The main plaza in Yurécaro, Mexico, gets crowded early each morning, as people rush to shop at the nearby mercado and stroll the stalls that spill out onto adjacent streets. Last November, I traveled to this small mountain town in the western Mexican state of Michoacán with Regino “Gino” Rojas, who grew up in Yurécaro. He now lives in Dallas, where he runs Revolver Taco Lounge, one of Texas’s most creative modernist taquerias. For several years, Rojas had told me that in order to truly understand his cooking, we needed to visit his hometown.

That’s how we found ourselves standing before a wood and metal taco cart on a side street in Yurécaro. A man with a salt-and-pepper mustache and a white apron bearing the name Birrieria Don Chano stood behind the cart, which was equipped with a blue insulated cooler, a scale, a round butcher block, and a pot full of a runny umber salsa that shimmers in the light. An oblong metal oven off to one side held stewed birria de cabrito (milk-fed kid goat), some of it still on the bone. Every time a customer ordered cabrito by the pound or in a taco, the man—Don Chano’s grandson—reached into the oven to pull out a hunk of meat and chop it into chunks and ragged threads. As a taco, the cabrito is plopped onto doubled-up corn tortillas and drowned in the pungent umber salsa. It’s served on the colorful plastic plates typical of puestos (carts and street stalls) across Mexico. 

As the taquero, whose family has been operating this puesto for 65 years, was assembling my order, I peppered him with questions. “What’s the salsa?” I asked. “It’s a mole,” he said. “What kind, sir?” I responded. Instead of answering, he handed me a plate. The taco de birria had a gaminess bound up in a mouth-puckering, addictive sweetness that pops after a squeeze of lime. The combination kicked me back on my heels.

“You see!” Rojas shouted. Neither of us needed to say much more; the food left me stunned.

This taco, this nosh that nearly knocked me over, is the template for the birria taco at Revolver. I had scarfed an order—served on the same type of plastic plate—just before our trip. But while Don Chano’s birria is small, Rojas’s version is presented on two wide, freshly pressed corn tortillas that stretch to the plate’s rim. Upon them is a generous helping of fine filaments of cabrito in a similarly hued salsa. Rojas damn near nails the experience and flavors of the base taco. 

Revolver Lounge opened in 2012 and has since garnered a loyal customer base and heaps of well-deserved praise from food critics. When the pandemic hit, Rojas and his team swiftly pivoted. First, they closed the dining room in compliance with state and county orders. That included shutting down the Purépecha Room, Revolver’s outstanding reservation-only restaurant-within-a-restaurant in the back room of the taqueria. (Rojas says he hopes to reopen it eventually.) He also significantly trimmed Revolver’s menu, which is now available only via the street-facing walk-up window. The window was a stroke of luck: it came with the building. “It’s saving my ass,” he told me in April.

Then, pandemic be damned, Rojas decided to open his dream restaurant: an inspired mixture of Mexican and Japanese influences called La Resistencia. It debuted in June at the same location as Revolver, with just a few reservation-only tables set six feet apart. The menu is an inspired mixture of Mexican and Japanese influences, reliant on seafood and a tiny Japanese wood-fired grill in a closet-sized cooking space. Out come tender carnitas-packed gyoza dumplings, plus the Tijuana Fever taco with tempura Japanese whiting, upon which stands a whole prawn on a nixtamalized red corn tortilla. La Resistencia also serves the best damn carne asada taco I’ve ever had. The front of the grill and cold case is tagged with red spray paint with the words “Mexican Fine Dine Is The Tradition!!” This assertion reflects not only Rojas’s defiant spirit, but also the ethos behind Revolver Taco Lounge. In the face of prejudices that tacos and Mexican food should be cheap, Rojas and his family (his mother, Juanita Rojas, aunt Teresa, and sister Maria are all part of the team) have been a juggernaut, crashing through misconceptions and expectations to make Revolver the best taqueria in Texas.

