A first-timer might feel a little trepidatious at the sight of a plate of tacos ahogados. Featuring folded or rolled corn tortillas that are fried and bathed in salsa (ahogado is Spanish for “drowned”), these aren’t your everyday tacos. But the great ones are worth eating every day. That was true of the fork-required goat-and-cheese stuffed tacos ahogados at Dallas’s Los Torres Taqueria, which Texas Monthly named one of the ten best tacos in the state in November 2015—just one month before the Sinaloan-style restaurant closed (I am still grieving). And it remains true of the trio of tacos ahogados at Maskaras Mexican Grill, a lucha-libre-themed taqueria in Dallas’s Oak Cliff neighborhood owned by Rodolfo Jimenez and his wife, Zulma Vanessa Hernandez. Their tacos ahogados, which are stuffed with carnitas, are an addictively fantastic platter. And they don’t require a fork. That is, if you eat them quickly enough.
What they do require is knowledge of your capsicum tolerance. You will be asked by the person working the register if you want the salsa picante added to the lacy tomato-based salsa casera (homestyle salsa). The extra sauce has a heat that crawls up your face like a hand with sharpened fingernails digging into your sinuses. It takes some getting used to, but then the spice gives way to a subtle fruitiness that accentuates the shredded and clumped carnitas folded into the tacos. If you’re apprehensive but intrigued about the extra heat, request the salsa picante on the side.
So how do you eat tacos ahogados? With your fingers. Pick them up just as they’re served, on their sides, pickled white onion teetering or sliding off. Add a squirt of the salsa picante to get a feel for the fiery stuff, or, as I prefer, splash the platter with the restaurant’s tart tomatillo-based salsa verde to juxtapose with the sweetness of the tomato salsa and pork. However you munch down on the tacos, do so quickly. The crisp, fresh corn tortillas will inevitably become mushy, exposing the carnitas. Then you might have to switch to a fork.
Maskaras Mexican Grill, named in honor of Jimenez’s lifelong love of Mexican wrestling, is decorated with part of his collection of thousands of lucha masks. When it first opened, in 2016, it served the typical tacos ahogados of his native Guadalajara. Back then, the tacos were filled with beans or potatoes, fried, and plated with carnitas plopped on top. The salsa casera and onions finished the dish. But a lot of their early customers were unfamiliar with the Guadalajaran menu. “People were coming into the restaurant looking at the menu … they would turn around and walk away,” Jimenez explains.
Eventually Jimenez and Hernandez realized they need to make some adjustments. They wanted to keep some of their specialties as is, including the torta ahogada (the sandwich version of the taco, with birote bread), but they decided to tweak the tacos. “My wife really wanted them on the menu,” Jimenez says. It was a simple alternation: they would strike the beans and potatoes and move the carnitas from topping to filling. “It was a little bit different of what you find in Guadalajara, but with the same flavor,” he says. Customers began ordering them. “We gave [the tacos] this twist, and we found that people like it.” Another twist: you can even request the tacos be served in tortillas colored to resemble the Mexican flag. The green tortilla is infused with nopales, while the red gets a dose of paprika.
As someone who ordered Maskaras’s original tacos ahogados preparation, I admit that the revised version is an improvement and an easier access point for customers new to the Guadalajaran-style Mexican dishes that dot the restaurant’s extensive menu. It’s a menu of fried delights worth exploring, beginning with the one-of-a-kind tacos ahogados.