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This weekend, the whole city is invited out to West Dallas to celebrate the completion of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge. The bridged distance between Woodall Rogers and Singleton Boulevard will host thousands who are expected to attend the planned parades, street fair, concerts, and more. While I hope this bridge will one day span a much more grand body of water than the trickle of the Trinity that it now crosses, we’re looking forward to the festivities.

West Dallas is a much loved northern neighbor. We’ve enjoyed memberships at the Lakewest YMCA, home improvement help from the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, and have found dozens of treasures at the Goodwill on Westmoreland. But the beautiful bridge has brought our attention further east on Singleton and we’ve found a great taco spot we hope you visit on your way to or from the Bridge.

Chuyita’s Taqueria
1213 Singleton Boulevard, 75212
Tacos: $1.00-$1.50

The outside of Chuyita’s Taqueria still hosts the name of a previous restaurant: Juan Colorado. A name like that has enough bravado to fill a two-story movie screen. Before Chuy and her kin took over the place, we like to imagine Juan Colorado’s had saloon doors, a spitoon or two, and wood floors that made your spurs ‘ching just so. Perhaps the deer head still mounted on the wall is a remnant of that previous place. Taxidermy and all, the medium sized dining room is a pleasant space with colorful drapes, rustic flooring, and a mountain-scaped mural of a reclining nude adjacent to a shrine to the Virgin de Guadalupe.

Walking in at about 1pm, our friendly waitress led us to our table as we eyed the lunch selections of the six or seven diners already enjoying steaming caldos and heaping plates of enchiladas suizas and the like. Munching on chips and salsa, we looked over the menu which includes a healthy amount of taco proteins to choose from. We decided that at $1 a pop, we’d go for six…no, seven tacos. The carnitas taco was added last minute and we are so thankful we didn’t miss it! With a plate of cilantro, onions, and limes on the side, all 7 tacos were served on a long platter, each wrapped in a perfectly imperfect, homemade corn tortilla.

The corn flavor was subtle, with hints of crisp browning along the edges which added a depth of flavor without hiding the flavors of the various fillings. The supple folds of the soft, but sturdy tortilla made us lament that so few places make their own tortillas when the distance between fresh and pre-made is so great. Chuyitas’ tortillas took these tacos from fine to fantastic. The salsas also elevated the tacos, each in a specific ways. The verde, showing flecks of roasted tomatillo skins, added a quick, bright heat wherever doused. The roja was more naranja in color and was fabulously complex with a combination of sour and sweet heat flavors.

Chorizo and Cabeza Tacos

Chorizo and Cabeza Tacos

The pork al pastor and carne asada tacos were oh-so tender but did not showcase bold flavors. In a lesser tortilla, these may have been less than so-so. The barbacoa was prepared in a new way for us; stewed in a sauce that tasted of tomatoes. The result added a tartness that balanced the rich flavors evoked by rendered fat melted into shredded beef or goat. Another surprising flavor was found in the delicious chorizo taco. Among the typical chorizo flavors were herbal notes that made the coarsely ground pork taste like a blend of Mexican chorizo and Italian sausage. The last two tacos, cabeza and birria, were not “A’s” favorite, but brought delightfully gamey flavors to the palate.

Birria Taco

Birria Taco con Salsa Verde

But, Oh! the carnitas…Sure, you’ll pay an extra $.25 for the privilege of dining on amazingly luxurious pork, braised slowly until the cooking broth has evaporated, leaving the juicy meat to fry in its own rendered fat. But to find carnitas cooked using this technique and cooked well is all too rare. Even at Chuyitas, carnitas is only available “Viernes, Sabado, y Domingo”. Do not miss it because this may be our favorite carnitas taco in Dallas! See you on the bridge, tacos in hand!

Carnitas Taco

A not so great picture of our favorite Carnitas Taco in town.

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No, it doesn’t come with a 3 day weekend or any of the fancy fireworks so often employ for national hootenannies . . National Taco Day is as  ‘umble as the food it celebrates. But don’t be fooled into thinking it’s some sorta lightweight. In many ways, this day resemble some of our favorite, food-filled holidays. As during Thanksgiving, it is our civic duty to stuff ourselves full of the richest of foods. Save the chicken tacos for Wednesday; this Tuesday we binge on barbacoa, feast on fajita, pillage al pastor.

Now, while the gift giving holidays are months away, we picked up a little something for you. An introduction to the finest taco blog north of the Trinity (throw out the cardinal directions- it’s a damn fine blog ). And it’s just in your size.