Revolver’s first home was in Fort Worth, where diners ate in a gleaming white space with a nightclub vibe and the words “Aqui no temenos pinche nachos” (“We don’t have freaking nachos,” politely translated) presented as a collage. The restaurant relocated to Dallas in 2017, moving into a small, black-painted dining room with one big cocktail-height communal table, a standing counter on one wall, and a three-seat bar. The menu includes holdovers like the sliced duck, named a top-ten taco by Texas Monthly in 2015, and new options such as the carnitas-style octopus served roughly chopped with at least one tentacle curled atop the tortilla. It was dressed with fried leeks and finished with a creamy green salsa. The options evolved to include whole pot-cooked beans topping hot dogs; seafood tacos garnished with undulating bonito flakes; and the peppy frog’s legs in a Thai yellow curry taco, cheekily named Kermit in Bangkok. With one knockout after another, it’s difficult to choose a taco that decisively brands Revolver Taco Lounge as the best taqueria in the state. Instead, Revolver’s cumulative excellence propels it to the number-one spot. If I had to choose two standouts, the El Holboxqueño special—a glowing lobster taco topped with a lattice of sea beans and capped with a lone goldenberry—and the birria de cabrito make a hearty case.

Rojas didn’t set out to start a splashy restaurant or one that would eventually make him a semifinalist for a James Beard Award. He started as a kid from Yurécaro, the son of Juanita and Arturo Rojas, a gunsmith renowned for his ornamental scrollwork on pistol handles and highly detailed etchings on gun barrels. (The Revolver name is a tribute to his dad and the family’s artisan tradition.) Rojas came to the U.S. at age fourteen, in a harrowing journey that took him several attempts. One included hours lost overnight in the desert—north of Tijuana in California, he thought. Instead, Rojas had been wandering the arid landscape outside of the border city, only realizing he was still in Mexico when, as he and the coyote (or smuggler) were crouched in the brush, he heard an old woman softly calling out, “Burrito, burritos.” Having not eaten in days, they purchased bean and cheese burritos as the sun rose over the horizon.

Eventually Rojas, now 42, made it across the border and to Chicago, where his older brother Arturo was living. Under Arturo’s tutelage, Rojas learned building maintenance in the city’s high-rises. He went on to open his own construction business, partnering with realtors to refurbish apartments and homes. He also carried out evictions. “We were evicting six, seven people a day,” he says. “Nobody liked it, but it was my job, man.”

In 2011, he moved with his parents, a few other family members, and his wife to Fort Worth, where Rojas’s father set up a gun shop near the historic Fort Worth Stockyards. Called Castelan Designs, it was more of a workshop and improvised living space than a store. Behind the glass display cases and the back of a workstation were more tools, a cot, a sink, and an electric burner. The elder Rojas likes to work, and he was content to tinker and hammer realistic bison, eagles, or flourishing spirals in the smallest part of a firearm. But, Gino Rojas says, he saw his mother growing depressed in her retirement. He opened Revolver for her. “She’s happy when she’s cooking,” Rojas says. The glam build-out of the original Fort Worth Revolver Taco Lounge was done by Rojas. When the restaurant moved to Dallas, Rojas did the construction work himself, then did so again for La Resistencia. The only element that’s not a Rojas original is the interior mural, created by former Dallas resident Jorge R. Guiterrez, the artist and director behind the film The Book of Life. It depicts comical sombrero-wearing Día de los Muertos calaveras, along with a small figure resembling Rojas’s father as a Michoacán folk “viejito” in a straw hat.

I’ve written a lot about Rojas and Revolver Taco Lounge. My words on the man, the family, and the restaurant are driven by wonder at their determination and stubbornness. Those are qualities I share and respect the hell out of. Work and press forward! This willingness to dig in your heels, work relentlessly—sometimes in minute detail—and fight for what you believe in for and alongside your family are characteristics of a good person and a good small restaurant. Add a welcoming spirit and a sense of fun—there is a superlative sense of play in Rojas’s food—and the result is an excellent restaurant. There is a superlative sense of play in Rojas’s food. 

Then there’s endurance, an attribute required to push onward during tough stretches. Rojas and Revolver have shown that in abundance—as well as responsibility and caution during the pandemic. The ventilation system at the Mexican-Japanese omakase joint is new, and wide spaces between the four tables in the restaurant are intended to drastically reduce COVID-19 risk. It is this resolve, care, and resistance, if you will, as much as Revolver’s eternally surprising and exquisite food, that sets the operation apart from Texas’s other stellar joints. The restaurant’s ethos is clearly displayed on the front door, which bears the logo for La Resistencia: a raised fist holding an ear of corn.