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.
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!”