Meal in microcosm

Posted on 17 Jul 2015 at 6:00am

Our quest for Dallas’ best street food stops in the Design District’s Taco Stop


MINI-MOUTHFUL | Corn tortillas, pico, cilantro, lime and salsa turn beef and pork into a memorable meal.

I have friends who will look you in the eye, hand on a bible, and declare that the taco is — without qualification — “the perfect meal.” I never disagree. Consider the humble avatar of Mexican street food (but common in cultures from Asia to Africa as well): Tortilla, protein, garnish, seasoning. That’s it. But in those ingredients live the potential for greatness. A great taco conjures a certain musicality — not of a symphony so much as an etude: A study on the balance of flavors in a single bite, a microcosm of a meal that fits in your hand.

While many sit-down restaurants and fine-dining establishments execute their tacos with skill, my favorite way to consume them in Dallas is at one of the many, varied and exciting walk-ups and holes-in-the-wall. At best, a taco will reveals the full flower of a taqueria’s personality: The smokiness, the juiciness, the choice of tortillas and sauces and its add-ons can tell you everything from the region whence it originated to the passion with which it is made. Taco Stop is one of those places I go back to over and over.

The tortillas are medallion-sized — smaller than a standard American taco (close to what you’d find in Mexico City), but fully packed with flavor; at less than $2 apiece, you can mix and match your meal, building the aromas and textures and tastes that speak to your palate.

Here, the prime rib comes with so-called magic onions (sautéed with bacon) and cilantro, dusted with a trail of the viscous, punch-packing avocado salsa that adds the warm glow of spiciness without detracting from the flavor is the macerated meat. The barbacoa, with the pyramid slice of lime and spicy but not overwhelming pico de gallo, has a more smoked and burnished flavor, and usually arrives bulging in the middle, fat with beef.

My favorite taco, though, may be the pulled pork carnitas, which offers the most consistently savory profile: earthy and smoky, reminiscent of North Carolina pork barbecue. Pair it with the roasted tomato salsa.

Taco Stop opens daily at 7 a.m. (it’s closed by 3 p.m.), so a variety of breakfast tacos are available; the steak Mexicana is spicy enough to wake you up quick, even without coffee.

A “taco of the day” is usually available, and a recent one (a chipotle chicken tinga) pleased my dining companion more than me. Still, the only disappointing taco I’ve had here (and it’s a special, not on the regular menu) is the al pastor. It’s failing was more of omission than commission: An insufficiency of diced pineapple — which, aside from being trimmed off a trompo, is the distinctive characteristic of al pastor.

They also sell tortas (I was miffed recently when I was charged extra for cheese, despite cheese being in the description), but there’s a reason it’s called Taco Stop. No need to mess with success. Just close your eyes, take a mouthful and listen to the music.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

Taco Stop, 1900 Irving Blvd. Open Monday–Saturday, 7 a.m.–3 p.m.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 17, 2015.

Comments (powered by FaceBook)