Drawing on his experience as an artist, Pablo Esparza festoons the walls of his restaurant with a rotating display of work from local artists and framed prints of his own black-and-white photography. He also taps into 20 years of restaurant experience, staffing his kitchen with cooks who skillfully grill carne asada, assemble torta sandwiches, and wrap tortillas around beef, rice, and beans according to his specifications and the whims of a giant magic 8 ball. Bartenders mix custom cocktails and dispense brews from behind the full bar, and diners croon out hits during karaoke nights or dance to tunes from live DJs.
For a Tex-Mex experience that feels decidedly urban, downtown lunchgoers and happy hour enthusiasts head to casual Iron Cactus, located in the thick of the city’s hustle and bustle on Main Street. Alongside expected dishes like chile con queso, fajitas, quesadillas and carnitas street tacos, diners will also find crispy Baja fish tacos, New Mexico-style pork enchiladas with salsa verde and cornbread-crusted fish with jalapeño and mushroom cream sauce. Rustic brick walls adorned with folky art and cushy, bright-colored booths make a comfortable perch from which to sip on potent margaritas – concocted with your choice of several dozen tequilas, ranging from budget-friendly to extravagant – while signature cocktails like the El Corazon, served with tequila and fresh prickly pear purée, make for a delicious dinner companion as well.
For the last 25 years, Ricardo and Michelle Avila have been dabbling with spices and tenderizing meats, meticulously perfecting the recipes that populate Mextopia’s menu. From brisket gorditas to guisado de puerco—a house specialty of braised pork loin in chili cascabel sauce—the traditional and Tex-Mex entrees pair with a roster of beers from Mexico and Central and South America. During happy hour on Thursdays and Saturdays, the draft beers are served with complimentary plates of sweet-and-spicy bacon in an effort to provide the community more protein in preparation for hibernation. The savory-sweet combos can be enjoyed on the outdoor patio or inside, where the purple glow of neon lights washes over the granite-topped bar and warm orange walls cultivate a festive atmosphere.
Acclaimed chef Abraham Salum opened chic regional Mexican spot Komali in early 2011, just one door down from his eponymous Uptown restaurant Salum. A far cry from the gloppy, cheese-smothered Tex-Mex that’s so popular around Dallas, the food at Komali is rustic yet refined, and just about everything is made by hand including the corn tortillas and tamales. The sleek, minimal dining room with its white walls, cushy banquettes and concrete floors keeps the focus on the food; think braised pork cheeks with salsa verde and hominy grits, chicken mole, quail stuffed with huitlacoche bread pudding or grilled flank steak with cilantro chimichurri. Lunch means tacos, sopes or tostadas with a variety of fillings, from carnitas to crispy fried snapper – and don’t miss the sugar-dusted churros for dessert.
Whether stuffing cornhusks with hand-ground maize or hosting holiday meals for the hungry, the Moreno family radiates the spirit of giving, earning kudos from the Dallas Observer and the East Dallas community. Since 1984, the clan has welcomed visitors to La Popular with warmth, hospitality, and their lauded tamales. Made without lard or gluten, each leaf-wrapped tamale brims with hearty fillings such as pork, chicken breast, ground chuck, and spiced pinto beans. The Morenos gather many ingredients from the Dallas Famers Market, where they also prepare savory bites for passersby. On weekends, the flagship location serves Mexican classics such as slow-roasted barbacoa beef, fried pork feet, and carnitas as tender as a love poem's first kiss.
A staple in the Dallas eating scene since before the first location in Oak Cliff was cool, La Calle Doce opened in 1981, just ten minutes from downtown. Set inside a renovated former home, the original location on 12th Street is near to bursting with relaxed charm. Each cozy, wood-floored room offers up a couple of white tablecloth spots for simple dining, while sunlight pours in and homey touches – think hutches filled with china, decorative wallpaper – round out the experience. Offering some of the best Tex¬-Mex food in town, La Calle Doce pushes plates of saucy seafood and fresh ingredients, served in tacos, sopas, cocteles or as standalone plates.