The Taco Trail was once found over at the Dallas Observer’s food blog, City of Ate. But ‘ol Jose has mosied on down the trail and has now setup camp in other territory. With Jose as your guide, you are guaranteed to be led down the taqueria-road less traveled for some true taco treasures. Today’s post is a great round up a few of the tortilla wrapped gifts being given out tomorrow in honor of the special holiday. Don’t let these gifts sit under the tree until December (a fresh taco will not do this). Go ahead and open up that Taco Trail link. And feel free to re-gift all you want. Just know that Taco Trail is one gift that will live up to that old cliche for years to come.  Happy Taco Day, friends!

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Upon cresting the hill moving eastbound on Ft. Worth Avenue there doesn’t seem to be a whole helluvalot going on between the intersection of Sylvan and downtown. The Belmont anchors the Northwest corner, a Chase bank building the Southwest. But cross the street and find emptiness- the old Alamo Plaza Motel sign ceaselessly pointing toward a seemingly perpetual vacant lot. Yet, nearly under the giant shadow of gently draping Italian steel, big changes to this corner are in the works.  The Sylvan Thirty development on the southeast corner of the intersection is looking to complete 200 lofts, retail, and an organic grocer by fall 2012. Like most things big, it’s also slow. But while the giant sleeps, nibbler hands are hard at work. Mount the same hill on a summer’s Saturday morning and you’ll find no-vacancy.

The site will host a farmers market  every other Saturday through late August. Cox Farms, the anchor organic super market of the development, will bring out some of the season’s best produce to sell alongside many other merchants. When we stopped by a few weeks back  there was music too. The sum effect off all this breathes life into a corpse of a corner. What a great way to use this space until the bulldozers and cement mixers take over for a while. The remaining Farmers Markets will be held on July 16 & 30th, August 13th and 27th.

This weekend hosts a different type of pop-up market: The Vintagemobile is setting up shop in the Belmont hotel parking lot. Full of vintage clothing and accessories, the converted bus has little to do with the foodie beat that we find so familiar. However, one particular detail about their inaugural weekend made us take note.That detail was tacos, of course.

The purveyors of the mobile shop have promised to hand out free breakfast tacos to the first 25 people who show up alongside the bus by 10:30am. Five of these early birds will receive a taco with a golden ticket, Wonka style, which will entitle them to a lifetime 25% discount. Not bad. But what about the tacos? They’ll be from Taco Joint.

Cue the over-drawled, “Ta-co Jointttt???” a la Pace Picante sauce commercials of the 90’s (TacOCliff does not condone the use of Pace picante sauce, nor does it advocate death by hanging for those who do).

I’m heading into treacherous waters. Taco Joint is the much beloved taco shop on Peak and Gaston. Only, that love isn’t coming from us. We’ve tried to like it. From the classic fajita soft taco to the Lester with its combination of crunchy shell and flour tortilla, we’ve gone in with open minds, but walked out disillusioned. Does Dallas really love tacos made of stale tortillas, boring ground beef, and ranch dip? C’mon, Ranch dip?! To be fair (Ranch Dip?!?!), these pathetic palatables won’t be part of the Taco Joint invasion. The breakfast tacos are much better, though the same tortilla and sauce (ranch…freakin’…dip) problems remain.

So, if you are a vintage clothing freak, show up early, enjoy a taco, and hopefully you’ll be singing about 25% off a lifetime of cool clothes. But, if you’re a taco head, feel free to sleep in. We’ve got you covered with a triptych of Oak Cliff taco joints easily within walking distance from the Belmont Hotel.

From East to West:

Burguesa Burger

 709 Fort Worth Ave, 75208

Hopefully by now you’ve tasted the La Monumental, the half burger, half torta, all beast of a burger that is one of the most unique sandwiches in town. Maybe you’ve even ventured to try their Mexican hot dog: a bacon wrapped hot dog with Burguesa’s special sauce (kinda spicy mayo).  If you’ve experienced these two options you are excused from not thinking of Burguesa Burger as a breakfast option. Don’t worry, there’s no La Monumental breakfast sandwich. But they do sell breakfast tacos, 3 for $3. They’ll make them for you for lunch or dinner which is when we stopped by this past week. We chose bacon, ham, and chorizo, a side of fries (which are some of my favorite in Dallas) and a drink and got it all for $5. I don’t know how, but we didn’t complain. As we unwrapped each foil pack we found a decent flour tortilla stuffed with eggs, meat, and gooey, golden cheese which made us feel a little like Charlie Bucket. The American cheese had almost melted down to liquid form and spread throughout the eggs and meat. The flacid bacon made it difficult to distinguish it from the ham. Both meats just added salt flavor to the taco- both had probably never been touched by smoke flavor. Disappointing, but not as disheartening as the salsa served alongside. Pace. Or some Sysco-y substitute. Not cool and not the way to represent Southside tacos. However, the chorizo taco redeemed Burguesa from being a total pass. The not-so-greasy chorizo melded perfectly with the egg and added deep chile flavors as well as some saltiness. Ask for some Cholula hot sauce to go along with your chorizo, egg, and cheese and you’ve got a decent taco. Want to send it over the edge into greatness? Add some fries. Definitely get the spicy fries and throw a few into your taco to add a bit of textural yin yang.

