Tacos Del Norte’s spinach enchiladas were creamy and spicy. Photo by Patrick Holden Jr.

Tacos Del Norte

300 Central Av, FW. 682-707-7401. 10am-10pm Sun, 11am-10pm Mon-Thu, 11am-2am Fri-Sat. All major credit cards accepted.

It’s unusual for a restaurant owner to rebrand his place without much of a change to the food or décor. But that seems to be the case with Tacos Del Norte, which was Papa’s Smokehouse & Cantina a scant six months ago. The cuisine that owner Martin Cardona called “Mexicue” seems appropriate for the joint’s environs on the North Side. There are plenty of holdovers from the Papa’s menu of brisket, enchiladas, burgers, tacos, and tortas, and the ramshackle building still looks like an odd mix of a sports bar and Mexican roadhouse – now boasting a tidy party patio with an area for a DJ.

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Chow, Baby has already covered the unpleasant truth: You’ll be charged for your chips and salsa at Del Norte. Fortunately, there’s a warning on the menu. If you’re too cheap or too indignant to pay the $2, there are an infinite number of interesting taco choices to serve as appetizers. All are just as filling, and you’ll save calories from grazing on chips even before you get to the good stuff. You’ll also save two bucks, which you might parlay into a happy-hour beer special.

The duck tacos (twice the price of chips and salsa) were interesting: Pieces of slightly sweet duck mingled with sliced mushrooms and spinach on two fist-sized corn tortillas. There was enough filling to divide into two single-wrapped tacos (and when you look at it that way, the price per taco shrinks to a more reasonable range). All of the elements were varying shades of brown (even the spinach), so it was hard to tell what was what. Still, the combo of smoky duck and earthy mushrooms in a pungent sauce was delicious.

A brisket taco, also ordered to stem hunger while we pondered the menu, was equally tasty. A generous fork-tender serving of brisket topped with salty queso fresco, grilled onions, and avocado came served in another doubled-up corn tortilla. The Black Angus beef was definitely moist – whether from internal marbling or hours in a smoker, I could not say.

For the entrées, an excessively generous serving of three spinach enchiladas tasted great with a side of the spicy green salsa balancing the thin sour cream sauce. Although the spinach had that stringy texture that suggested it had been frozen, the enchiladas toed the line between carb-and-dairy-rich indulgence and a healthy veggie dish. The mound of refried beans accompanying the enchiladas had that yummy, almost silky quality of beans made the old-fashioned way with plenty of fat and spice. 

The Mexicana torta was average. The bread was nicely grilled outside and coated on the inside with a base of fiery chipotle mayo. Zesty beef, tomatoes, and avocado filled in the soft-on-the-inside bread. The sandwich was a curious combo of flavors and textures – cool tomatoes, soft avocado, shredded meat. Unfortunately, it was served with obviously pre-frozen crinkle fries – redeemed only by the great grill seasoning with which the spuds were decked.

If there’s a major flaw at Del Norte, it was the service on the night we visited. The gal who took our order seemed more intent on checking her phone behind the bar than offering us a bar menu, helpful suggestions, the aforementioned pricey chips and salsa, or even dessert. Her indifference was noted by another server, who was busy with a table of 12 but still came to check on us.

Tacos Del Norte’s new patio is pleasant enough, although the owner’s insistence on social media that the place is a patio/garden was a bit of a stretch. One additional problem (not of the owner’s making) is that if you’re coming from the south or east, the traffic detour through downtown around Henderson Street will make you cry tears of rage. Take I-35 to Yucca Avenue or University Drive until it becomes Northside Drive to get to the neighborhood. There are only a few restaurants open weekends until 2 a.m., when the bars close. For that alone, it’s worth the trip Norte. 

Tacos Del Norte

Duck taco $3.99

Brisket taco $3.99

Mexicana torta $8.95

Spinach enchiladas $8.25