five; pastor, charito, carnitas, chicarron, and barbacoa.

I (D) could not have been more excited to have seen my two girls back from their trip today…but then they busted out a bag of fresh tacos and my happiness grew exponentially. After a long weekend of working (and rocking…free NX35 show anyone?) it was good to have the family back at home, ready to swap stories over a meal. My off the charts excitement was then doubled as I opened up the foil wrapping to find that my wife had discovered a rare gem of a taco, one I was not sure we would ever find: Cabrito! While I have always eyed the stewed goat dishes at places like El Ranchito and Gonzalez Restaurant, the price usually steers me in another direction.  But here it was, baby goat for under 2 bucks a taco. As I bit into the taco, piquant, gamy flavors similar to lamb rushed my taste buds, followed by the familiar flavors of tender corn masa, aromatic cilantro, and the sweetness of onion. The meat was flaky and so so tender. I almost hated to put salsa on it, but Jalisco’s salsas are some of the best we have had. The salsa roja was flecked with roasted, dry chiles, their seeds floating in the crimson sauce. Usually, this type of salsa has a bitter, astringent quality to it. But Jalisco’s version was slightly sweet, adding the perfect amount of quick burning heat to make the bland barbacoa and al pastor tacos worth eating. The salsa verde was very sweet and not spicy at all. The portions of side items -cilantro, onion, lime, salsa- were generous, leaving us with enough to top some egg and cheese breakfast tacos in the (very very very early) mornings this week (thanks daylight savings time…will love you more come June).

The carnitas taco was also delicious, though some pieces were tinged bright red for no apparent reason. Usually the red is a sign of spices or a marinade, however the roasted pork tasted just like that, nothing extra spicy or flavorful. I love the flavor of carnitas and I was glad to find the purity of slow roasted meat left alone by overpowering spices.

As I said, the al pastor and barbacoa tacos were a bit bland, a big surprise as those two meats usually offer up the biggest flavor bang for the buck. While disappointed, there is still plenty to like about this taqueria!

Quick Note – From “D”:  This may be shocking and totally discredit our blog: I am not a fan of Chicharones tacos. I have had it twice now; pork skins stewed or pan seared or cooked using some method that leaves the meat sticky, squishy, and unpleasantly soft (to my taste). Someone has found a way to prepare this cut of meat in a way that I find desireable: deep fried (a.k.a. pork rinds). But in their natural state, I find it completely unappealing. If you disagree please tell me what I am missing. I’ll probably decide to keep on missing out, but would still love to hear your thoughts.

Quick Note II – From “A”; This may be shocking and totally discredit our blog:  I am not a huge fan of tacos.  There. I’ve said it.  Meat in a tortilla: Big woo.  So, what keeps me going back for more?

-The people.

-My daughter getting swept our of our arms and loved on by strangers.

-Kind, welcoming diners who look past the color of my skin to say hello and find out more about me.

When I walked into the blue and white doors of Jalisco I found every single one of these reasons. And its these aspects of the taco hunt we are on (and the cabrito! -“D”) that will bring me back there again.

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Taco Off

Someone has tricked us into believing that a fast meal can only come from a place with a drive-thru and a dollar menu. If you’ve read any of our posts you know that we are not against eating out. On the contrary, we love supporting our neighborhood’s taco stands and taquerias and their owners who take pride in quickly serving quality food. But sometimes a home cooked meal- prepared en su casa, en su cocina, con su familia- is cheaper, faster, and a more practical approach to getting a delicious dinner on your table in a jiff.

The modern grocery store has left us with little excuse not to prepare our meals at home. Once upon a time, oceans had to be crossed in order to bring an avocado, tomato, or ear of corn to the table. Today, mountains of produce from all over the world come to find us. This is especially true of Oak Cliff which has an abundance of supermarkets. At any given moment, walking, biking, or driving around the OC you are probably a half mile away from a grocery store. At the same time we may feel that many of the markets around the hood seem off limits to certain people.

Of course  food is closely tied to culture.  It makes sense that grocery store execs would target a certain demographic and bring in items that cater to that culture’s culinary whims. Too bad many of us don’t care about where our demographic is supposed to shop. We go where the good food is and sometimes that means heading to an Southeast Asian market, an Italian market, or right up the street to our nearest Latin market. We are not Hispanic but that does not mean a store specializing in foods from Latin America and Spain are never to be entered. There really is no excuse to buy Mission tortillas at Tom Thumb when not 5 blocks away fresh tortillas of all kinds are being made by the dozen at El Rio Grande, their package warm to the touch and downy soft. A language barrier becomes no barrier at all when what is valued by the consumer  is not ease but quality.

An appeal to cleanliness is often given as another reason not to shop at unfamiliar markets or visit new hole in the wall restaurants. But spending some time perusing  food inspection scores reveals the old adage to be true: you can’t judge a book by its cover (El Si Hay vs. Bolsa).  The markets we visited all had good or great ratings, equal to or higher than non-Latin markets like Tom Thumb, Kroger, or even Central Market (that boutique market’s bakery got a  rating of 66 in early 2009  boosted to only an 81 a month later, compare that to Fiesta’s 84 and 90 around the same time period).