Valero Gas Station
709 Fort Worth Ave, 75208

Moving a few yards to the Southwest, a huge billboard above the Valero gas station advertises “TACOS!”. While intended to lure drivers (headed West?) to Fuel City, tacos can be found at the sign’s base.

There’s a lot going on in this gas station so you’ll have to keep a heads up. Pass the uHaul rentals, the Quiznos sandwiches, pizza, elotes, convenience store goodies, and you’ll eventually find yourself in front of a half moon window adorned with pretty tile and a simple menu. We tried to order breakfast late in the day and found most options unavailable. Egg and potato was all that was left from the morning menu, so we supplimented with steak and carnitas. Bland carnitas it turned out. Even the searing salsa couldn’t help the roasted pork. However, the steak and potato tacos were pretty good; on the verge of great when combined. It’s a classic combo- steak, potato and egg- and with the delicate corn tortillas and spicy verde salsa the flavors connected in a familiar, comforting way. Again, it took a little work to put something truly good in our mouths, but the finished result was worth it.

Gordita’s  Ahualulco SLP

Approx address: Across from 1286 Fort Worth Avenue, Dallas, Texas

I just visited this place this afternoon and did not write the name down. It is hard to miss traveling west on Ft. Worth Avenue, at the tri-corner of Winetka, Castle, and Ft. Worth Ave. The shop front is covered in large letters announcing the taqueria’s offerings, the largest of which reads something like “$1.00 Tacos”.  At 3:00pm I walked into a busy dining room full of people waiting on to-go orders. As I waited for my three tacos, two plates full of the most tantelizing puffy enchiladas passed by, tempting me to ignore my lunch and my budget…next time. The DVD of someone’s  quinceañera distracted me from staring at the two ladies with the enchiladas. When I got home I was so excited to find three beautiful corn tortillas staring up at me, accompanied by grilled onions and a  jalapeno. The mild, tangy sauce was needed for the bordering-on-bland barbacoa. The real treasure was the carnitas. There are a few ways to prepare carnitas, most producing deliciously tender pieces of pork. But my favorite is to slowly simmer the meat until tender, allowing the water to evaporate leaving hunks of tender meat to crisp up as they fry in their own rendered fat. Sounds torturous but the taste is lushious and luxurious, with crisp bits sending out flares of flavor in each bite.

Carnitas Taco de Maiz

So, to sum up, not a lot of great breakfast taco options. If you want to venture out further than the 1/2 mile these places can be found, we recommend Gonzalez’s sizeable breakfast burritos wrapped in their amazing flour tortillas. Any other recommendations?

Happy hunting, vintage or otherwise!

UPDATE:  The three of us had a lovely trip to the Vintage Mobile right after lunch.  The Taco Joint taco’s were still out so we passed on them given the heat of the day but we did snap a picture (please see the updated gallery).  We met the charming Kelsey and spoke with her about she and Jeremy’s desires for their little shop on wheels.  It will be at the Belmont for the near and hopefully permanent future thanks to the generousity of the hotel allowing the use of their electricity.  Please go visit!  They work hard during the week to find you the best of the best out of Dallas thrift stores and you’ll see new, exceptional finds each week.  Taco Joint is a favorite of Jeremy’s, often going twice or more a week.  Maybe we can lure him towards our favorites here in the Cliff.

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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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Taqueria La Rinconada

Taqueria la Rinconada
2306 Mountain Lake Dr.
Dallas, TX 75224
$1.25-$1.50 per taco

Apple Fritter.

Forget the eclairs, the sausage rolls and crullers. The apple fritter at Oak Cliff Donuts is my breakfast pastry of choice and has been for over two decades. Even a tray of hot, fresh, melt-in-your-mouth glazed donuts can’t seduce me away from my old standby.

