I arrived a little before taquería El Come Taco opened. Luis Villalva, chef and owner of El Come Taco in Dallas welcomed me into the hallway-shaped shop with bright pink walls, a color-changing backlit service counter, mezcal bar, open kitchen, and, most importantly, some seriously good tacos.
The Mexico City style taquería is coming up on its four-year birthday off Fitzhugh Ave in Dallas, but Luis’s taco making career started as a ten-year-old kid growing up in Mexico City. His family hit some hard times and he started helping out at one of the family's two taco stands in the metroplex, learning the taco trade on the streets of la CDMX.
As a teen he moved to the US, landed in Dallas and has lived in the same neighborhood ever since. “In high school I went to the Jack in the Box almost every day,” Luis told me. "It was like my house. I really didn't like the Mexican restaurants around here. Everything just tasted like cumin." Let me be the first to tell you that everything at El Come Taco does not taste like cumin. A lot of shops around town claim to have "street tacos" and they are usually anything but. When I eat at El Come, their tacos really take me back to Mexico City, simple on the surface but packed with a ridiculous amount of flavor. These are tacos that leave you asking two questions: “How does this taste so good?” And “Why didn’t I order more?”
Luis told me that respects what other chefs are doing with tacos, but rightly says that sometimes there are too many flavors in the tortilla and you end up kind of lost. “You don’t have to use five hundred ingredients to make a taco," he said. "It can be simple." And he’s really mastered the technique of using few ingredients and getting every ounce of flavor possible out of them. A great example of this is one of their side items, the cebollitas or grilled green onions. They couldn’t be simpler, but my god, they are delicious. I could eat two plates of those things without thinking twice about it. That said, I’m willing to bet that some things that might be simple for Luis who grew up preparing them are actually pretty complex, like all the scratch made salsas. There is a lot of time and technique that goes into making those salsas, and you can really taste it in the final product.
From CDMX to DTX
I asked Luis what most inspired him about Mexico City and how he translates that to El Come. "It's the freshness of Mexico City," he said. "You know, you've been there, everything in the markets is super fresh, you can walk down the street and get what you need. And we eat grasshoppers and cactus, and people don't know that these things are edible. You still have to teach people how to eat Mexican food, but in Dallas they are learning that it isn't about cheese and chips and salsa."
If you know me, you know I have no qualms about eating standing up on the street corner at night, stray dogs at my feet, or sitting on a plastic bucket on the side of the road if it means good street food. Not everyone is about that, and I get it. That's one of the cool things about El Come Taco, you get the flavors of the street but with tables and chairs in a comfortable setting. It's an entryway, a bridge for a lot of people, to a beautiful (and delicious) culinary tradition, and that's a huge acomplishment.
As delicious as the food is and how smoothly everything runs at El Come I was surprised to hear that this is Luis's first time running a kitchen. "I'm not a chef, man," he told me. "I'm just a taco guy." Taco guy, chef, as far as I'm concerned he can call himself whatever he'd like, his tacos are some of the best in town and that's a fact.
A family business
Luis works with his family: his mother, his wife, his brother and sister, and it can be challenging. Sometimes we romanticize the family run business, the quintessential "mom and pop" place, but try to imagine working with your family day in and day out. I love my family, but I couldn't do it. Family can be our toughest critics, because they know us on so many levels and they usually aren't afraid to share their opinions. “I never worry about when the health inspector or anyone else is coming, I know everything is the way it needs to be," Luis said. "But when my father comes, if everything isn’t perfect I’m going to hear about it. If today something is good, tomorrow it has to be better.”
We talked a lot about Luis's path to El Come, some of the struggles and challenges he's faced and still faces, so as a final question I asked him what the best part of all of this was; what makes it all worth it? “This place has made my parent’s dream come true," he said. "And somehow I became passionate about the food too.” And that passion, that love for the craft, the food, and the family, that shows. And that's what makes this place truly great. That and the tacos. The tacos are phenomenal.
El Come Taco is located on 2513 N Fitzhugh Ave in Dallas, TX. They are open Tuesday through Thursday 11AM to 10PM, Friday and Saturday 11AM to 12AM and Sunday 11AM to 9PM. P: +(214) 821-3738