No matter your stance on the immigration debate, you have to agree that Dallas’ culinary landscape has been made more interesting by our itinerant neighbors to the south. Take the humble taco. Small mom-and-pop taquerias grace street corners from Oak Cliff to Bachman Lake, from Garland Road to Maple Avenue. They serve tacos in settings only one step up from the street vendors in Central Mexico. The food itself is simple: a fresh, hot corn tortilla rolled around a variety of meats, topped with chopped onion and cilantro, and served with a lime wedge. The meats are usually chicken, pork, or slow-cooked cheap cuts of beef (tongue, cheek, or brains). Like barbecue in the States, taco styles vary across Mexico. Visit the Baja Peninsula or Yucatan, and you’ll find grilled or fried fish tacos. But as a rule, the traditional taco as made in Mexico is inexpensive and uncomplicated.
Enter the gringo taco. You’ve seen the restaurants popping up across North Texas. Gringo tacos are Americanized versions of the Mexican street food. Venture capitalists have hired chefs to dress up the proletarian taco with bourgeois ingredients. They’ve made tacos less Oak Cliff and more North Dallas. Al pastor (pork marinated for a day or longer and slowly cooked on a vertical rotisserie) becomes “roasted pork.” Barbacoa (slow-cooked meat from a cow’s head) becomes “braised beef.” Traditional Mexican Cotija or queso fresco gets replaced with feta cheese. You don’t have to look for these places on a street corner; you can follow them on Facebook and Twitter. And, oddly, as the chefs make the tacos less threatening, the marketers are writing menus filled with sexual innuendoes. (Torchy’s serves something called a Dirty Sanchez. Trust me: you don’t want to look it up on Urban Dictionary.)