As a kid, a trip to the donut shop was a rare treat, meaning I learned to be selective when faced with a case full of glimmering, glazed pastries. I got burned early on by a few bum ones.

Powdered? Goodbye saliva, hello cottonmouth.

Maple? Good with pancakes, not with donuts.

Sprinkles? No thanks, I’m 9 going on 30.

Those donuts looked good but didn’t deliver where it counted most: flavor. While the lumpy browned shell of an apple fritter might be embarrassed next to a platter of glittery, geometrically symmetric French confections, the combination of cinnamon, apples, a crisp glazed crust and a pillowy, doughy center tastes gorgeous enough to make up for its humble outward appearance.

Of course I wasn’t thinking about flavor combinations or textures as a 4th grader. I wanted the biggest thing in the case, and this fried piece of dough as big as a salad plate amazingly fooled my folks who still counted it as my one donut for the day. It was all mine; my siblings would have to be content to watch as I continued eating long after they finished. Each time I put my order in I felt like Clyde Darrow telling a bank clerk to fill a burlap sack full of cash.

My continuing love affair with the apple fritter leads me to visit Oak Cliff Donuts slightly more often than my parents allowed. It was on one of these trips that I made a wrong turn and stumbled upon Taqueria La Riconada.

Just a block south of OCD’s Hampton location, La Riconada is found in a small row of store fronts just a block off the busy intersection of Illinois and Hampton, hidden in the shadow of a CVS and bank (behind where the old Austin’s Bar-b-que once stood). These small strips of commercial real estate can be found all over Oak Cliff. Most are abandoned or nearly so. La Rinconada seems to have partially resurrected the bones of the small shopping center it inhabits. But the slate gray building creates a drab atmosphere that doesn’t do much to encourage faith in the food being prepared inside. The taqueria’s large sign fights against the chilly surroundings with large red Christmas lights. A few house specialties are advertised on neon poster board in the windows, boasting great lunch deals, house specials, soup, and nachos (probably to entice school kids on their way home from nearby Moreno Elementary). But overall it gives off the vibe of a literal hole in the wall.

The inside is simple, full of 10 tables or so. A jukebox, flat screen, and miscellaneous decorations do their best to create an inviting place to eat, but the fluorescent lights and white walls and ceiling tiles make it feel more like an office break room than a dining establishment. But like the apple fritter, don’t write this place off. Underneath the bland shell of a restaurant is a kitchen that is making some top notch tacos and more.

The menu is made up of four or five pages of enticing dishes. But up on the wall is a list of meats for tacos, tortas, burritos, and sopes. Among the standards were a few novel meats that we haven’t run across. Along with the more common adventurous (for some) beef cuts like Lengua (tongue) and Tripa (intestine), Buche (stomach) and Higado (liver) were also available. Of course , we had to try some. We placed an order to go, then drove (can’t wait to walk it in the spring) a few blocks down to the park at Mountain Lake and Rugged to eat our meal.

When we opened our to-go box we were happy to find it filled to the brim with surprises: a grilled jalapeno, a couple of limes/lemons, a heap of grilled onions, two different salsas, extra onions and cilantro, plus fresh pico de gallo. We have not received this cornucopia of  condiments since, instead getting a combination of 3 or 4 of the items we got on our first visit. No matter what fills the side compartments of the to-go box, the tacos have remained consistently above average. The thicker corn tortillas are amazingly light and crepe-like. Yet, even with just one tortilla, these tacos survived being packed with chunks of pink-roasted carnitas and a dousing of slow burning salsa verde.

The carnitas earned the top spot as my (“D’s”) favorite of the meats we tried. The roasted pork was moist without being soggy, tender, with a clean aftertaste that made me feel like I could take on a few more. A close and surprising second was the buche. I had no idea what to expect. The meat was similar to tripe, thin and chopped into strips, then sautéed, crisping the edges of each piece. The flavor is reminiscent of chicken skin, especially that found around the backbone and the leg and thigh. The mild, acidic salsa complimented the flavor perfectly and the chunks of fresh, sweet onion cut through the somewhat gamey flavor. On one visit the meat was a bit chewier than usual, but still tasty. The fajita beef is also delicious but prone to be chewy on occasion. Our last visit yielded perfectly crispy and tender strips of meat, with plenty of pleasant peppery flavor and just a touch of salt. I’m still a little bitter that “A” gobbled up the fajita taco while I only got a bite. Usually I can count on her to steer clear of steak. So it is quite an endorsement that she enjoyed the beefy taco as much as she did.

