I have friends who have lived in New York City for almost a decade now but have never visited the Empire State Building. They always mean to, but … you know, it’s not like it’s going anywhere. I feel the same way about some local restaurants that have been around for years. So when Caro’s Mexican Restaurant closed, it caught me off guard. Although I hadn’t eaten there in a long time, just knowing it was there was comforting.
John Whitten Jr. had run the family business for years. But after some costly kitchen repairs and the loss of his mother (the restaurant’s namesake), he decided to sell to one of his partners, Jonathan Farmer.
Dos Juans Puffy Tacos now occupies the space that housed Caro’s for 56 years. It bills itself as a “taco lounge,” which sounded like a Tex-Mex opium den, with mustachioed men lying motionless on pillows, in the throes of habanero-induced hallucinations. But the décor was basically Caro’s with a few cosmetic changes. The menu still has Caro’s classics, like the puffy taco shells, but also a lot of new stuff.
The restaurant was busy on a recent Friday night. Soon after seating ourselves, my guest and I were brought a complimentary order of kitchen dip ($6.99): a pool of cheese, ground beef, and refried beans, with little islands of guacamole, sour cream, and pico de gallo. We were instructed to stir it, and when we did so, it turned into a dark paste that I could have injected into my arteries with a caulking gun. Was it delicious? Yes. Did it make me sad to eat it? Also yes. It reminded me of one of those glutinous KFC creations, in which several items are schlepped into a single bowl, and you eat it with a plastic spoon through the taste of your own tears.
We didn’t know what to order, so the gregarious owner, who was patrolling the dining room (always a good sign), recommended the taco tour ($18.99), a plate featuring every taco on the menu.
In this case, the “tour” is more like a serious expedition than, say, a trip through the mall. Eight puffy tacos stared us in the face. The gauntlet included brisket, grilled tilapia, chicken, chimango (pork tenderloin with chipotle pepper, mango, and garlic), ground beef, guacamole, diablo (spicy pork with ancho chiles), and fajita beef tacos. There are three different salsa options: the house red, jalapeño, and habenero honey. Highlights were the spicy diablo, and the decadent guacamole. The only one I didn’t enjoy was the tilapia, which was a little overcooked. All of the salsas packed heat, especially the habanero honey, which set my mouth on fire — although that didn’t stop me from pouring it on my tacos like a champagne waterfall. The desserts are from the Swiss Pastry Shop (j’adore). We split the delicious key lime pie ($3.99), which was light and airy, like key lime meringue.
As is usual at new restaurants, the service was quirky — in a good way. So many servers came by so many times to check on us that it started to feel like a needy relationship, but that’s better than being ignored. There is no substitute for people who genuinely want you to have a good experience, even if it did take the crew of hoverers too long to clear away the plates and glasses when we were done.
Dos Juans has a bright future. It fills a niche I didn’t know existed until Caro’s closed. The restaurant is BYOB, for the moment. But the tacos are puffy, the salsa is hot, and the staff is friendly. Put this one down as a frequent stop on the Fort Worth Tex-Mex tour.
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