Some of your favorite Dallas taco joints are coming to Taco Libre on Saturday: Revolver Taco Lounge, Trompo, Tacodeli, and Resident Taquería will be there. El Palote will be slinging its trademark vegan tacos. José and Casa Komali will be representing Dallas’ upscale Mexican food scene, and there will be outside-the-box offerings from Café Momentum, Halal Mother Truckers, and Bbbop Seoul Kitchen.
But two of the most exciting vendors at Taco Libre aren’t from Dallas at all. They’re flying in from Mexico City just for the event. And these aren’t celebrity chef stunts, either: Carnitas Meche y Rafael and Mariscos El Paisa are decades-old neighborhood taquerías operating in Mexico City’s bustling markets.
The culinary exchange program was arranged by Taco Libre and the Mexican government, with special assistance from Mexico’s taco-loving consul general in Dallas, Francisco de la Torre.
“First we thought about bringing a well-known, established taquería, but suddenly it hit us: It’s better to bring a taquería from a market,” de la Torre explains. “It’s more grassroots. It’s more authentic. It’s more the idea of Taco Libre.”
The taquerías have particular specialties that are spelled out in their names: Mariscos El Paisa serves fish, shark and shrimp tacos in Mercado Jamaica, and Carnitas Meche y Rafael serves celebrated pork tacos in Mercado Medellín.
“These are not celebrity chefs — the opposite,” de la Torre says. “We’re bringing people that really have a place in the markets in the neighborhood, to share what we do in Mexico City with the tacos. If you’re from Mexico City and you haven’t been in those two markets, don’t call yourself from Mexico City. Everything they do is delicious.”
Carnitas Meche y Rafael will be serving carnitas, cueritos (pickled pork rinds) and a campechano (combination) taco with chicharrones.
Through a translator, owner Rafael Velázquez says, “We’re celebrating half of a century in operation, since my father, Rafael Velázquez, established our family business. We have been proudly serving since 1968, offering families the best quality pork with all their products and sauces made with the best quality and high standards.” This is the first time his business will serve tacos in the United States.
Mariscos El Paisa is also making its United States debut. Owner Daniel Rodríguez says he will be “serving more than a taco. I will be serving an experience, part of my knowledge, my love and passion for cooking.”
Rodríguez explains, “This business was started by my grandfather, 61 years ago … I am the fourth generation of my family to be involved in this business. All the time we have been innovating, growing, trying to offer the Mexican flavors, colors and aromas. Tito Sosa started, then my parents. I remember that since I was 6 years old I was helping them to clean crayfish, prepare utensils and dishes to give a good service, just like my parents. They are cooks who did not study. I studied gastronomy at the university and learned that there were more possibilities for dishes, so I included more options, such as the tacos we will offer at Taco Libre.”
Those offerings will include fish or shrimp chicharrón tacos garnished with julienned vegetables, guacamole, salsa de chapulines and maguey-worm salt.
José Ralat, the local taco writer who doubles as Taco Libre’s food curator, is excited for Dallas natives to get a taste. He also hopes it helps Americans come to a better understanding of food culture in Mexico City.
“I think there’s this perception that markets are dirty, or crowded,” Ralat says. “But these places have formal dining rooms with tables.” The expansive menu at Mariscos El Paisa spans multiple pages of some of the city’s freshest seafood.
Rodríguez adds, “Because I work in a market, I have a huge storehouse that is my greatest inspiration. If I want something fresh, I get it. If I want a tomato, a chile, cilantro, epazote, aromatics, huitlacoche, an elote, a fruit, a melon, a watermelon, we all get it here. Working in the market fills our soul with pride and satisfaction knowing that we can get everything here.”
Out-of-town taquerías aren’t a new thing for Taco Libre. Ki’Mexico, a restaurant in Shreveport, was one of the stars of last year’s festival and will make a triumphant return appearance this time around.
But the arrival of cooks from Mexico City’s markets is still a milestone for the festival, made possible by the Mexican government and ticket gifts from Delta Airlines and Aeroméxico.
“A taco is not only a taco,” Rodríguez says. “Taco is a word with a lot of meaning for Mexicans. Even to go to breakfast, we say ‘Vamos a echar un taco,’ let’s go get a taco. I am very excited to take my culture to the United States.”
For de la Torre, Taco Libre and events like it have a meaning that transcends food and politics.
“Tacos have nothing to do with race, tacos don’t understand about borders,” de la Torre says. “Tacos are a universal and beautiful thing.”
Taco Libre, 3 p.m. Saturday, April 27 at Dallas Farmers Market. Tickets are $17-$55.
By Brian Reinhart has been the Dallas Observer’s food critic since spring 2016.
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