I’m not afraid of a bone-in protein in a tortilla. One of my favorite tacos contains a pork chop and is served with a steak knife—and no eating instructions. The bone imparts a challenge and flavor. The same is true for That Taco Dude’s drumstick taco: a smoky, mesquite-grilled, seasoning-speckled chicken leg wrapped in a corn tortilla.
The five-year-old Arlington catering operation’s most popular item was something of a fluke, says pitmaster-taquero Norberto “Beto” Granado. He and his small team–which includes his wife, Melinda Granado—had served drumsticks before, always with white bread. That is, until the week of a local multiday taco festival last fall, which is when I encountered That Taco Dude’s fantastic, tortilla-nestled drumstick. The drumstick’s addition to the festival menu was a last-minute one that Granado attributes to his wife’s creativity. “First of all, I don’t do anything without her. But it was [Melinda] who suggested we try it instead of giving away bread,” he explains.
At the event, attendees mingled closely and brushed up against one another in lines, including at That Taco Dude. At one side of their booth was Granado’s pawn-shop find of a mobile ten-foot smoker made from a five-hundred-gallon propane tank. It fits about thirty chicken legs to one side, and the drumstick taco was by far the operation’s best-seller. “We sold at least 1,200 tacos overall,” Granado says. “We were all just in awe looking at each other, like, ‘Wow, this was not expected.’” It’s safe to say no one expected a drumstick taco, and That Taco Dude is the only taco setup I’ve seen offering one. Served on a locally produced corn tortilla, it offers a contrasting texture and a mild flavor that carries the meat’s smokiness. The taco’s presentation, which includes a swoosh of skin remaining on the cut, is completed with a generous application of refreshing tomatillo-based salsa verde.
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How does one go about eating a drumstick taco? There are two ways. The first is to eat it like a taco but bite around the bone. That would be the right way. The second way is by pulling meat off the chicken with the tortilla. Doing so separates most of the meat from the bone and gives the consumer two meals: a taco, and a drumstick with leftover chicken on the bone.
Much of That Taco Dude’s success seems linked to chance and adaptability—beginning with the name. At a festival in Pantego a few years ago, the Granados overhead someone in the crowd ask another diner where they got their tacos. “The answer was, ‘That taco dude over there,’ and we just went with it,” Granado laughs. Since then, success has been incremental but steady. They got a foot in the door at Peticolas Brewing Company, a popular spot for taco pop-ups. It should have been That Taco Dude’s big break. That was in mid-March. Government-mandated COVID-19 shutdowns were announced later that week.
Granado’s day job as a maintenance worker at Neiman Marcus was cut down to twenty hours per week during the pandemic. He used the downtime to start a Tuesday pop-up from his home driveway. It began as a way to serve neighbors, fend off boredom, and allow people to feed their families at an affordable price. Granado planted a taco flag next to his smoker on a Monday and got to work for a Taco Tuesday sale. Based on a preorder system and minimal-contact pickup, the events lasted for five weeks. “That first day just blew us out of the water because we thought we were ready, but we weren’t ready. It was a very good lesson learned,” he told me over the phone. “By the last one, we got it down good.”
After ending the pop-up series, Granado is once again reaching out to local breweries for serving opportunities on their properties. North Texas craft beer operations have a tradition of supporting small food businesses. With any luck, That Taco Dude will be slinging drumstick tacos not only at Arlington suds manufacturers, but also at the obvious partner: Latino-run Four Corners Brewing Company in Dallas.
In the meantime, look for future pop-ups by following That Taco Dude’s Instagram account.