Taylor Kearney’s cooking career makes one wonder why he’d want to come back to Texas. The chef has worked at restaurants by Thomas Keller and Charlie Palmer in Las Vegas, Michelin-starred spots in France, and high-end eateries in New York. Yet the East Texas native felt the pull of his home state while living in Boston. “My phone rang no less than ten minutes after I’d made up my mind,” he says. “It was one of the directors of operations and an old friend of mine who worked for Harwood [Hospitality Group] and said, ‘Hey, I’ve got a great opportunity if you’re interested,’ and the rest is history.” 

A few years later he was in Dallas working as executive chef at Harwood Hospitality’s Saint Ann restaurant located in the Harwood District, a mixed-use development with a hotel, restaurants, residences, a private samurai museum, and retail spaces, between Uptown and the American Airlines Center. The neighborhood doesn’t feel very neighborly—most of the buildings face inward and there are few sidewalks. “One of the biggest things that they portrayed to me was building the city within a city,” Kearney recalls of the pitch to join the company. The “city within a city” more closely resembles a towering fort.

Similarly, Kearney seemed very guarded in our conversation. With a public relations representative on the Zoom call with us, it felt, at times, like he was repeating the company’s spiel. In his current role as vice president of culinary, he confirmed that he visits each of Harwood’s fifteen restaurants daily, and works with their respective staffs to develop the menus, including the one at eight-month-old Tequila Social.

The restaurant is easier to spot coming from the Katy Trail than from the street or parking garage. The patio opens onto the urban hike-and-bike path with the restaurant’s name hung between two rough-hewn columns. Tall banners with images of saguaro cactus (not native to Texas) flap in the breeze. I, of course, managed to find the most complicated way of getting to the restaurant. I didn’t see any signs for the restaurant, so I wandered up a graded street without a sidewalk, across a parking lot, and into an empty parking garage, hoping I was on the right track. Finally I saw it and huffed, a bit out of breath. 

One of the reasons I wanted to check out Tequila Social was for its empanadas that I’d seen on social media. I was skeptical of the gimmicky presentation in which the handheld pastries dangle from clothespins on a stretch of twine between two dowels of wood rising above a tiered base. The trio of flaky hand pies filled with ground beef and stretchy queso blanco were actually good. They were light and quickly consumed. It’s no surprise they are the best-seller at Tequila Social. They are not made of corn masa, in typical Mexican tradition, but more closely resemble versions found in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Argentina, with a crimped flour dough casing. Kearney says the plating was influenced by power lines across West Texas skies. The region informs much of the decor. More rough-hewn wood frames the patio, and cow skulls are mounted on the stucco walls of the interior dining room.

“The space itself being heavily outdoors and kind of that West Texas feel lent itself naturally to being Tex-Mex,” Kearney says, referring to how Harwood decided to place Tequila Social in that spot. Although I appreciate the nod to the picturesque region, Tequila Social evokes more of a highfalutin ranch lodge rather than a chili gravy spot with cumin-scented air. Kearney calls it elevated, appealing to the ladies in Lululemon who permeate the trail.

But food—not the proximity to the trail—is what should draw people to Tequila Social. Unfortunately, the food is uneven. The Katy Trail tacos platter, the second top seller, features greasy hard-shell tacos with just a smidge of also-greasy ground beef beneath layers of lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream, and guacamole. The chimichurri-topped carne asada tacos on corn tortillas were also slick.

Most of the other dishes were surprisingly good, though, with partial credit going to executive chef Jorge Ramirez. The fish tacos were enjoyable. Packed with battered cod fried to a light gold, the corn tortillas were capped with a bramble of cabbage, corn pico, and peppy green chile crema.

The flautas, snappy and filled with thick threads of shredded chicken, held up well under lettuce, pico de gallo, and sour cream. The audible crunch added to the joy of gobbling them right up. I saved the cheese enchilada platter—my litmus test for any Tex-Mex joint—for last. It was the genuine article. Milky melted cheese was cradled by chile con carne and topped with more cheese and specks of raw white onion. They were comforting and spot on, but the refried beans and rice on the side are worth skipping.

Because of the location, it’s a certainty that people will continue to flock to Tequila Social for post-workout margaritas and chips and queso, but the other dishes—and the overall branding—could use more consideration.

Tequila Social
3100 McKinnon, Suite G100, Dallas
Phone: 945-910-9728
Hours: Sunday 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Monday–Thursday 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m., Friday 11:30 a.m.–midnight, Saturday 11 a.m.–midnight