by Danielle Leahy photos by Jacque Manaugh
The street taco meet-ups got off to a rough start in 2011. It’s hard to find a taco stand that can hold 20 or more people, most of them non Spanish speakers, and many of which have not ever ordered real street tacos before. It’s limiting to say the least. For anyone still unaware “street” tacos or “traditional” Mexican tacos are usually quite small, served on 1-2 corn tortillas, and usually only topped with meat, onions, and cilantro with lime and salsa on the side.
They are usually also very cheap, $1.20 on average. Long limited to the gas stations, grocery stores and street corners around traditional Spanish neighborhoods traditional tacos or more specifically, ordering traditional street tacos, can seem like a scary experience for Tex-Mex lovers looking to try the real thing. So we before we begin our review of the five best street tacos and locations the Tacobots visited in 2011. Lets begin with a break down of the meats.
Bisteak is steak, al pastor is pork, pollo is chicken, chorizo is spicy crumbled sausage, lengua is tongue, tripa is small intestine, suadero is from the breast/brisket of the cow, and barbacoa is meat from a cow‘s head. Got it? Scared yet? Well don’t be! Because hidden behind a list of meats most American don’t eat on a regular basis, are some of the best tacos on this planet. So pull up your big boy pants and lets get going. I’ll start slowly and ease you in.
#5 The $1 Fish Taco at Lee Harvey’s
Lee Harvey’s has damn good tacos and on Mondays they are only $1. They also have some killer drinks and one of the best patios/outdoor spaces in Dallas. With both fish and steak on the menu Lee Harvey’s is a great place for any first-time-street-taco-scaredy-pants to get their traditional taco fix on. The steak is made with ribeye and topped with onions and cilantro. The whitefish come with cabbage and a spicy jalapeno relish. But be warned these tacos are SMALL. I ate 8 once, no joke.
#4 The Al Pastor at Chichen Itza
Chichen Itza is a long time Greenville Ave anchor that often gets overlooked in the Dallas taco world for it’s award winning neighbor, Tacos Y Mas, which is a shame because it delivers high quality street tacos with remarkably fresh ingredients. We tried all 4 that they had available that week. If your looking for something different I recommend the Milanese, thin breaded chicken. Eacj taco we tried was well cooked, perfectly seasoned, and absolutely loaded with the best tasting and freshest tomatoes, cilantro, and onion that we tried this year. The Al Pastor consisted of big chunks of pork, deep red in color, and containing that spicy sweet lime tang only Pastor can deliver. Chiochen Itza also doubles as a traditional Mexican Bakery and has a wide range of dessert items and pan dulces to choose from. And for those in the know don’t forget to grab a bag of Takis and a bottle of Topo Chico while you wait.
#3 The Selection at Tortas de la Herchizera
We had a blast at Tortas de la Herchizera on Maple. It’s a cute little “house” across from the Race Trac on Inwood, with a bright cheery interior and one of the cleanest dining rooms I’ve ever seen in any restaurant ever. It sparkled even. It’s got the kind of friendly staff that makes you feel at ease while sounding out the menu items and asking a billion questions regarding their ingredients. It also has the single largest selection of taco meats to choose from I’ve ever seen. With over 11 different types of tacos available spanning everything from hot-dogs to cow hooves (yep, I said HOOVES) there is something for everyone at Torta’s de la Herchizera. We loved all of the tacos we tried and found the salsa to be some of the best we’ve sampled. Don’t let the pretty bright orange color fool you, this stuff packs a punch. And don’t even get me started on the Tortas. They deserve a crown for those suckers.
#2 The Steak Tacos Nortenos at Pepe’s Y Mitos
Pepes Y Mitos in Deep Ellum is the kind of family run joint with food so good and atmosphere so comfortable you find it becoming your “go-to” late night spot. Serving both traditional and more Americanized versions of Mexican food the people at Pepe’s Y Mitos rolled out the red carpet for the Bots and hosted what has been to date our largest Meetup. Rolling in with over 40 strong we took their restaurant by storm and started the year right with a pre-arranged street taco only menu.
The Taco Nortenos at Pepe Y Mitos are the best steak street tacos we tried this year. Taking the basic formula (beef fajita steak, onions, and cilantro) and slightly upgrading them by sautéing in pico de gallo and chipotle wine sauce and serving this over traditional corn tortillas, the added flavor sent these tacos straight to the top of the list. Their salsa is bomb, the margaritas probably too strong for your own good, and the chips are the kind of thin, crisp, salty goodness that dreams are made of. If you haven’t had a chance to try Pepe Y Mitos do it now.
#1 The Lengua at El Guero (now Tacos La Banquenta: new name, same tacos)
El Guero has long held the #1 street tacos in Dallas spot for many a Tacobot. Famously small (like single file line small), ridiculously cheap, and unapologetically East Dallas this place is for and about street tacos only. First timers are even offered a free small suadero taco with the first purchase! Serving all of the traditional organ meats and doing it better than anyone else El Guero’s Lengua taco is a force of nature. Pillow soft and with the lightness of taffy this meat melts in your mouth and almost eliminates the need to chew. Perfectly seasoned and cooked the softness of the tongue meat is highlighted by the sharp bite and crunch of the onion and cilantro with the sour sweet tang of lime. You should not be afraid of trying the lengua taco at El Guero. You should be afraid of missing it.
And of course a special shout out to Fuel City, even though they no longer need the accolades or the recognition any list of Dallas Street Tacos would be incomplete without it. The Picadillo is the bee’s knees and just because we didn’t included them on this list doesn’t mean they’re not right up here with the rest of the Top Street Tacos in Dallas for the Tacobots in 2011!
Well there it is, our recommendations based off our monthly Meetups. We’ll be hitting up many more street taco joints this year now that we’ve figured out the rhythm to getting the right number of people in a small place.
So watch out Taqueria El Si Hay in Oak Cliff… we’ve got you in our 2012 cross-hairs!