So now that the excuses not to shop at these markets have been debunked, lets get to the results.

Our daughter’s 1st birthday gave us the opportunity to invite our families and closest friends over for dinner and spend money on a lot of food and drinks. Thanks to our daughter’s adorableness we had a captive audience and we used this to our advantage. We quickly put our guest to work, blindly tasting 10 meats from 4 different supermarkets. A sampling of tasters included a Nonagenarian, a Norwegian tennis player, a vegetarian, a musician or two, a college/grad student or 10, and about half a dozen kiddos under the age of 1 (we’ll have to wait for some language skills to develop before receiving  any meaningful reviews…but most seemed to like the chicken). Guests were asked to write about the way they assembled their taco, what it tasted like, and give it a star rating. So here are the  results in order of least popular to most popular.

La Michoacana
800 West Jefferson Boulevard
Dallas, TX 75208-4923
Bistek Marinada (marinated skirt steak) – $3.69/lb
Carne Adobada para tacos (marinated beef strips) – $2.69/lb
Pechuga Marinada (marinated, thin sliced chicken breast) – $ 3.49/lb

La Michoacana was the place I had in mind when I decided to do a taco tasting. I knew a place advertising itself simply as a meat market would have to be great. These markets can be found all over DFW and that was also a good sign to me that they were doing something right. Walking through the doors this past weekend, I was surprised to find that the place is not just one big meat counter. Instead they had fresh produce (including some giant avocados selling for $.79 a piece), some canned and dry goods, fresh salsas, and a sizable prepared foods area, complete with a dozen or so booths for shoppers to sit down and eat. We will definitely be back to check out what comes out of their kitchen but this day we were on a different mission. Walking to the back it was evident that the place specializes in marinated meats. Saturday’s of course are very busy for any grocer and La Michoacana was no exception. They were out of their marinated chicken breasts and almost out of fajita meat. The Bistek Marinada ($3.69/lb) was clearly skirt steak, trimmed of fat and fairly thin. Their Carne Adobada/Ranchero para Tacos (2.69/lb) looked to be marinated similarly to the fajita meat but was pre-sliced into thin strips. It ended up that the dollar price difference yielded a fattier and tougher meat when cooked. The flavor was peppery, slightly spicy, but allowed the beefy flavor of the meat to shine. The fajita meat was my (“D’s”) favorite and I didn’t mind the tougher taco meat because of the splendid flavor. I also enjoyed the chicken which was thinly sliced breast meat which cooked super fast on the grill, probably under 4 minutes a side. Again, the flavor of the chicken was allowed to shine by a seasoning that relied on pepper as its major flavor enhancer. The reviews concluded that La Michoacana’s meat was “tender”, “well seasoned without being too salty”, but that the “fatty beef” was unwelcome.
3 1/2 Tacos out of 5
El Rio Grande Supermercdo
2515 W. Jefferson Blvd.
Dallas, TX 75211
214- 941-6715
Fajita Marinada – $3.99/lb
Bistek de Pollo Marinada – $1.99/lb
Pork Al Pastor – $2.49/lb

El Rio Grande opened up shortly after the Albertson’s on Davis/Jefferson and Hampton closed its doors. The building was transformed into  the colorful market it is today, complete with wall murals and decorative gas lamposts serving as checkout lane markers. The store boasts  a massive produce section, panederia, tortillaria, taqueria, and of course a meat market. The meat and seafood counters take up the entire back wall, boasting at least 50 items to choose from. It is staffed by half a dozen butchers and fish mongers and I had to wait a few minutes until it was my turn to be served. Even with all that time to wait I still had trouble ordering, there were so many options! I walked out with the fajita marinada (marinated skirt steak), bistek de pollo marinada (a misleading name for boneless, skinless chicken thighs), and pork al pastor (marinated cubed pork with onions and pineapple). The pork seemed to be the standout of the bunch. I smelled the distinct aroma of beer when I opened the packaging. This ingredient along with the onion, pineapple, and a good amount of crushed dried chiles promised to bring a tidal wave of flavor. Once cooked, the pork meat was tender, though cubed larger than Fiesta’s, the only other pastor we tried, making for a more intense chew. This might have been what kept it from pulling out ahead of Fiesta’s al pastor, which I thought was too salty but others liked. The pastor did not get bad reviews and this turned out to be the shared fate of El Rio Grande’s meat. No bad reviews, but nothing spectacular. The chicken was totally different from La Michoacana’s, jucier, but also chewy at times. It was also neon red and hard to cook since it was not filleted. Not unappetizing, but there are better ways to prep food. I do not remember the fajita meat, but a few liked the spicier flavor and tender texture. Nothing to write home or complain about. The chicken and pork were great deals; a family on a grocery budget would enjoy a meal from El Rio Grande’s meat market as a special treat without having to pay special prices.

