The pulpo taco at Revolver continues the octopus trend. (Photography by Arnold Wayne Jones)

2 deceptively modest taquerias, Taquero and Revolver, take vastly divergent approaches to the same cuisine, but both achieve exceptional results

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Executive Editor

It’s an overcast, drab, chilly Dallas day, the kind that lingers briefly and then can re-up every few weeks, any time from October through March — a day, in other words, when eating something warm and familiar can make a large difference in your attitude.

You might think it would be a good time to warm up indoors, but if you’re eating at Taquero, as I was, you don’t really get that option. The restaurant’s public spaces are exclusively limited to an uncovered patio, an outdoors-only, order-window-style place, with a smattering of outdoor furniture and a bar populated by white vinyl-covered stools that call to mind the decor on Mad Men.

The torta chihuahua at Taquero expands its menu beyond tacos; all items feature spicy salsas. (Photography by Arnold Wayne Jones)

Yet the weather does not deter me, nor should it you. Once you order, the server promptly returns with this astonishing taco stand’s version of an amuse bouche: complimentary borracho beans, delivered in an earthenware mug with an oversized, colorful antique spoon. The radiant heat warms your hands, and is even warming going down; the steam from the soupy mixture wafts toward your nose, tantalizing and soothing at the same time. Comfort food, a la Mexicana.

Taquero occupies a shady, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it corner along Singleton Boulevard in West Dallas, marked only by a modest sign and far from the hipster hubbub of Trinity Groves just a mile down the road. Parking is tight in its tiny lot, and street parking depends on how far you are willing to walk through this residential barrio of small, A-frame homes. It’s worth a good walk, even in brisk weather, because Taquero offers a unique spin on street tacos.

Street tacos? More like field tacos: This is masculine, bold food — there’s nothing dainty or meek or demure about these tacos. (The restaurant’s name, Taquero, seems intentionally to rhyme with vaquero, the Spanish term for a herding cowboy — the kind of butch image that demands handheld food with some heft, not a quick nosh while dashing through traffic on your way to a meeting downtown.) Most authentic Mexican tacos in Dallas, even the best ones, rarely take more than three bites to finish and are prepared with sprinklings of finely-diced condiments and herbs. Taquero will have none of that: Durable, single-layer corn tortillas (no choice of flour offered) cradle rough and rustic ingredients: Thick-cut cubes of pork carnitas, a slab of steak the size of a small filet, chunky onions, slivers of chipotle, silver dollar slices of roma tomatoes and diced peppers.

Chef Fino Rodriguez has developed about a dozen tacos, from lengua to al pastor to fish, providing sufficient variety to let you try out a new duet (I wouldn’t order more than two unless you’ve just escaped from a prison work camp) every week and not get bored. The pork is spicy and filling; the steak, while a bit tough (probably owing to the cut of meat), was cooked medium-rare and seasoned well.

Just as enticing is the torta Chihuahua ($8), a hearty Mexican-style panino served on a firm-crusted but unexpectedly soft roll, with succulent carnitas, balanced with avocado, tomato and slaw… all made more emphatic by roja and verde salsas that pack punch (though that could be the chipotles doing overtime).

Irrespective of its humble locale, the vibe is distinctly enjoyable. Images of queer Mexican artist Frida Kahlo peer down from multiple perches; the staff (they speak English, but Spanish is clearly the preferred method of communication) is solicitous, polite, courteous and largely invisible; contemporary Spanish-language music with bossa nova beats wafts out of the speakers.

Even when it’s cold out, that’s enough, with beans and spicy salsa, to warm you up, body and soul.

In many ways, Revolver Taco Lounge couldn’t be more different from Taquero: It’s in Deep Ellum, the granddaddy of dining destinations for adventurous foodies rather than the up-and-coming West Dallas scene that didn’t register a blip only four years ago. They are divided by two highways, and while Singleton hosts a melange of auto garages, tax-preparation offices and single-family homes, Deep Ellum is an established hipster hang of tattoo parlors, underground music venues and trendy, quirky boutiques and craft beer brewpubs. They also take vastly different approaches to the craft of the taco. But both are doing their things defiantly and uniquely. They stake their claims on reinvention of a familiar, usually pretty cheap bit of protein-forward sustenance.

Revolver can boast an actual interior, and a nice one at that. A long hightop table with bench seating dominates the small dining room, where music ranged from the funky syncopation of Cake playing on the radio one moment, then immediately morphing into old-school West Coast hip-hop. A colorful mural of Dia de los Muertos sugar skulls dominates one wall. In short: This is Deep Ellum at its coolest.

Revolver’s aesthetic also claims more classical culinary aspirations. Tacos here cost twice, even thrice the standard price-point for a standard taco, the result of labor-intensive creations prepared in the open kitchen a la minute. The menu contains more.

All the tacos are served on a thick, single housemade corn tortilla (they look fluffy and white, which might make you think they are flour, but they are not, and impart a sweetness on the proteins). That’s an impressive foundation on which to construct the architecture of tacos. The skill is apparent on the pulpo ($5), which offers an elegant execution of briny, moist, tender (not chewy) octopus “carnitas” undergirding fried leeks layered in crunchy strips and drizzled in a salsa verde (it’s made of jalapeno, not avocado or tomatillo, so be prepared for the heat).

I shouldn’t have to convince any daring foodhound to gravitate toward the cabrito ($8), perhaps the signature taco on the menu. The Michoacan-style month-old baby goat was smooth and succulent. (A special made of rabbit cabrito was on the menu, but sold out on my last visit.) The pato ($7) — a medium seared breast of duck — may have been the most perfect preparation of duck in any context I’ve had in year — melted on my tongue, but the caramelized onions and roasted poblano fleshed out the mouthfeel.

A recent addition to the menu is the El Degenerado ($7.50), practically a meal in itself: Chorizo — rich, fatty, smoky — combined with aged wagyu carne asada, crowned by a luscious egg makes it appear to be brunchy. It’s arresting to look at (another diner ordered one for himself after ogling mine), but even better to eat. (A version of just the carne asada without chorizo or egg is also offered.)

Beyond tacos, chef Hugo Galvan has also concocted a ceviche list, and created a Mexican hot dog around Luscher’s Red Hots sausages, and the beer list includes quite a few Mexican brews. But the tacos are what lingers — not just as one-off bites for a quick lunch, but as an overall dining experience, a celebration of the creativity that can be achieved within the modest circumference of a tortilla. Viva tacos!

Taquero, 1601 Singleton Blvd.
Revolver Taco Lounge, 2701 Main St.