SCENE OF THE CRIME | Carne asada and carnitas tacos lacked punch, but still had more than the watery margaritas. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

One visit. One meal. One shot to get it right

Direct marketing works. But it can backfire, as it did with Rock N Taco.

After a long, hard week at work, I needed to unwind. As if the World Wide Web sensed my stress, an e-mail popped into my in-box: $2 margaritas at Rock N Taco for happy hour, it said. Free appetizers. I had my plans.

Problem was, when I arrived at the nearly deserted McKinney Avenue restaurant, there were no apps set out, no reminder from the waitress of the great happy hour prices on tequila drinks. In fact, she told me they were three dollars.

Strike one. But it’s only a buck, right? Might as well. I ordered one on the rocks.

Strike two.

When the margarita finally arrived, it had about as much punch let in it as a boxer in round 9. Flat and favorless, it was a watery waste of agave nectar. I ordered a second, frozen, to see if the volume provided by the ice improved things. It did, slightly. Now you couldn’t tell so much that the alcohol content tasted on par with the basement brunch at the local Baptist church. At least it left me free that evening to operate heavy machinery.

I still don’t know what the appetizers taste like at Rock N Taco, as they were never set out and I didn’t bother ordering any. I stuck with the “rock your own” taco plate.

Let’s discuss the name for a second, too: Taquerias are as common in Dallas as vowels at the end of names in the barrio. Adding the word “rock” to one doesn’t, alone, justify charging three bucks per. (The best tacos in town are from the little lady inside the Fiesta on Ross Avenue. One dollar and she smiles at you.) You wanna rock me? Rock me! That doesn’t happen here, despite the zebra-print upholstery, signature drink called a “pink thing” (please, guys — grow up) and TVs blaring sports from every peripheral angle.

The tacos are the style I prefer: Small and packed densely with protein. But the carne asada taco, while flavorful, was as tough as a calculus midterm; by contrast, the juicy carnitas seemed like they hadn’t been seasoned at all. Of course, you can add some salsa (the tomatillo version is actually quite delicious, with lots of heat) and some a la carte sides: I tried the sliced avocado (good, but how can you mess that up?) and a chile-lime corn relish that was gummy but engaging.

Service didn’t impress me. Not at all. The margaritas took forever to arrive, and my water remained un-refilled as if they were rationing it in deference to Japanese tsunami victims. The waitress made me tab out early because her shift was ending and spent most of her time chatting with the only other person in the place (not a customer, it seemed, but a friend). I skipped dessert as I didn’t have another hour to wait for it to arrive.

Overall impression: Lacks buzz, lacks service, lacks consistent flavor in the food. Some of the items might actually deserve props (that salsa!), only it would require a repeat visit to get them.

Recommended: No.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 18, 2011.