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Restaurant Reviews

How I Learned to Love the Clothespin Empanadas at Tequila Social

Our dining critic overcame his we-want-plates chauvinism at Tequila Social, because the clothespin empanadas are actually terrific.
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Tequila Social serves its empanadas on clothespins, but that is not the whole story. illustration by Anita Moti

This article is about empanadas, but I thought it was going to be about clothespins.

Tequila Social, which opened in July, brings a spacious patio and Tex-Mex classics to the Katy Trail. The dining room inside is smaller than some of our readers’ dining rooms at home, but the patio has plenty of room to stretch out, plus a gate to enter from the trail.

The restaurant’s signature dish is empanadas that come on a clothesline, strung up using clothespins. This made me angry at first, and the original headline of this post was going to be “The Clothespin Empanadas Must Be Stopped.” It’s not just my grumpy-old-man commitment to the plate as a food delivery device; it’s also the fact that clothespins pinch things. The only times you want to pinch an empanada is if you’re making it or stealing it to eat later.

But this article is not about the clothespins, because the empanadas are great. They deserve to be the stars of their own story. In fact, all the food at Tequila Social is better than Katy Trail party patio food needs to be.

Let’s start with the empanadas, though. The kitchen uses a flakey, layered pastry crust for unusual crispness. The sound of that pastry between your teeth is heavenly. And the filling is no slouch, either: picadillo and a bit of molten cheese for added indulgence. The mild green dip alongside is a poblano sour cream.

In general, Tequila Social is ace at fried foods. The chicken flautas are crisp and freshly fried, with the toothpick holes still visible. I also think that the crispy tacos are the best of the taco options, especially the super-old-school variety with ground beef, shredded lettuce, sour cream, guacamole, and cheese. The tortillas aren’t as airy-thin as the magical crispy beef tacos at Gonzalez in Oak Cliff, but they’re still in the top tier of Dallas offerings.

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Crispy flautas and crispy tacos on the patio at Tequila Social. Brian Reinhart

If you’d rather not have something fried, look to the enchiladas, which come in truly enormous portions on plates the size of desktop computer monitors. (I took home a whole second meal of leftovers.) Our enchiladas rojas, filled with cheese, had noticeable chile spice and a super-traditional topping of diced raw white onions. They also taste more like homestyle enchiladas, with firmer tortillas, than the soft, fall-apart variety at some restaurants.

Not everything on our first visit to Tequila Social was perfect. Most of our non-crispy tacos were soggy from grease, the flour tortillas were rather sad, and—on a quiet day with only four or five tables occupied—the music was cranked up to party levels, with the kind of thumping bass you’d appreciate more in a club or a lowrider. Directions to the restaurant aren’t adequately posted, either. You can either walk in from the Katy Trail directly—which would be my recommendation—or enter via a door inside an under-building parking garage. Don’t try walking from Uptown except along the trail. The garage is free for restaurant patrons, though it’s nobody’s idea of a romantic entry point for dinner.

Clothespins and directions were not my only concerns going into Tequila Social. Online customer reviews have been mixed, to put it politely. And, in fact, our server told us candidly that the restaurant had its bumps throughout 2023. (I’m not naming the server because they were perfect and I don’t want them to get in trouble.) My favorite story involved the flautas, which have gone on a Goldilocks-style journey from a chef who put almost nothing in them, through a cook who overstuffed them so that half the chicken fell out, to their present-day just-right status.

Tequila Social’s bumpy first months are a reminder of one of the paradoxes of the food writing business. Readers most want to hear about what’s new and “hot.” But what’s new is often not quite ready for the spotlight. New kitchens take time to tweak and perfect their recipes; new teams of employees take time to communicate well. If I’d visited Tequila Social last summer, I’d probably feel about it the way I currently feel about Steakyard, and hopefully when I visit Steakyard again this spring, the pattern will continue.

In a perfect world, all the people who ask us what’s new would instead be asking what cool restaurants are six months old. That’s much easier and more fun to answer. Tequila Social is one of them, even with those darn clothespins.

Tequila Social, 3100 McKinnon St., Ste. G100

Author

Brian Reinhart

Brian Reinhart

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Brian Reinhart became D Magazine's dining critic in 2022 after six years of writing about restaurants for the Dallas Observer and the Dallas Morning News.
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