3 1/2 out of 5 Tacos

Fiesta's Al Pastor on the Left, El Rio Grande on the Right

Tacos al Pastor, El Rio Grande on the left, Fiesta on the right

Bistek de Pollo Marinada from El Rio Grande

Jerry’s Supermarket
532 West Jefferson Boulevard, Dallas, TX 75208-4722
(214) 941-8110‎
Fajita Marinada – $4.19/lb
The experience of walking into the Jerry’s on Jefferson is underwhelming and small. The parking lot boasts an ancient design, cars squeezed together in a tiny space (I’ll try to park on the street next time). The building and its murals facing Jefferson Blvd. remain the same today as they are in my memory. However, like any place remembered in childhood,the store is smaller than I remembered. I am sure at least 5 Jerry’s could fit into a Wal-Mart and about 10 Jerry’s parking lots could fit into the acres that make up a Supercenter’s lot. Walking around the store I had to ask myself, “Who were these people who designed and shopped in such places so many decades ago? How is it that standards could change so drastically over such a relatively small amount of time? When did such a sliver of a checkout lane ever suffice?” Fortunately, the flavor of Jerry’s marinated fajita meat is not stuck in a time warp but is instead timeless. One of maybe 4 options to choose from at the tiny meat counter, the beef was being sold alongside cheeses and tiny brined peppers (you’ll have to visit for yourself to find out what I’m talking about). The meat ($4.19/lb)was again a bright red color, but still noticably skirt steak. Right next to it was the Fajita nortena which was not made of skirt steak,probably substituting a round or chuck steak instead. We’ll have to try the fajita nortena some other time. What we did get was desribed as “tender”, “delicious”, and “perfectly seasoned” by our guests. The meat was also a hit for the grill master, cooking up in about 5 minutes. Of course you’ll need to be careful not to over cook such thinly sliced meat. The flavor was saltier than the rest, but had the perfect amount of spices and a subtle garlic flavor. The meat was chopped up because it was so thin and disappeared quickly. I’m sure the same would happen with your own audience should you choose to prepare this meat for your family or friends!
4 out of 5 tacos
Fiesta Mart
611 West Jefferson Boulevard, Dallas, TX 75208-4873
(214) 944-3300‎
Marinated Fajita – $2.99/lb
Pork al Pastor – $3.99/lb
By far the most recognizable Latin foods market in Oak Cliff, yet Fiesta may still remain  a mystery to many of you. My favorite place to shop was bought out by Fiesta not so long ago (the Carnival on Westmoreland and Illinois). That Carnival showed me how accessible different foods from different cultures could be and Fiesta has continued to carry that torch. So I was surprised when I walked up to the meat counter on a Saturday evening to find it deserted. I expected to see all sorts of customers clamoring for the last bits of carne marinada. But no people waited to be served, no staff were ready to help the non-existent masses. The store had plenty of people in it, so I wondered about why the meat market would remain so neglected. I’m still not sure if this is a trend or if I just hit a dead time of the evening. What matters is that I went home with a few pounds of Beef fajita meat ($2.99lb, the cheapest of the bunch) and some more pork al pastor ($3.99/lb). When I took out the beef, I was suprised to see that all 2.5lbs of the beef was in one long strip of skirt steak. It had not been sectioned off into managable pieces but spanned at least 2 feet. After slicing it up into grill sized bits I threw it on a pretty hot grill. A particularly fatty piece flamed up the glowing hardwood briquets but the meat remained rare as the flames spat and sizzled around the meat. After 10 minutes, the beef as not cooked through. This is probably because the meat was about 3/4 of an inch thick, making it by far the thickest meat we cooked all day. While the thickness stretched the cook time to about 20 minutes for medium-well doneness, the person looking to conjure up a fajita taco a little on the medium-rare side would find this meat to be perfect at around the 13 minute mark. Most of our tasters did find this beef to be their taco meat of choice. I read one review that boasted that the meat was so good that it could stand to be eaten by itself, outside of a tortilla and more like a steak. I would have to agree that the beef from Fiesta does offer a beefy, steak like experience to taco eating. However, a few comments hinted at the meat being a bit tougher, more fatty, and chewy  (like a steak can be I suppose) preferring the thinner meat from Jerry’s. I was glad to see that Fiesta was a favorite because I do think it is a great place to start shopping if you are new to visiting Latin food marts. Hopefully you enjoy the experience of shopping there, firing up your grill, then sitting down to a delicious meal at home.
4 out of 5 Tacos

Fiesta's fajita beef

By no means have we tried all the places to get good marinated meat for tacos. We’ve only skimmed the surface. Plus, there are so many other meats out there to try. I definitely want to try some of the prepared tablitas, carnitas, and the like. Perhaps we’ll have a special posting with the results. Or maybe I’ll simply make an amazing Sunday lunch for 2 and enjoy keeping the results of a full and happy bellys to myself, hoping you find out for yourself.

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Taco Teaser

Sorry friends, no post today. However, expect a post sometime this week with the results of our first taco tasting. We went to a few of Oak Cliff’s most notable Latin grocers and carnecerias and will be relying on the taste buds of a few close friends to determine where to get the tastiest taco meat in town. Come back soon!

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