The chicken is not bad, nicely seasoned with lots of caramalization. It was our 2 year old’s favorite. Unfortunately we can’t endorse the al pastor and barbacoa; at least what we had on this trip. The al pastor was almost there. The spices had plenty of tang and heat. But the meat had not soaked up the flavor, leaving the pork bland and boring. It was as if the pastor seasoning had been added at the last minute, like a condiment. The barbacoa was also close, but it had a heavy oil taste, and that of stale oil too. We’ll try them again, just in case it was an off day (it was the first day of sunshine after the Snow-pocolypse). Until the next visit, we’ll just have to stretch the house made tortillas we took home with us ($1 for 6). But we’ll be back in the neighborhood soon, either to grab an apple fritter, a carnitas taco, or both!

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*Note: Unfortunately our camera quit on us a few weeks ago and we have to succumb to using a phone camera to capture images of our taco treats. I know I complained about bad food pictures in the last post and here we are posting some of our own. We are trying to find a place to fix it (it won’t accept the SD card anymore) but until then, these pictures will have to do. Thanks for your patience!

Comederia El Padrino #2
330 West Davis Street, Dallas, Texas 75208
(214) 943-8888 ‎
$1.25 for tacos de maiz/$2.75 for tacos de harina

The sky was quickly fading to deeper shades of blue and violet- Thursday elegantly telling us that it would soon be closing up shop. And here we were taco-less. A perfectly planned picnic playdate with neighborhood friends was quickly turning into a grouch-fest as empty stomachs turned parents and toddlers alike into whining babies. Our targeted taco joint was nowhere to be found! The sign advertising Pena’s Mexican Grill near Lake Cliff Park led us astray. Disappointment was soon discarded as we realized we were still in the middle of the Cliff. A taco stand was certainly close by. But which to try? Then came the memory: half-priced tacos at El Padrino!

That enticing Thursday special is surely meant to lure those headed for a stroll around Bishop Arts on First Thursdays. But the deal is good any Thursday. I’m sure that the great building and the huge menu entice people to stop by no matter the day of the week.

El Padrino fits in with Bishop Arts with its cool-kid exterior while still remaining full of authentic Oak Cliff taqueria  innards. Still, it’s somewhat surreal to see a menu featuring $1.25 tacos alongside a sleek Bentley  in the valet parking lot behind the stand. Of course the owner of that car was probably grabbing a $32 plate of Spice-rubbed Australian lamb chops, with rosemary-dijon sauce , artichoke & potato puff pastry, & glazed baby carrots from Hatties (not dissing but merely comparing). But, writing that suddenly feels like I’m letting my stereotypes get the better of me.

In many ways stereotypes both help and harm us in decision making. Stereotypes make it easier for us to process the millions of intricacies and patterns that make up reality (or at least how we perceive that reality). But often, this same feature of our amazing brain sells reality short, going for the easiest explanation while ruling out what may be the truth. The Bentley’s owner might have been stopping in for a quick taco. Or was working in the shop. Or maybe works at the valet stand. Or…or…or. The goal isn’t necessarily to get rid of our stereotypes. Instead, understanding where they come from and how they affect our daily interactions with the world helps us make better decisions.

Unfortunately, the tacos at El Padrino lived up to the stereotyped perception that many have created about taco stand tacos. The small tacos came two to a foil pack. They were tasty, but a little bit on the greasy side and  a lot a bit on the salty side. The chicken fajita and barbacoa were saturated with salt; the barbacoa was too salty for me to finish. The al pastor were okay but lacked the complex layers of spices we’ve come to expect from the marinated meat. The fajita beef was the standout, even though it was kinda skimpy on meat, kinda greyish with no searing from a grill or griddle, and pretty chewy. There was nothing particularly nasty about these tacos (besides the barbacoa’s mouth numbing salinity). We were plenty hungry by the time we got to our picnic spot and ate them up with few complaints. But thinking back on the meal does not start up my salivary glands like so many of the other Oak Cliff taco spots we’ve come to know.

The best comparison I can think of is of a potato chip. The classic image of a potato chip is that it comes from a bright yellow bag full of thin, translucent chips that can be described using the very same words I used for the tacos: too greasy, too salty, but tasty in its own way. It’s the stereotyped image. But then there are “Kettle Cooked”, “Thick Cut”, or  “Gourmet” potato chips spiced with sea salt or ginger, etc. What a potato chip can or should be is suddenly unlimited. While you may return your hand to the yellow bag without flinching, chances are you pass on it if someone’s got a bag of Kettle Cooked, Hand Cut fried goodness sitting on the picnic table.

