Asked if he considers 225 BBQ in Arlington a taco shop or a barbecue joint, owner Rene Ramirez is noncommittal. “It’s neck and neck,” he tells me over the phone. “I was talking to my wife the other day about how we’re selling so many tacos right now, you’d think we’re a taqueria, not a barbecue truck.” Technically, Ramirez says, 225 BBQ is a barbecue trailer because everything is smoked. But every ingredient at 225 BBQ finds its way into a taco, just like everything nationwide eventually does. In Texas, that’s especially true of barbecue. “We’re selling tacos like crazy right now,” Ramirez reiterates. Among Ramirez’s taco options are barbacoa, a quesitaco, and a range of street-style tacos.
Open Saturdays and Sundays only, 225 BBQ also sells an array of classic Mexican street snacks: huaraches, sopes, elotes with brisket and Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, quesadillas, and a new addition, birria de cabrito.
Another new item is also one of the best-sellers. The Cheesy Taco is a costra-style taco filled with pecan- and oak-smoked brisket and finished with a sprinkling of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. It’s a large taco, available only on Sundays at 225 BBQ’s spot at Division Brewing Company, and it started almost by accident. “Me and my son were washing dishes in the kitchen when we decided to make a brisket quesadilla,” Ramirez says. In a moment of inspiration, Ramirez remembers, he said, “‘Screw it, man. Give me that cheese. Let’s see what happens.’ I threw the cheese on the grill and put the quesadilla on top of it.”
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The result is wonderful. A four-cheese blend sizzles and melts into a crispy-edged dark brown disc on top of which is sealed a flour tortilla. Next come thready chunks of brisket, more cheese, and the knobs of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. But the zesty puffed corn snack offers more than a spicy crunch, an unnatural reddish-orange hue, and messy fun. Cheetos as garnish offers customers a contemporary cultural twist.
“Hispanics love Hot Cheetos,” remarks Ramirez. It’s that simple. Flamin’ Hot Cheetos are a favorite of Mexican and Mexican American schoolkids, including my own son. The snack was invented in the eighties by 26-year-old Frito-Lay janitor Richard Montañez. Children turn in homework with reddish-orange-smudged corners, remnants of after-school snacking. Before COVID-19 restrictions closed schools and social distancing and quarantining orders went into effect, many Texas students could purchase bags from paletero carts stationed near schools after the last bell. I’ve found the snack-sized bags stashed in pantry corners where my son thought his mother or I wouldn’t find them. He thinks we care. We don’t. But the game is fun, or at least it was. Those little flame-print plastic pouches have disappeared from our kitchen since we’ve hunkered down. Maybe he’s eaten them. I don’t know.
I do know that Flamin’ Hot Cheetos are destined to become a more common, whimsical addition to Texas tacos. In addition to the nostalgia factor, the flavor and texture is also innovative—a natural development of home-style eating crossing over to commercial culinary offerings.
I also know it’s important to preorder the Cheesy Taco and most of 225 BBQ’s special tacos for early pickup. I recommend it for every item. Do so via Facebook and get to the truck between 11 a.m. and noon to pick up. If you’re worried about COVID-19 safety precautions, Ramirez and staff wear masks and gloves, and you should too. Eat the tacos when you get to your car, once you’ve taken off those gloves. Be warned: you might end up with orange-stained fingers.