4970 W. Illinois Ave, Dallas TX, 75211
No Phone Listed
Tacos – $.99
Sopes – $ 1.75
Coco Frio – $2.00
All Prices Cash Only!!
There was a time when “the outskirts of town” meant something. Maybe it still does in some regions of the world; maybe even parts of Texas. But around our town, the outskirts of the Metroplex might be an hour away across a half a dozen incorporated municipalities, each with its own outer limits. Our modern day outskirts neighbor outlet malls and antique shops and an abundance of Stepford-type cul-de-sac communities (“from the 120’s”) instead of bumping up against the edge of the West, the Wilderness, the Wasteland. I can see this as progress in a sense, but I’m awfully tempted to romanticize the way things used to be (especially after reading Lonesome Dove for the first time this summer). And I doubt I am the only one.
For example, last month or so, I read a blog post discussing the boundary lines of Oak Cliff. Now, I understand that the internet is no place for forming consensus. But the responses varied so much that I wondered if they were purposefully recreating the Indian legend of the Blind Men and the Elephant . Some argued for a tiny area encompassing mostly just Kessler Park. Others stretched Oak Cliff far East, West, and South. It was clear that people were searching for the borderlands of the OC. The absence of an understanding of where our outskirts lie seemed to be very important to those responding to the post. And I can see why. To live without an understanding of where one town or area begins and one ends is confusing to both those living in such places and especially for those unfamiliar with our neighborhood.
The discussion was especially heated because it was based around a crime that was reported to have happened in Oak Cliff by local news media. The author of the original thread argued that this crime and many like it are mistakenly attributed to the OC. Of course I also get sick of people giving concerned looks after revealing that my wife and I make our home in our favorite part of Dallas, Oak Cliff. But it seems like an effort to exclude areas that might legitimately deserve their crime ridden reputation will not lead to much actual change in people’s perceptions of our community. Instead, positive interactions within our community are likely to have a greater impact than trying to get them to ignore our blemishes.
After reading the volley of suggestions as to what areas should be left out of Oak Cliff proper, some of which were well reasoned and based on past demarcations, I am unsure whether the taqueria we recently visited is part of Oak Cliff or an outpost in no-man’s land, just beyond our borders. Taco Rico, found inside the Valero gas station at the corner W. Illinois and Duncanville Road, sits on the outskirts of what I believe to be Oak Cliff. While others would say that the location is too far west to be considered a part of Oak Cliff, I would miss boasting about some of what I think of as Oak Cliff’s most treasured features if they were actually correct.
Can you imagine Oak Cliff without Mountain View College? The acres that make up the campus makes for a beautiful corner of Oak Cliff. The buildings have also been recently renovated, all for the purpose of bettering the lives of all sorts of people. From high schooler’s taking college credit to retirees taking continuing education classes, the students of Mountain View College are a welcomed presence in the cliff.
Just north of Mountain View lies La Reunion. Located in the woods between Davis and Jefferson, La Reunion strives to serve the community through programs that promote the arts. Just one of the ways La Reunion is serving Oak Cliff is through a mentoring program called Art Chica’s is actively involved in local high schools, pairing local artists with under served girls in our community. When this artistic organization first came to Oak Cliff, we welcomed them and their mission to our neighborhood.
These are just two examples of cool inhabitants of the western outskirts of Oak Cliff. Instead of leaving these places to be claimed by some neighboring area it would be better to include them and all that comes with these areas for Oak Cliff. Of course this can be done mentally by changing the map in your mind. But the best way to do it is physically, with your presence. Take a jog around the Campus or a tour of La Reunion’s woods. And when it comes to restaurants, with your patronage will let them know your glad to be their neighbor.
I understand if you have not made it to Taco Rico yet. There really is no reason to stop at the Valero station in which it is housed other than the fact that it is one of the only gas stations in this part of the OC. The place is unremarkable, not run down, but just…blah. Not a lot of flash. And the gas is always a little bit more expensive than other places. Except for the new signs advertising $1 Tacos de Trompo, I would have continued passing by this place for years to come.
I’m glad they got those signs.
The menu is basic but balanced, with mostly tacos and tortas but other specialties like sopes, caldo, and hamburgers. A few signs make sure patrons know the establishment is cash only before ordering. But there’s no need to make a large withdrawl at $1 per taco. While I love finding cheap tacos, I sometimes wonder about the quality of the food I am getting. For some reason, I expect $2 tacos to be better than their $1 brethren.
No reason to wonder at Taco Rico. We got 4 quality tacos and a chicken sope for about 6 bucks. From the first glance of the tacos in the to go box (we could have pulled up to the small bar stools n front of the small television set beaming in a soccer match instead of getting our order to go), I saw some good signs that the tortillas were homemade and fresh. I’m not sure there is a scientific way of proving a quality tortilla from a pre-packaged stale one without busting into a restaurant’s kitchen, but there’s something about the way a tortilla crisps up without becoming brittle also retaining a chewy, soft center in the 1 or 2 millimeters such a flat bread allows between sides that speaks volumes. I think you know what I’m talking about: you can just tell.
The lengua taco was a relief. After a few bad lengua tacos (one greasy, one dry) the clean flavors and fluffy, airy texture of Taco Rico’s lengua put a smile on our faces. The same thing happened with the al pastor. We almost swore off ordering tacos al pastor if we could not see the trompo or spit that the pastor meat was roasting on. Lately the pastor tacos we tasted were too sweet or too sour and often grainy in texture. Taco Rico does not have a trompo but the exotic spices (possibly cinnamon or clove- “A” said it tasted like Christmas) were a perfect match for the pork and left us craving more. A completely different flavor came from the barbacoa taco which boasted simple seasonings but complex flavors from the beef. The fajita taco was not the most tender I’ve had but the flavor was classic: strong salt and pepper with just the right amount of heat added without hiding the flavor of the beef.
“A” has fallen in love with the crunch of sopes and the one she got from Taco Rico satisfied her close to weekly habit. The chicken was well seasoned (just the right amount of spiciness) and tender which is all we really ask of chicken. The crisp lettuce and ripe tomato were a good sign that the taqueria uses fresh ingredients (and I don’t mean “fresh” in the same way that the cellophane wrapped Honey Bun advertises itself as “bakery fresh”). Melted cheese, refried beans, and a slice of avacado added layers of richness. A dousing of salsa and thick crema helped intensify the flavors of the sope which was a great deal at $1.75. There was enough for “A” and “L” to share. But alas, I was left out of the feeding frenzy that made the sope disappear before I realized what had happened. Next time.
While we loved this little taqueria, the real treasure lies just a few paces away at a small fruit stand. We saw a small sign for “Cocos Frios” and wondered what it was describing. Perhaps a delicious coconut dessert, possibly a creamy paleta dotted with flakes of coconut shavings. What we found was even better.
Cocos Frios means just that: cold coconuts. Francisco, the man who runs the stand, reached into a large cooler to pull out two coconuts in all their hairy glory. He promptly placed them on a small wooden stump, something that would be used as a chopping block for firewood. If firewood is what you need to chop to keep warm in the winter, the summer equivalent is chopping cold coconuts to cool you down.
Just one swift movement of Francisco’s machete opened up a small crack in the coconut’s rock hard exterior which he then pryed open into a hole, cleaned up, and placed a straw into.
What we then tasted was unlike anything we’ve ever had. The clear liquid is slightly sweet, with a hint of the nuttiness of coconut flesh. It is the primeval Slurpee bringing instant refreshment and relief from the summer heat. For $2, a coco frio is a cheap way to escape to a tropical island. And delightful way to wash down a great taco.