Joel Mendoza has found a home to call his own. Dallasites might know him as the culinary brain behind Chilangos Tacos, a local darling that features decor such as mercado-style white tile, hand-painted lettering, and Instagram-ready nooks. Plates include straight-off-the-trompo al pastor, silky suadero, and the birria of Mendoza’s childhood on nixtamalized corn tortillas. These elements made Chilangos Tacos’ space on Harry Hines Boulevard a destination for social media influencers and families. 

As owner Jon Garay expanded to food halls in Plano, Old East Dallas, and Nashville, Mendoza would occasionally work at other restaurants as well. The jobs proved to be fleeting stints until he landed his own taqueria, Neza York Con Todo. It’s a beautiful home Mendoza is proud to call his own, as evidenced by the beaming smile on his face while we stood in the small dining room.

The taqueria, which opened about a month ago, is a nod to Mendoza’s hometown, Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl, in the state of Mexico, bordering Mexico City. Although the municipality has more than a million residents, it’s a young city that has fought its way to modernity. Neza, as the city is often referred to, was initially settled in the early 1900s as an unincorporated shantytown built on the swampy remains of the drained lake bed of Texcoco, upon which most of Mexico City also stands.

It was formally established in the mid-twentieth century, and it was a horrible place to live. Flooding was normal, and the city was disregarded by the government. Neza’s reputation was one of poverty and crime. The city finally got plumbing, water, pavement, and sanitation services in the sixties and seventies, but only after residents protested for improved living conditions. Then came the struggle for land rights. Neza and its residents have fought for what they have, and it’s paid off. Today Ciudad Nezahualcóyotl—originally named after the precolonial poet-king of the city-state Texcoco—is booming.

Another nickname is Neza York, referencing the city’s scrappy, hardworking people and the high immigration rates of residents to New York. Mendoza was one of those migrants. “Neza is full of hardworking people who go out day by day to the flea markets; the smell of food makes you want to try everything,” Mendoza says. “When I arrived in New York, I fell in love with the crazy things about New York: the lifestyle, the daily temptations, and the different foods in the different neighborhoods. It’s like the same city as [Neza and Mexico City], only they speak English in New York.”

After working at restaurants in Mexico, including the renowned Pujol in Mexico City, Mendoza moved to New York City in 2006. There he worked in Spanish, Italian, and French restaurants, as well as in the Four Seasons, until 2009, when he moved to Dallas. He found work at the Four Seasons and in restaurants such as San Salvaje, from Stephan Pyles. 

In 2017 Mendoza partnered with Garay on the La Botana taco truck before reconceptualizing the project as Chilangos Tacos in 2019. Mendoza speaks fondly of his former business partner. “Jon is a very special person in my life. He gave me the opportunity to grow in areas in which I needed,” Mendoza says. “It hurts to move on, but in life one must continue to grow.” And grow he did.

Neza York Con Todo isn’t as flashy as Chilangos Tacos (it’s set in a gas station outside south Oak Cliff), but watching Mendoza cook and run things with contentment and comfort shows this new project is the best thing he’s done. 

“I decided to open a taqueria because it is a way of life in Mexico,” Mendoza says, adding that he wanted to serve the traditional flavors of Neza and Mexico City. Doing so from a gas station adds an attractive familiarity for local taco lovers: Dallasites have a romantic view of gas station taquerias. “They get the support of the people,” Mendoza says.

Sometimes, though, “gas station” and “Mexico City” telegraph misconceptions of authenticity to the average customer. It’s not uncommon for someone to say a taqueria is “legit” because it’s in a gas station or because the owners advertise it as selling Mexico City–style food. Neither of these terms means much anymore. Gas station taquerias are myriad, and there is usually no one category of taco slung from behind counters. 

Mexico City—the largest metropolis in North America—attracts people and food from all over Mexico. Few foods have origins there. There is the taco al pastor, with roots in Puebla; suadero; the machete; and the huarache. Cooking appliances characteristic of Mexico City include the choricera, a round metal-trough pan with a short tower with a convex top rising from the center. It resembles a sombrero. The choricera’s moat is filled with molten lard in which suadero and longaniza (aged chorizo) are cooked. Cabeza al vapor (steamed cow head) isn’t from Mexico City, but it is common and beloved there.

Neza York Con Todo has all of these things. It is the rare taqueria that claims Mexico City–style tacos and can back it up with proof. The suadero, with a caramelized exterior and soft interior, is cooked in a choricera. The pastor, served chopped with crusty edges, is from a trompo. The cabeza is silky, with pearls of fat clinging to the threads of meat. A bonus treat is carnitas, simmered in their own lard for three hours. Perhaps best of all are the aromatic and elastic nixtamalized corn tortillas.

Mendoza buys the masa fresh from a woman who goes by Señora Marya. Mendoza wouldn’t disclose much more about her. “Señora Marya honors my kitchen with her tortilla dough” was all he added. Unfortunately, the end products didn’t pass the lime test, which involves squeezing lime juice over a section of a blue corn tortilla and watching it turn pink, which means the cal used in the nixtamalization process properly reacted to the juice’s acidity. But the tortillas’ chew, freshness, and lingering fragrance made any quibbles moot.

While I was there, I also enjoyed a chilled nopales salad, which featured shimmering cubes of herbaceous cactus with bright tomatoes and zippy peppers. It set the mood for my meal. Then came the wonderful tacos. A platter of glistening, fatty chamorro (pork shank) was accompanied by corn tortillas and grilled rectangles of salty queso panela wrapped in root beer–scented hoja santa. I grabbed a tortilla and tore a long portion of juicy pork: meat, skin, and all. “It’s a true platter of Mexico,” Mendoza says. In truth, it was a lot, but gloriously so. 

Mendoza promises the menu will grow. He’ll be adding Oaxacan specialties made by his Oaxacan wife, Nancy López, including tlayudas—large tortillas charred to a crisp and smeared with refried beans and seasonal ingredients like chauplines and flor de calabaza (squash blossoms) with chorizo—and moles of all sorts. Mendoza says if he learns customers are from Oaxaca, he’ll make them Oaxacan dishes. “For me it is among the top three cuisines in Mexico,” he adds. “You never stop learning about such a beautiful and incredible gastronomy.”

He and López are also testing dishes from Puebla, where Mendoza’s father is from, as well as Amecameca, one hour southeast of Neza, where his mother grew up. Mendoza wants to give Texans the flavors of Mexico City–area foods, from cheesy tetelas and bean-stuffed tlacoyos to robust gorditas and, of course, tacos. “It’s all about the dishes that are tasted daily outside the subway and in mercados.” He’s off to an excellent start. Neza York Con Todo just might soon live up to the other half of its name, Con Todo—”with everything.”

Neza York Con Todo
8618 S. Lancaster Road, Dallas
Phone: 469-657-7179
Hours: Monday–Saturday 7–8