Frida’s Tacos sprung up in May in the West Dallas taqueria that formerly housed Taquero on the corner of Singleton Boulevard and Chihuahua Street. While the beautiful terra-cotta mugs that now hold café de olla and aqua-hued plates remain from the Taquero days—some may even recognize them from our December 2017 Best New Restaurants cover of D—Frida’s feels like a world of its own, serving quesabirria, an initially off-menu item that is a worthy siren to add to your list of enticements.
Its owner, Maria Barragan took over the lease from the former tenants, Taquero owners Fino Rodriquez and Victor Rico, who had decided in December to secure a restaurant with indoor seating closer to the city center. Barragan was among those who opened during a pandemic and while stymied initially by the shutdown, she remained determined. As soon as restaurants were allowed to reopen, she did so, affording you a place to dine outdoors and to dream.
Lunch there on a rainy day last week was sunshine: a proper Baja-style fish taco with a fat hunk of fish, pretty fresh rounds of cucumber and radish, and a luxurious gilding of chipotle mayo. Barragan, whose kids were born in Anaheim, five minutes from Disneyland, owned several food trucks in Southern California before the vagabond winds brought her here to Texas. At Frida’s Tacos, she has something special. And not simply because it’s the first stationary restaurant after a run of eight or nine food trucks over the last 35 years.
How quesabirria came to be the star is a story unto itself. Barragan’s daughter was the one to nudge her mother, pointing out that in California, the dish (called interchangeably birria de res or birria tacos and other names) has risen to celebrity status, deliciously infiltrated into Southern California from Tijuana, just like the fish taco, with its roots in Baja. Barragan was born in Leon, but her family is from Jalisco, where her memories of birria were always of beef. But she’s gotten requests for goat—for the reddish broth and tortillas to cradle an equally traditional meat. (Mostly, these are customers from Guerrero, she says, pointing to the regional variations on the original stewed meat dish.)
“Eighty percent of my sales is quesabirria.”Maria Barragan
But perhaps no one tells you that it will be a bowl of savory, brick-red broth, which arrives in a painted earthenware bowl. This provides the baptism for the folded tortillas (which are really folded quesadillas) filled with thick, soulful hunks of birria, long-stewed chuck roast, part of a hefty parcel sealed shut with melted cheeses and crisped around the edges.
It’s a familiar story now—someone with a phone and a following gets takeout birria and posts it on social media, and all of a sudden, customers are requesting what was barely on the menu. “You expect to grow,” Barragan says. But she went from being just herself, her husband, and her son, with barely enough to pay lease and bills, to, about four weeks ago, becoming an operation with three cooks. They turned the tiny triangle of a parking lot into a patio with 14 more tables. “Eighty percent of my sales is quesabirria,” she says.
You will find on that patio what is very much reminiscent of a Southern California food truck scene. Lights glow over an elotes cart that doles out cups with dollops of sour cream and a shower of queso fresco. Barragan’s husband might be behind another cart with a trompo and grill, handing out street tacos of lengua, tripas, cabeza. You can almost feel the breeze from the Pacific. You can almost imagine that the sunset blazing over West Dallas is really, in fact, blazing over Santa Monica and that children with pails and shovels are shaking off the last sand that will stick between their toes.
As the daylight fades, what you should have in front of you are some of those tacos. The chorizo, griddled just enough to form a crust on the crumbles (red-hued, oily, decadent). Shaved trompo meat meets the welcome tart sweetness of fresh pineapple on another. And you can wash it all down with a cool glass of creamy, cinnamon-y horchata.
Barragan’s green enchiladas entail thick handmade tortillas smothered in a bright green chile sauce and drizzled with crema and queso fresco (think of them like tamales).
In the morning, you can get the burritos that I imagine are similar to those she served off her food trucks in Anaheim, land of the burrito.
Barragan wants to write poems by Frida Kahlo on the walkup window’s raw wooden wall, fleshing out the theme that speaks from the bright murals, painted by a local artist. (Here, you bask among Frida painted with butterflies or with a panther and monkey lurking over her shoulder.) And it’s a perfect COVID spot, this outdoor enclave with the breeze blowing through.
We need more birria, in all its forms. Restaurants like Revolver Taco Lounge have become places to seek it out, as have others, like Maskaras Mexican Grill farther south in Oak Cliff and a slew of spots in Fort Worth.
Get more agua frescas to go before you return to your parked car, nestled under a tree in front of a house on a street that I have always found to be full of secret charm.
Frida’s Tacos, 1601 Singleton Blvd.