The same goes for tacos. El Padrino’s will do in a pinch. But heres to breaking free from stereotypes.

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A year ago today Miles Austin had his first career start as a pro football player, breaking records and the hearts of Chiefs fans with a game winning touchdown reception to give the Cowboys a win in overtime. Since then he has become a bonifide football star, his name uttered alongside bitter curses or ecstatic praise by thousands of fans on any given Sunday.

The same day saw another debut of sorts.

TacOCliff quietly made its way onto the field that is the genre of food blogs with hopes of bringing some attention to somewhat of an undiscovered underdog: the Oak Cliff taqueria. Sure there were a few players on the radar of Dallas food writers (El Si Hay). But much of Oak Cliff went unrecognized. Taking on the role of talent scout, TacOCliff sought to take some farm system talent to the majors (I know I’m mixing the sports metaphors but play along). Really we just wanted to bring some positive attention to our neighborhood and thought food would be a great way to do just that. While far from superstardom, our little blog  has found a place on Dallas’ team and has even garnered some media attention (a sincere thank you to Josh Hixson,  Rachel Stone, and Courtney Keys for the coverage and support). We are awed by and grateful for each visit to our site.

Now some of those first posts certainly displayed our status as greenhorns. But it has been fun to check out old posts, re-reading and remembering. When we stopped into El Tizoncito a year ago, we talked to owner Leo Spencer who revealed some uncertainty about his taqueria’s future. They’ve recently added a second location to the Metroplex which is good news because we can hardly find a seat on a Sunday afternoon. A string of  positive reviews by Oak Cliff Advocate, the Morning News, D Magazine, and the Observer bode well for one of our favorites and we could not be more proud of the success found by this member of team Oak Cliff (some of that pride is also from the fact that we covered it first). So here’s a big congrats to Leo Spencer and everyone at El Tizoncito!

What also comes out in our first posts is certainly a passion for our neighborhood and its cuisine. After living here for 4 years we found ourselves in somewhat of a wilderness. But that was to be expected. Setting up a house is like setting up a base camp. It should be a place where explorations are launched. While it was great to find the quickest way to and from the highway, our taco hunt sent us on scouting missions off the main roads and into uncharted territory. After a year of wandering we’ve mapped out a few oases but still have plenty more exploring to do. We hope that a love for our neighborhood, its food, and the people who create it comes through as long as we do this. And as always we encourage you to go exploring, in Oak Cliff or in your own wilderness.

Now, Comamos!

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Just a teaser this week to tell you about a very important day coming up in America. No, we are not talking about the November election. We’re talking about National Taco Day!  I’m not sure who comes up with these holidays. They range from the very specific (National Apple Brown Betty Day Oct.5th) to all encompassing (Dessert Day Oct. 9th). I find it hard to imagine lobbyists calling on congress to name April 24th National Pigs in a Blanket Day. But who cares how it happens. It’s time to celebrate!!

A great place to start would be Taco Cabana for a free breakfast taco filled with Kiolbassa sausage made right here in the Lone Star State. Yes Taco Cabana is a chain restaurant and a purveyor of the anathema-ed hard shell taco. But if you’ve gotta do the chain thing, you could do much worse. Taco Cabana started here in Texas and you can still eat at some of the first shops to bear the name down in San Antonio. On a more personal note, TC has a special place in my heart developed after years of  feeding “A” and I through college. Breakfast tacos, cheap taco combos and, more often, free chips and salsa bar (I haven’t seen many Taco Cabanas with this feature since then) helped us make all nighters more bearable. Maybe we need to do a taco taste test to see how the chain does up against both its chain and local competition. Sounds like a great post for later in the year.

But back to tomorrow. Why not make both lunch and dinner taco-centric. With so many taco fillings and combinations of ingredients, there is no reason for both meals to end up identical. Check out our previous posts for ideas of how you can do your patriotic duty and celebrate National Taco Day!

Carnitas Taco from Tacos King – Reviewed January 3rd, 2010

Carne Asada from Tres Arbolitos – Reviewed January 17th, 2010

Cabrito from Los Altos de Jalisco -Reviewed March 15th, 2010

Barbacoa from Tacos Chanos – Reviewed on February 21st, 2010

Al Pastor at Rositas – Reviewed May 16th, 2010

Plus so many more! Check out all our reviews!

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