The pop-up restaurant scene in Dallas-Fort Worth is flourishing, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise that some of the best of these operations specialize in tacos. After all, tacos got their modern start as quick, nourishing snacks served from street-side carts and mobile operations, from bicycles to trucks. One favorite practitioner of temporary taco service is Tarrant County-based Bad Spanish.
Owned and operated by Billy Flores and his girlfriend, Megan McGroarty, Bad Spanish got its start as a side hustle. Flores was unhappy with his job at a local soda company, where he spent too much time behind a desk and didn’t see his family enough. “I was never away from the phone and never at holidays,” Flores says. “I never had time for those things that you take for granted. Me and my cousin were just at my apartment one day making tacos before we went to the pool. And then it kind of grew from there. It started as a joke. ‘Screw the man. We should do this now!'” Flores recalls, laughing. Soon enough he was handing out samples at church and door-to-door at his apartment complex. As for the name, Flores explains: “I don’t speak good Spanish—really almost none. I grew up in the culture but just never took on the Spanish, and so I figure that you purposely make it a little half-breed doing my best to make tacos.”
He started out simple, serving skirt steak with onion and cilantro. “Then raw masa came into my life, and I started having fun with it.” Everything evolved from there. “That made me start changing the things I was putting into the tortilla. It’s not just a shell for the filling. There is the consistency, the temperature of the water, even the area that you’re in. The humidity could change how the tortilla cooks on the griddle, or just adding less salt because we’re going to be doing something for older people. I want something with more peppery in the masa when I’m really heavy on the beef. On Valentine’s Day, I did a red-wine tortilla, and we did something sweet with the chicken to counterbalance that and used goat cheese.”
As fun as that was, things started getting serious for Flores when he realized he was working two full-time jobs and needed to make a life-changing decision. “It took a lot of prayer, to be honest, because I had a long tenure at my job,” he says. “I can’t really say there was a defining moment other than the realization that this is what I love more than anything. I’m in my forties. I want to enjoy the rest of my life and show my kids that you don’t have to just make somebody else money the rest of your life and hope you have enough in the bank to retire. You can manage and can take control of your own life.” So in March, Flores put in his notice of resignation. “It was one hundred percent Bad Spanish from there.”
Flores and McGroarty, who is in charge of tortilla production—Flores calls her the “masa queen”—can now be found serving five days a week, mostly at local breweries like HopFusion Ale Works, in Fort Worth. It’s there that I marveled at the vegetarian Bird’s Nest Taco, with glistening coils of spaghetti squash supporting plump smoked hominy.
“I wanted something light and still a little crunchy, so we started serving spaghetti squash,” Flores says, recalling the taco’s evolution. “We called it Squash Bob Spaghetti Pants. I felt it needed more substance and something aromatic, so I thought of some smoked hominy I had at a festival years ago. After I added the hominy to the squash, it looked like a straw bird’s nest with three little bird eggs. I like how adding the smoked hominy didn’t take away from the sweet spaghetti squash. We started serving it at Division Brewing, in Arlington, and it was a hit,” Flores says.
Bad Spanish wasn’t an immediate success for me. I ordered two rounds of tacos during my visit to the pop-up at HopFusion because the first batch was botched by undercooked tortillas that stuck to the paper plates they were served on and the tortillas tore at the edges. They needed more time on the flattop. The second batch improved immensely. The corn was firmer, toastier, without cracking. On the Bird’s Nest, there was fragrance not just from the hominy and cilantro but from the tortilla, which was textured with bumpy, uneven edges marked by the hand-pressing. The queso fresco and the rising swirls of hummus salsa perked up the flavors and components even more. It was a joy.
My other favorite was the Rancher’s Delight, a barbecue chuck roast taco. Seasoned with a rub of salt, pepper, and paprika and smoked on hickory, the chuck roast was lean and light, shredded, and spread out amply on a fresh tortilla. The beef was cooked in a smoker built by Flores’s grandfather Armando Flores Jr. in 1976. Armando bequeathed it to Billy, one of only two other people to work the pit. The other is Flores’s son.
But it’s the space given to vegetarian tacos that sharply distinguishes Bad Spanish from other pop-ups and other taquerias. Half the menu is dedicated to vegetarian offerings, which Flores says goes back to his first pop-up. “The manager asked if I had a vegetarian option. I did not.” But he knew it was important. “I didn’t want to have some weak option. I wanted it to be just as good as the meat options.” He succeeded. One of the most popular, the lentils and nopalitos taco called the Hulk, always sells out quickly.
All this handmade food speaks to a misconception many folks have about tacos: that they should be inexpensive. “We’re making tacos with our hands, so people look at it as cheap food,” Flores says. “It’s not cheap food. There’s a culture behind it. But I’m making it with my hands and you’re eating with your hands. What says ‘love’ to another person more than that? You shouldn’t treat it cheaply.” In Flores’s case, that means a $4 dollar taco is worth every peso.