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Archive for April, 2011

Boy’s Taqueria
1913 S. Edgefield Ave.
Dallas, TX 75224
Monday-Friday Special: 6 tacos for $5
 

One particular day last week I was thinking about a trip to Elmwood and craving tacos.  ‘D’ is always craving tacos so he was halfway to the car by the time I’d finished my sentence.  As we turned onto Edgefield my stomach started to turn.  Would I have to relive the hard tortillas and mushy barbacoa from yet reviewed Hugo’s again?  What’s that? You haven’t heard of Hugo’s Beer and Tacos? Here’s ‘D’ to fill you in:

Hugo’s Beer and Tacos
1817 S Edgefield Ave
Dallas, TX 75224
$1.25/taco, to-go only
 

The mural is nice enough

 

I was less dissapointed than ‘A’ after our visit, but I am slightly biased. Hugo’s used to be Lonnie’s Barbershop, the place I received a bi-monthly flat-top for years. The idea that I could get a taco where I once received a high and tight tickles me. But I have to admit being slightly let down by the experience. I was mainly disappointed that a place dedicated to serving such a simple- yet sacred- combination of consumables couldn’t pull it off very well. Now, to be fair, we visited during the construction of close to 100 sq feet of walk in refrigerator space to house Hugo’s beer. Unfortunately that meant there was no beer.

Forgivable. With Dallas voting to eliminate the words ‘dry’ and ‘wet’ from our zoning lexicon, a 6 pack no longer lies 6 miles out of reach. But the absence of half of the allure of Hugo’s didn’t help the other half. The menu at Hugo’s is small, specializing in tacos, quesadillas, sopes (maybe), and an enchilada special.  What the menu lacks in variety of dishes it makes up in taco fillings. Al pastor, barbacoa, carne asada, pollo, nopalitos, rajas con queso, and a few more were offered. Unfortunately many of the fillings, including al pastor, were not available. We settled for the barbacoa, carne asada, and nopalitos.

The tacos came out looking amazing, with two different salsas: roja and…amarilla? The novelty of the tempera yellow sauce did not cover up the substandard fillings of soggy barbacoa and rubbery asada. Turns out the enticing corn tortillas were crisped a little too long and were dried out by the time we ate them. It was the vegetarian option that managed to satisfy these meat eaters. The sliced pieces of prickly pear paddle were seasoned with flecks of diced chiles which added to the fresh, bright flavor of the al dente nopales. Our only qualm that it was overstuffed, and thus overbearing after a few bites.  I’m hoping it was an off day. Or maybe I’ll be singing a different tune once I get my beer and tacos. Now back to ‘A’.

The wheels of our little Beatrice brought us to the welcoming front porch of Boy’s Taqueria, just a hop, skip, and..well, a block from Hugo’s (we noticed had half a dozen neon beer signs announcing the arrival of the missing beer).  It can be a downright pain to remove our little ‘L’ from her car seat these days. So on this particularly lackadaisical day, I opened the heavy glass and metal door of Boy’s alone with mi familia cheering me on from the car.

Boy’s is anything but manly.  A mixture of pink and purple vinyl tablecloths drape the half dozen tables with sweet white flowers atop. One pastel pink tulip pendant light hangs from the ceiling illuminating the brick lined window seat covered with simple house plants and local magazines.  A mysterious child sized rocking chair sits next to the frozen ice cream bin just begging for an adorable sticky two year old photo op- yet a sign asks that no one sit in it. Seems that the owners enjoy antiques and I couldn’t help but chuckle under my breath at the print out above the chair describing a vintage restored claw foot tub for sale. That was a TacOCliff first.

Peeking into the kitchen’s white slatted, swinging saloon doors, I saw two beautifully weathered women.  One came out to greet me in a vivid purple and gold shirt, the other remaining to tend the stove.  I pointed to the white signboard with red zip change letters which read among other things:  Tacos 6/$5. What a deal!  A bubble gum pink poster board listed my taco options in sloppy script. But the words “barbacoa de borrego”, however, were written in feminine cursive and highlighted with a flowery circle.  Awkwardly, I lifted my gangly arms and abnormally large hands to form the universal sign for “i don’t know” and said “borrego??” The becoming lady laughed, and after searching for the right words, finally answered with “no borrego”.  Once home, we discover that borrego is lamb and lamented our misfortune. Left with the usuals, I ordered one of almost everything which included pollo, barbacoa, fajita, lengua, and al pastor.  Chicarron was an option, but never a Tacocliff favorite.

I perched on the aforementioned window seat and watched as the two women stood face to face chopping our meat over a quaint kitchen island.  The smells and laughter made me so want to be a part of these women’s lives.  Although I was the only patron I imagined this taqueria being filled with joyful families enjoying the service of these two cocinaras.

