If you’ve heard of huaraches, you’re probably more familiar with the footwear than the food. Huaraches are a deceptively simple, comfortable type of woven-top leather sandal from Mexico. (The word directly translates to “sandal” from the indigenous Purépecha language of Michoacán.) Huaraches are also one of the myriad dishes prepared from corn masa, alongside tacos, machetes, gorditas, sopes, tlacoyos, and more. The food gets its name from its oblong, sandal-like shape; like the shoe, the dish is more complex than it may seem at first.
Huaraches get a swath of refried beans and then are loaded with almost anything, be it shredded chicken, huitlacoche, chorizo, or pastor, among other options. They originated at an outdoor food stall in Mexico City in 1935, when, according to lore, chef Carmen Gómez Medina fulfilled a customer’s special request for extra-large gorditas. Diners nicknamed the new dish for its resemblance to the shoe, and the name stuck (though Gómez herself wasn’t a fan of it). In the fifties, Gómez moved into the recently completed Mercado Jamaica, also in Mexico City. Coincidentally, that’s where I had my first huarache. The dish, which can be eaten by hand or with fork and knife, has since become a staple of Mexican cuisine. It’s now found at stalls, carts, and restaurants across Mexico and Texas, including at Tacos La Gloria, a gleaming black food trailer stationed at Oak Cliff Brewing Company’s beer garden, at Dallas’s Tyler Station development. Huaraches are the sleeper hit at Tacos La Gloria.
The trailer opened in February to immediate hoopla and long lines. Instagram images and videos of the grand opening showed a congested lot with crowded picnic tables next to the trailer, whose welcoming logo features an illustrated portrait of the namesake owner-taquera, Maria Gloria Serrato. I was interested in the event because it marked the debut of a new truck, but also because it was located one and a half miles from my house. The crowds kept me away due to coronavirus concerns. However, there was serious potential for strolls to support neighborhood tacos and beer. Even better were early rumors of machetes and a working trompo inside the trailer. Tacos La Gloria, I thought, showed promise.
For Serrato, the business is the realization of a longtime dream. She’d previously worked at several restaurants and had even prepared foods for other trailers and trucks, but she knew that owning and operating a brick-and-mortar restaurant was beyond her means or experience. A food trailer would allow for mobility and more opportunities. Serrato’s family, including her daughter Daisy Wall and son Domingo Serrato, went in together on the truck’s purchase in August 2019. They immediately found work cooking at events and parties.
When COVID hit the U.S., the family closed Tacos La Gloria, using the time to update the trailer’s water tanks, change the tires, and customize the cooking space according to Serrato’s preferences. They also took the opportunity to finalize the logo and the social-media marketing plan. The trailer reopened in October of last year to cater a wedding before briefly moving into a service station for eighteen-wheelers in Lancaster, then finding a permanent home at Tyler Station in February.
Business has been brisk. “Opening day was a little crazy,” Wall says. “I looked out the service window at one point, and the line was unreal. I can speak for my family: we appreciate the love and the support that we’ve received over these past months.”
When Wall says “we,” she is referring to how members of the extended Serrato family are involved in the truck’s operations. Wall runs the books, while Domingo handles day-to-day issues on site and takes responsibility for marketing and social media. “He’s the visionary there; him and my mom,” Wall says. Wall’s uncle Abraham Serrato helps cook alongside his sister. The family network extends to in-laws, cousins, and even a few next-door neighbors; everyone gets a say at the dinner table, where the business decisions are made. The extent of the menu was the source of much debate. “We went back and forth on [the menu’s length] for a while. I personally tried to convince her to condense it,” Wall says. Some members advocated for a shorter menu. Others pushed for an ambitiously long selection of dishes. Length won out, and the menu now includes twenty-two customizable items. It’s expected to get longer, as the Serratos want to introduce enchiladas soon.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Tacos La Gloria offers trendy quesabirria tacos: cheese-cushioned shredded beef in a reddish-orange corn tortilla, served with consommé. Wall admits that these are on the menu only because of birria de res’s viral prominence. “We saw it a lot on social media,” she says. “So my mom tried different seasonings, and we did a lot of taste testing.” Their business savvy is paying off. The quesabirria tacos platter is the trailer’s best-selling item. As a preparation, the tacos are fine. Much better birria options are available nearby.
On each of my three visits, the trompo showed no sign of use. I was assured it was employed nonetheless. When I asked the cashier why the menu listed both trompo and al pastor as options, I expected an explanation noting the difference between Monterrey spit-roasted pork and Mexico City’s iconic taco al pastor. (The latter uses a wide variety of marinades, while the former relies on smoked paprika.) What I got in response was: “They’re the same thing.” Such a reply showed a certain lack of mastery of craft and knowledge, at least on the part of the cashier.
The rest of the menu was underwhelming too. Tacos La Gloria relies heavily on serviceable pork-beef-chicken offerings: fajita (beef and chicken), the aforementioned pork trompo/pastor, and slow-stewed shredded chicken (deshebrada). Disappointingly, the only vegetarian option is a potato-and-egg breakfast taco. It was expertly cooked, even if the tortillas were charred, but the rest of the breakfast tacos were unexciting. The green and red chilaquiles were each a soggy, sloppy mess, which might have had something to do with the packaging. To-go orders were covered in cling wrap that was difficult to remove. It would be better to place food in a clamshell container. The most disappointing of all was Tacos La Gloria’s machete, which was just a normal quesadilla, not the long, blade-shaped Mexico City specialty. There are also carne asada fries, a California-style burrito spiced up with Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, and more. It’s an extensive menu (longer than the one posted online) covering the basic Mexican and Mexican American street food options. The plethora of choices is not to the truck’s benefit. As many a chef has learned, it’s better to perfect just a few dishes than to try to do all of them equally well.
Thankfully, there are much better dishes at Tacos La Gloria—namely, the Sundays-only gorditas, the sopes, and those fantastic huaraches. One soft gordita concealed juicy, tomato-tinged chicken deshebrada. A crispy-edged huarache was blanketed with al pastor. I also requested a sope (the lowest-selling dish), which is picked up easily and devoured quickly. This trio is the best part of the menu, and the huarache takes the top spot. It’s a fetching dish with meat generously covering nearly the entire huarache. Chopped cilantro adds a fresh bite, contrasting nicely with the crumbled, salty queso fresco. Roughly cut wedges of avocado dress the center of the meal. The huarache is best finished with a liberal dousing of silky crema and tart salsa verde. Doing so is the customer’s choice, and I highly recommend it. The cooked masa has a little give that makes it easy to cut or tear into segments for sharing. But what confirms the huarache as the go-to order at Tacos La Gloria is the work it requires. The dish must be made from fresh masa, ideally patted out by hand and toasted with a watchful, masterful eye. The result makes for happy munching, all washed down with an Oak Cliff Brewing lager on any sunny, patio-weather day.