Taco Diner (156 W. 4th St.) and I got off on the wrong foot. It wasn’t all their fault. Sitting on the patio of Sundance Square’s newish taco joint, I couldn’t decide what was scarier: the mostly unsupervised children playing in the plaza fountain with a sound track of kiddie screams or the jalapeño-agave margarita ($10) in my hand. On both counts, I worried that my only medical training is watching re-runs of Grey’s Anatomy.
I was already a little turned off by the idea of yet another Dallas chain setting up shop downtown. And of course, every time a prominent chain opens here, the people of this city practically throw a parade (see: Torchy’s Tacos, In-N-Out) before the new arrival, like as not, slips into rightful oblivion. It’s not like there aren’t dozens of high quality Tex-Mex and Mex-Mex places in these parts.
When I arrived, the atmosphere did little to change my bad attitude. It was so bright, I felt like I needed a pair of those little tanning sunglasses. Then there was that margarita the huckstery maître d’ talked me into. The drink had floating bits of pickled jalapeños, and every time I took a sip, the peppery shards came rushing into my mouth. It was like drinking the leftover juice from a jalapeño jar, with added sugar.
Then my guest and I took our seats on the patio. The evening air was filled with the smell of chlorine, and the kiddos’ wheezing donkey laughs drowned out the faint thump of generic Tejano music playing over the speakers. Our server was prompt with the bland salsa and chips, and we got some non-pickled margaritas ($8) to wash the bad taste out of our mouths.
Things started to get a little better, as they tend to do when margaritas have been applied. As the sun set, the kids slowly disappeared, and the plaza quieted down. It was suddenly a beautiful setting for an evening meal.
The food was decent, though not great. The promised “kick” in the tasteless, runny queso blanco ($4) had gone AWOL. At a joint named Taco Diner, I figured the tacos were a safe bet, and I was right. Pairs of tacos with rice and beans go for $6, two pair for $10. I opted for mas and was impressed by the spicy, tender pork al pastor with pineapple, onions, and cilantro. The crispy avocado taco with a relish of black beans and grilled pineapple plus chipotle mayo was zesty and creamy, with myriad textures and flavors.
My guest also went for a taco foursome. Too bad that the cornflake-breaded fried shrimp were so overcooked they looked almost black, because the accompanying jalapeño slaw and chipotle mayo were the stuff of great tacos. The poblano-and-mushroom tacos with pico de gallo tasted fresh and bright. Everything inside the warm corn tortillas popped with spicy, earthy flavor.
Since my visit, the Sundance Square bosses have limited the hours when kids can splash around in the fountains. And now that I’ve posted a warning on the jalapeño-agave margarita, I think we’re all safe — until the next chain comes to town.
Contact Chow, Baby at firstname.lastname@example.org.