The wait time was a little longer than most places, but we took it as a sign of a “from scratch” taco preparation. With tacos in hand, I skipped to the passenger side, and off we went to our favorite Elmwood park.  ‘D’ took ‘L’ for a few laps around the playground while I hungrily took my share of the tacos.

All the promise of Hugo’s handmade tortillas were found in these tacos. A few of the edges were blackened by the heat of the griddle, but they remained soft and perfectly chewy. These are not small tacos, but we could have eaten a few more of the barbacoa and al pastor. I always forget what good barbacoa tastes like until I find a place that does it right. This barbacoa was rich and creamy from perfectly rendered fat. The al pastor was my favorite, having chunks of tender pork and pineapple and other tropical fruit flavors throughout. ‘D’ liked the carne asada which was nicely browned. And all three of us loved the pollo which was a mix of shredded (maybe braised, but probably roasted it had so much flavor) light and dark meat that was so tender and light.

You have a grandmother that you brag about right?  The one that cooks the Thanksgiving turkey just right or makes homemade biscuits and gravy like none other?  That’s Boy’s.  Comfort food.

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In&Out Taco
413 S Garland Ave
Garland, TX
1.50ish per taco

“So, what’s happening at TacOCliff?”

Before we get to the answer, let’s travel back in time, a few hours before this question was asked.

It was a  Thursday night  and through some stroke of luck we had just found out about an impending meetup with a few of Dallas’ most influential taco writers. After a volley of emails we found out the super secret time and location (had to keep it hush hush because of, you know, terrorists). The thought of driving down Garland Road gave us pause but we managed to suffer the 35 minute drive to In & Out Tacos.

Back when gas was $.99 a gallon, me, a few friends, maybe even a girl, and my newly laminated Texas drivers license would trek out to this same intersection to noodle on guitars worth more than my pathetic teenage life over at Larry Morgan’s (something else then) and Zoo Music. I was tempted to drop in just for old times sake. But we had serious business to attend to…and ‘A’ hates (HATES!) sitting around a guitar shop. Forget what I said about a girl coming along.

In & Out Taco has plenty of chracter: its chipping paint, over the window menu, and a hand lettered sign directing us to “Order Here”. It’s a classic stand. The four park tables add to the ambiance and were enjoyed by us on the sunny spring day.  However, come June-September you can forget about sitting out on this island of concrete with not a speck of shade in sight. Also, Garland High School is just across the street so plan on getting a nice side of Justin Beiber (the crime fighting beaver) or sexy vampires with your tacos if you go during school hours. The menu does its best to attract the deep fried cravings of the hormone-fueled hunger of a teenager with spitefully good metabolism. And I’m not talking fried tripas either. Corny Dogs, Chicken Nuggets, Burgers & Fries; it wasn’t hard to resist those offerings…Until we started thinking of the off the menu combinations that could be created!

An al Pastor burger (they exist in the OC)? Corny-in-a-cup Dogs? Chic-fil-a’s take on a street taco?

While we enjoy the creative concoctions that turn up each year at the state fair, we were not there to play games. We were there to get down to the aforementioned “business”.

Along with “the business” we also learned a few lessons over lunch.

  • Lesson #1: Unless you have a grasp on the Spanish language that exceeds that of a 17 year old named Dustin slogging through 2nd period Spanish, do not be the first taco blogger to order.
Taco Lady: “Hi, ¿cómo puedo ayudarle?”
Me: *blank stare* *blink*, “Buh…Excuse me?”
Taco Lady: *blank stare* *blink*, “How can I help you?”
Taco Writers in the Line Behind Me Whom I Respect and Admire: “Snicker, Snicker, Chortle, Chortle”

Being the first to mosey up to the order window in front of an intimidating bunch of food writers takes guts, but not brains. Wish we had the latter. After that disaster I did manage to find out that  “the business” of the day would be four tacos- the only four they offer. We ordered two of each: carne asada, lengua, pollo, and spicy pork (the taco lady’s kind translation of ‘puerco al pastor’ to my gringo self). While I was worried we might have too much food in the end, the tacos came out nice and small. We were happy to see these double-wrapped, three bite babies after a streak of larger, more filling tacos (Taqueria Rinconada and an upcoming review of Hugo’s Beer and Tacos).

After waiting patiently for most to get their food we dove into our tacos. The salsa verde served alongside added a hint of spiciness but lacked the flavor of fruity fresh chiles or tart tomatillos. A dousing of the mild sauce didn’t help the bland al pastor. While the chicken exhibited a spicy red hue, the tender white meat was one dimensional, relying too heavily on salt for flavor. ‘A’ appreciated the flaky strips of chicken breast over thigh meat which she sometimes finds to be chewy. The carne asada looked promising and delivered a crispy exterior, though not enough browning to add the next step of flavor. After tracking down some red sauce I was much happier as the roasted chile sauce added a lot to the bland meats. Finally, we scarffed down the lengua and learned our next lesson.

