Ridiculous did not begin to explain what was happening. After covering a distance from Hampton and I-20 to Clarendon and I-35 and a few places in between, we were still taco-less. First try: a stand boasting tacos and “Juicy Lucy” Burgers. Closed (and not just sign in the window closed, but shuttered with a large gate around the place closed). Second try: a tortillaria. Guess what? They just make tortillas (we should have seen that one coming). And so on and so forth.
At times like this the mind races. How could there be a taco drought in the middle of Oak Cliff? Could there be some taco strike or protest we don’t know about? Could the friend we invited along be cursed, preventing taco success? We could always review the tacos at Jack in the Box?!
I know that not finding a place to get tacos in Oak Cliff is impossible (I almost modified that last word with “nearly” or “practically” before deciding, that I can say, without reservations, that a taco can be purchased in Oak Cliff 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year). Yet, here we were; defeated. Unwilling to try just one more stand, our stomachs cursed the taco gods as we retreated from our conquest empty handed.
This week (begin playing Aaron Copeland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man”), regrouped and ready, we marched forth once more. Rebuffed by numerous obstacles (dead batteries in camera, a trip to Tyler, TX) , we emerged victorious by days end (musical crescendo). Not but a few tortilla ends, cilantro scraps, and expired lime wedges remained on the plate of battle. Success never smelled (and tasted) so sweet…and spicy…and meaty (big cymbal crash).
El Tacaso is one of 5 taquerias located within a half mile from each other where Westmoreland meets Davis Street and Ft. Worth Avenue. It has some serious competition. But it also came with serious credentials. A long time member of the Dallas Police Department recommended it as one of his favorite places to visit when he patrolled Oak Cliff. His recommendation seemed to be supported by two brothers in blue who were finishing up a meal as we sat down to dinner. The numerous certificates of appreciation from Cockrell Hill PD confirmed that the hardworking, hungry men and women who walk, ride, or drive the streets of Oak Cliff have made El Tacaso a sort of haven. While there may not be scientific evidence to back it up, it seems to be generally accepted that squad cars parked in front of a restaurant signal 1) a safe environment in which to enjoy a meal and 2) that said meal will be above average in the categories of both quality and quantity. El Tacaso is the perfect case study to support such a hypothesis.
The heat seemed to follow us through the doors of El Tacaso. It might have been the combination of a sizzling kitchen, Sunkist orange walls, and early evening sun pouring through the large front windows that made the small dining room so stifling. But it was nothing a large horchata couldn’t fix.Along with the horchata we ordered seven $1 tacos from the ten or so offered on the menu. The menu also includes gorditas, flautas, and several platters (the Pancho Villa looked especially delicious), as well as the taqueria’s namesake dish that looked to be a large burrito. A large white board advertised a weeks worth of $4.99 daily lunch specials that has me planning return trips to sample each dish.
Our platter of tacos arrived with a mixture of corn and flour tortillas filled with the following: beef, chicken, barbacoa, lengua, pastor, picadillo, and carnitas. The only one of the bunch I didn’t care for was the pastor, which had a bit more or the sweet and sour tamarind flavor than I prefer. But the meat-was tender and plenty flavorful. At the top of my list would be the carnitas and barbacoa tacos. Something about the flaky, crisp-edged pork meat of a carnitas taco makes my tastebuds happy. A good barbacoa taco does the same thing. El Tacaso has a great one. In contrast to the carnitas, barbacoa is all about that creamy mouth-feel and in-your-face flavors of salt and beef. On our second visit- this time with fresh batteries for the camera- our barbacoa seemed to contain more pockets of fat, but did not overwhelm us.
The lengua taco did overwhelm “A”. El Tacaso serves their lengua in large chunks which “A” could not get over. I found the chunks to be just as tender and palatable as the diced or sliced lengua meat we find most often. While very good, this taco had more of a bitter, gamey flavor than I remember others having. I would only be able to handle one of these tacos every now and then.
The picadillo was full of soft pillowy potato chunks and pretty mildly flavored ground beef. I found myself squeezing out a dab of medium spiced hot sauce on each bite. The salsa roja seemed to pair perfectly with each meat. It had depth to its spiciness, perhaps coming from a number of different peppers.
The beef and chicken fajitas were especially delicious covered in the salsa. The chicken was tender white meat, flavored simply with salt. Far from bland, the chicken needed help from large ensemble of condiments (plenty of onion, cilantro, lime, and salsa) to really make it sing. The beef, however, was fine with just a few pieces of crisp, sweet onion and a drop of salsa or two. Like a good steak, the beef was seared on the outside and moist on the inside.
Playing host to all these mouth watering fillings were two of the best handmade tortillas we’ve had in a while. Based on appearance, it was hard to distinguish which tacos were made of corn and which were flour. Our mouths knew the which was which,though the differences were stubtle. A bad corn tortilla can be chewy and dry. El Tacaso’s was tender and supple. A bad flour tortilla can gummy, like a slice of Wonder bread. These were crisp on the outside, nearly melting once in the mouth.
We can’t wait to sit out on the patio when summer leaves in October (or is it November?). Until then, we’ll count on a large horchata and a good taco to distract us from the heat when we visit El Tacaso.
P.S. This taqueria has some of the most unique wall art and decorating we’ve ever seen. Make sure you take a look!