What is that mission? To eat our way through a random sample of Oak Cliff’s taco stands and rate them on an entirely unscientific, gut-reaction scale. The "Taco Tour" perhaps should have been called the "Tums Tour," but our mild stomach ache resulting from back-to-back taco-tastings interrupted only by a short drive to the next taqueria was well worth it in the end.
If you’re a taco lover, you undoubtedly have your favorite regular taco joint. We do too. But on this trip, we tried to avoid the big restaurants, and instead focused on the small stands or counters. Hitting all the taquerias in the OC would take months, but we did what we could to visit a broad cross-section. It was amazing how each place we visited was undeniably unique.
Inside Texaco service station @ Sylvan & I-30
Although we arrived too late to sample the breakfast tacos that we had been told by a reliable taco source were worth investigating, we tried some of the basics of the taco world (for the record, breakfast is over at 11 a.m.). At a window toward the back of this typical gas station convenience store we ordered a selection of al pastor, carnitas, barbacoa and beef fajitas on a mix of corn and flour tortillas, and they are solid fare. The meat on the al pastor is slightly dry, but delicious nonetheless. The beef fajita is extremely tasty. The price is right at $1.25 a taco, and the chubby bottles full of tasty, oozy salsa offer a great complement to the tacos. As a testament to the taqueria’s grassroots appeal, when we were there, the two tables near the window were crowded with construction workers, mechanics and the like. The patrons were somewhat mystified by our presence as we took notes, snapped pictures and analyzed all angles of the delicious tacos that kicked off our tour Ñ but everyone was warm and friendly nonetheless.
Taqueria Cholula definitely merits a repeat visit. It’s remarkable to think of how often we have pumped gas there on the way in and out of the hood and never realized that a tasty taco was within reach.
The Mixing Bowl
614 South Hampton Road
Set in an unassuming building just south of Twelfth Street on Hampton Road, this find blew us all away. It’s really more of a bakery, but they just so happen to serve breakfast tacos if you arrive before noon. We ordered at the cash register and then sat at tables surrounded by decor you’d expect at Cracker Barrel. This place is brimming with knickknacks that screamed Americana; there is even classic rock Ôn’ roll thumping on the boom-box radio by the door.
Make no mistake, though, the breakfast tacos served at The Mixing Bowl are 100% authentic Mexican fare. We sampled chorizo and egg, and potato and egg on flour tortillas at $1.75 each and they are amazing. Large, fresh tortillas are combined with perfectly cooked eggs. There were some who wished there had been more potatoes in the taco, but only because the potato bits included were pan-fried to golden perfection and oh-so savory.
Delicious homemade salsa rounded out the experience. This is a discovery we all agreed to share with friends and family. The mixing of kitsch USA-decor with south-of-the-border food make this a fun and cozy taco stop.
2324 West Illinois Avenue
The tacos at Gordo’s are darn-near perfect. We ordered a variety including barbacoa, carnitas, al carbon and chicharon. It concerned us a little that while we stood waiting in the parking lot, we noticed a sign in the window advertising the need for an experienced cook. But have no fear, the guy behind the counter is doing just fine! The first bite brings the immediate yum factor, and the tacos come with just the right amount of cilantro and onion and are served with tasty little key limes.
The location of this stand-out is easy to find: Gordo is a free-standing structure close to the parking lot of Jerry’s Supermarket at the intersection of Hampton and Illinois. There’s no place to sit, but that didn’t slow us down a bit.
It is a good thing we don’t live any closer to this taco hot spot because it could make us gordo in no time.
La Guadalupana Meat Market
902 South Hampton Road
We hit the taco counter inside the Guadalupana Meat Market right at lunch time and it felt like a party: people crowded in booths, at the counter and in the corners consuming their tacos of choice. We stood in line for a few minutes before ordering and long enough to realize that La Guadalupana offers the broadest menu of taco fillings we’ve encountered: from al pastor to menudo to lengua and tripa (unfortunately, they were out of cabrito on the day of our visit). We sampled nearly all of them. And despite a bit of reluctance to try the tripas and lengua, the taste won us over. We also sampled and loved the deshebrada (a stewed, spiced beef cooked until it falls apart).
La Guadalupana definitely packed the most meat into any of the tacos sampled that day and, at $1.18 each, it was certainly a bargain. We were also delighted by the atmosphere which includes cooks working behind a glass partition, diligently dipping into bubbling pots of assorted taco fillings as they complete machine-gun-paced strings of orders; a well-stocked meat counter perpendicular to the taco bar; and a veritable Mardi Gras of sights, sounds, flavors and smells.
Cesar’s # 1
2919 West Davis Street
El Numero Uno. The location where the Cesar’s Tacos empire got started. Okay, it’s not quite an empire, but compared to other taco stands in the Cliff, Cesar’s seems to have them all beat through sheer quantity.
Several of us had been looking forward to visiting Cesar’s original locale, as their Winnetka Heights location (Davis and Willomet) has long been a stand-by for quick and inexpensive food for those of us that live close. Whether it’s the munchies at 1:00 a.m. on a Saturday, or a plate of huevos rancheros to get the day started off right, Cesar’s is, for many, a consistent and reputable option. But after trying five taco stands before arriving at Cesar’s, we were all somewhat disappointed.
