At Museo del Noreste, a regional history museum in Monterrey, Mexico, a large map on the floor serves as a reminder of how closely the northern states of Mexico and Texas are linked. It shows one region split by an imaginary line that runs through the Rio Grande. The map is the exclamation point in a building punctuated with reminders of the geographic connections in its exhibits on commerce, industry, land, and more. Even 186 years after the political border was drawn, the two cultures are undeniably blended, and food remains the strongest tie. Breakfast tacos hail from northern Mexico—they are called tacos mañaneros there—as do tacos de trompo. You’ll hardly find better examples of tacos de trompo than you will in the Oak Cliff neighborhood of Dallas, where painted representations of Monterrey’s landmark mountain, El Cerro de la Silla, abound.
Despite the plethora of Monterreyan food options in Oak Cliff, there are arguably two major players. The first is the Fito’s Tacos chain, which has locations around the Metroplex but boasts Fito’s Tacos de Trompo and Fito’s Tacos de Cabeza in the South Dallas neighborhood. The second is the peripatetic Trompo, which hopefully found a permanent home here in September. There may be a third contender to pay attention to: La Parrilla Tacos & Más, which Omar Monsivais and his uncle Mario Santos opened on March 5.
Since he was a kid, Monsivais wanted to be one thing. “When I was five years old, my parents would ask what I wanted to be when I grew up,” he told me. “I said I wanted to be a taquero.” I’d argue becoming a taquero is as much of a calling as the priesthood. The 33-year-old smiles while stacking floppy slices of marinated pork butt onto the familiar trompo. He speaks with excitement when talking about what goes into his chest-warming frijoles charros. Santos, Monsivais’s uncle, also helped Arnulfo “Fito” Sepulveda, the owner-founder of Fito’s Tacos, start his successful business by loaning him a trompo and a flattop. Monsivais himself did a stint working at the original Fito’s in 2009. Later, he went on to temporarily work at a clandestine backyard taqueria. The young man had fulfilled his goal of becoming a taquero; the only thing missing was his own taqueria.
During a sleepless night in February, Monsivais opened Facebook at 2 a.m. and saw an ad on Marketplace for La Parrilla taqueria. He called the number on the ad the next morning and made an appointment to see the restaurant space. “It was exactly what I wanted,” he recounted. “Everything had fallen into place, like it was meant to be. I had to go for it.” One stipulation required that the new owners inherit and use the moniker La Parrilla, the name of the business formerly housed at the address. The shared side door with a laundromat was also staying. Two weeks later, Monsivais and Santos opened the new La Parrilla Tacos & Más.
After eight months, La Parrilla has set itself apart and is ready for a place next to Trompo and Fito’s Tacos as part of a triarchy of trompodom in Oak Cliff.
It starts with the frijoles charros. Lean pinto beans are cooked in water with pig feet and knuckles until the gelatin and fat render into the liquid. After that, cooked jalapeños, onions, weenies, garlic, and bacon are mixed in. When they’re finished, the frijoles charros, adapted from a recipe by Monsivais’s mother, are served in a styrofoam cup. The finished product is a wonderful example of the South Texas–northern Mexico treat. I wanted to eat every bean, but I restrained myself—beans are like chips, in that they fill up your tank before you get to your entrées.
Next up is the empalme, a northern Mexican dish that’s growing in popularity across Texas. The handheld snack consists of three flat corn tortillas held together with melted queso blanco, refried beans, and a protein. The bottom tortilla is swiped with refried beans, and the second tortilla holds hearty meat (I chose carne asada) and cheese before being covered with a third tortilla. Cooked on a flattop, the empalme oozes with bits of cheese and meat. It was a delightful confluence of richness, fattiness, caramelization, and beefiness. It’s also Monsivais’s favorite menu item. “I recommend that to anyone,” he said of the dish said to have been invented in Montemorelos, a town an hour south of Monterrey. Indeed, the empalme is a great recommendation, especially with the additions of salsa de chile de árbol and tomatillo-serrano salsa. Neither was too spicy.
The tacos de trompo start with meat marinated in an adobo that contains paprika, a typical Monterreyan trompo spice. “It’s not so much for the flavor as it is for the color,” Monsivais explained. After five minutes of intense heat on the trompo, the outer layer of pork sizzles and begins to char. The meat, shaved quickly with a swipe of the trompero’s long blade, is finished on the griddle, giving the orange-hued slices evenly cooked interiors. La Parrilla’s tacos de trompo are among the finest north of Monterrey.
That’s not to say every dish at the new taqueria is perfect. The only disappointment with the tacos de trompo were the tortillas. They were too greasy and slippery for my preference. Each bite of a taco made it more difficult to grasp and lift the floppy, disappearing tortilla. I let the filling fall into my basket, and I ate the shaved pork with my fingers, popping them into my mouth like chapulines.
As much as I liked the empalme and the tacos de trompo, I enjoyed the tacos tlaquepaque—another Monterreyan specialty—even more. The three tacos I ordered were typical of the style in composition and appearance: yellow-corn tortillas were folded around brambles of beef-cheek barbacoa and bathed in a coffee-colored salsa zippy with chile de árbol and chile guajillo. They were messy to eat with my hands, but they had heat, beefiness, earthiness, and color. In short, they were everything I wanted.
La Parrilla Tacos & Más
4398 Dallas Fort Worth Turnpike, Suite 103, Dallas
Hours: Sunday–Saturday 10–10