  • Lesson #2: The tongue bone’s connected to the tooth bone.

Over the past year or so we’ve become used to the occasional gob of fat or inedible pieces of gristle. But when a hard piece of who- knows-what hit my tooth I was shocked. My go-to taco for guaranteed beefy flavor with tender texture had just been compromised. After reading a few cooking websites and taco blogs I found only one recipe that warned eaters of gristle in their lengua meat. I guess I can take some comfort knowing it is a rare occurance. After all only me and Jose from the Observer were visited by the unidentified objects and this was the first time ever after dozens of lengua tacos. Still, it may be some time before I can bite into a lengua taco without worrying that it could bite back.

As to-go boxes closed and we reached the dregs of our horchata, it seemed most present at this taco tasting enjoyed the company more than the tacos and we certainly agree with that sentiment. While intimidated at first by the idea of gathering around a table full of brilliant minds and palates, the actual event felt like a reunion, though we’d never met. Mr. Taco Trail himself was present as was mighty Joe Flowers of the Dallas Taco Bracket, two of Dallas’ most influential taco writers. Also present were two relatively new blogs who have gotten off to an amazing and prolific start: Gas Station Tacos (way beyond Fuel City, my friends) and TacoSense (they ate the goat head everyone’s talking about).

Stories of first and worst tacos were shared along with derision for (most) Fuzzy’s, debate about Tacos y Mas, and, well, mas. With such robust conversation I had no reason to be surprised when the question was finally asked.

“So, what’s happening at TacOCliff?”

The question, inevitable as it was, had me stunned. I could feel the dozen or so taco lovin’ eyes (pretty sure it was an even number) on us. A few rehearsed lines fell out of my mouth, but none were weighty enough to excuse us for our lack of consistent posts. While the conversation moved on, we were left pondering this question and others. What is happening with us? Are we still in the game? Is this meetup a farewell? Do we belong here?

  • Lesson 3: The passion of others can help rekindle your own.

I know it’s my job, but I find it hard to describe how comfortable we felt sitting around that table. We were among fellow fanatics; comrades of a common cause. And it got us obsessing about tacos again. When we set out to explore our neighborhood through a meat and tortilla lens we thought it’d be decades of work. Yet,  year later we felt we had accomplished much of that task. But the progress we have made documenting our neighborhood’s tacos has really only revealed that there is still so much out there!

And we have more to accomplish ourselves. For one, it’s embarassing to not know how to respond to, ” ¿cómo puedo ayudarle?”, whether out on our own or in a line of people who judge things in their spare time. So it’s time to pull out the old Spanish textbook and get a’conjugating. Also, we need to start cooking ourselves, getting intimately involved with the ingredients that make up great tacos. Finally, we would like to be more of a service to you, our reader. With that in mind we’ll be looking to launch a taco map as well as some sort of rating system so you can more easily find a great place to get some barbacoa in a flash.

While we will always ask ourselves, “What is going on with TacOCliff?”, the answer to “Do we belong?” is a confident and hungry, “Yes!”

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Jaque en el Cuadro

After witnessing a few weeks of construction on a new home for Jaque en el Cuadro on Hampton we had to check it out. What once was a diamond in the rough is now a full on gem! The new modern design was the perfect 21st century update for this daring restaurant which includes Pan-Asian, New American, and French cuisine all on the same menu. But their take on the traditional taco is what brought us here and we were [not] disappointed.

Don't worry, the flame never touches the food lest it ignites a flavor explosion!

While other taco shops might load their menu with fillings galore, Jaque’s specializes in one type of taco: Two Tacos, focusing on quantity and quanitity simultaneously. What they’ve created is something completely new. While we’re usually not fans of crunchy tacos, this was actually a soft taco in disguise. The crunchy edges give way to a soft (some might say soggy), slightly opaque window of greasy goodness that tantelizes the eater with a peek inside this little half-moon of heaven. The meat filling is a modern masterpiece of molecular gastronomy. This restauranteur keeps his cards close to their chest by only calling it “Taco Filling”. But we were able to deciefer the undeniable flavor Textured Vegetable Protein or TVP to those in the know. Yum!

The real magic is in the combination of warm lettuce, cold cheese, and salsa. The salsa or “taco sauce” was full of flecks of spices (salt) and tomato ketchup flavor. After our first was finished we longed for a time-machine to undo what we had just done another taste. Luckily for us each order is true to its name and comes with two tacos! And so cheap!

You better believe we’ll be baque to Jaque’s!

Happy April Fools Day!

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