The building looked authentic enough amidst the beehive of activity that is West Davis Street early on a Saturday afternoon, and there were plenty of other customers dining with us on the picnic tables along Davis. But our chicken taco was basic, just good enough. And the carnitas and al pastor were on the small side with minimal amounts of meat. Apparently at 85 cents each you get a slightly smaller portion.
As one member of the tour commented, "My personal taco paradigm has experienced a tectonic shift!" But that’s okay. At 1:00 a.m. on a Saturday, Cesar’s will still satisfy your craving. Plus, they take credit cards, which is a rare and nice convenience in the taco world!
2390 West Davis Street
These guys set up shop directly across Davis from Cesar’s #1, which means they were either supremely confident in the quality of their product, or they were banking on the overflow from their well-known competitor.
The atmosphere is very similar to Cesar’s, with no indoor seating, simply plastic tables in front of the ordering window. We sampled the tacos al pastor on corn tortillas for $1.00 each, and were pleasantly surprised to have the option of grilled onions or raw onions as a topping. The tacos are piping hot and double wrapped in moist corn tortillas. The grilled onions add a nice flavor and the meat is well-seasoned.
601 West Davis Street
There are several in the CliffDweller office who will not even entertain the thought of another taco stand. Loyalty to El Si Hay seems to run deep in Oak Cliff. We arrived at 8:45 p.m. on a Saturday night and, after ordering our tacos, were told it would be a 20-minute wait. The guy in line behind us tipped us off that he calls in his order on the weekend.
We counted 24 people milling about waiting on their food, and this number didn’t seem to change as a steady stream of customers came and went. There is no seating at El Si Hay, so you’ll either be eating in or around your car, or taking your order to go.
We ordered the al pastor on flour tortillas for $1.20 each. The 20-minute wait was well-worth it. The pork is cooked perfectly, and the tortillas are a great vehicle for the seasoned meat topped with just the right amount of onions and cilantro. And a warning to those with a sensitive palate Ñ the hot sauce at El Si Hay is extremely potent and not for the faint of heart.
El Padrino #1
408 West Jefferson
El Padrino is housed in a quaint little stucco building nestled alongside the more traditional retail storefronts of Jefferson. It looks a little out of place, but the smell that hits you when you get out of the car confirms that Padrino is perfectly situated.
Breakfast and lunch can be ordered from the window on the sidewalk, but we opted to eat inside at one of the half dozen or so tables cramped alongside the tiny kitchen. We sampled the fajita al res and the barbacoa for $1.10 each and were shocked at how quickly they were ready. The good news is that not only are they fast, but these tacos are good. Savory flavors and high quality meat wrapped in skillet-grilled flour tortillas left us wanting more.
Taco Loco Wagon
3320 West Davis Street
Head out Davis like you are going to Lowe’s at Pinnacle Park and you’ll stumble across Taco Loco. The restaurant façade is designed to look like the top of a chuck wagon. We’re not really sure what the significance is, but you’d be loco not to stop and check this place out the next time you are driving by.
Taco Loco is a no-frills operation. Concrete floors and rustic picnic tables surround the kitchen where steaming piles of savory meats are being grilled to perfection. We tried several tacos, but we’ll save you the trouble. Taco Loco offers the finest carnitas tacos in the Cliff for about $1.25 each. Serve yourself chopped onions and cilantro, and help yourself to the large glass pitchers of horchata and limonada. Taco Loco is a must stop for CliffDwelling taco lovers.
532 West Jefferson
Jerry’s Supermarket is centrally located at the intersection of Jefferson and Llewellyn, across the street from El Ranchito. And while it boasts your typical mercado offerings (20 limes for $1.00, I’m not making this up) it also houses a decent-sized kitchen offering a variety of tacos and more. You can either choose to step up to the window in the parking lot, or you can venture inside and order from the counter. There is no seating, so these are tacos para llevar.
We picked up a chorizo and egg breakfast taco and a carnitas taco for $1.10 each. It’s a little cafeteria-esque in that most of the fillings are already prepared and simmering behind a glass window, but don’t let this lead you astray. These are quality tacos! After warming the tortillas on the griddle, the tacos are prepared and served. Salsa is offered, but be warned that if you accept, it’s not on the side. It’s not too hot, though, and the flavor is a very nice addition to both tacos. Jerry’s is a worthwhile stop on your taco tour of Oak Cliff.
Marinated pork, slow-cooked on a spit and shaved off.
Some will tell you that it’s meat from the head of a cow, and others say it’s just barbeque of beef, slow-cooked and tasty. Either way, we like it.
Roasted pork, slow-cooked, shredded, and then cooked over high heat to produce the perfect mix of tenderness and crispiness.
Cebolla y cilantro
Onions and cilantro, offered as a topping at nearly every Oak Cliff taco stand.
Mexican sausage, often paired with eggs for breakfast tacos.
Flour, as in "tortilla de harina."
Rice-based drink, often flavored with cinnamon and served over ice.
Beef tongue, slow-cooked for tenderness.
Corn, as in "tortilla de maiz."
Traditionally the small intestine of cows and pigs that have been boiled and then grilled.