There are few things I'd rather eat for lunch in Dallas than a plate of three tacos at Revolver Taco Lounge: pescado, octopus and cabrito.
The octopus taco is snazziest – a plump and tender tentacle crowned with frizzled leek and the right touch of jalapeño salsa. Pescado deliciously evokes a Baja seafood taco: mahi mahi crisply fried in light batter and dressed with creamy, piquant coleslaw. Cabrito marries savory morsels of roasted baby goat with chopped onion, cilantro and a drizzle of salsa roja. All three have just the right balance of ingredients. And the success of each is assured by the fabulous hand-made tortilla, fresh and hot off the comal, that enfolds its riches. (The saucy cabrito gets a bonus tortilla.)
Honestly, these are some of the best tacos in town, largely thanks to those tender, perfect tortillas -- tortillas that have an almost creamy texture, earthy integrity, a gentle touch of char.
The amazing thing? They're not made from nixtamal ground by hand in-house. They're not even made from masa made by a top-notch local tortilleria. "Nobody is making masa the way you should make it, here in Dallas," explains Revolver's owner, Regino Rojas. No, these outstanding tortillas are made from (are you sitting down?) Maseca: you know – instant, just-add-water masa harina. The kind of tortilla flour you can buy in the supermarket.
Rojas swears it's all in the technique. "That's the secret key: how much humidity you put in the masa and how much heat you put in the comal."
Put that in your tortilla and roll it.
Revolver feels like a stylish taqueria in Mexico City. Claim a stool at the high communal table next to a madcap mural by Jorge Gutierrez, and a server will take your order. Skip the margaritas (too sweet; they taste like they're made from a commercial mix), maybe get a beer. Stop at the counter and grab some condiments from the big jars: hot pickled carrots, cauliflower and such.
If you're feeling flush, consider an appetizer, which may or may not land before your tacos. Ceviche Yucateco is a zippy toss of diced Japanese striped jack, tomato, orange, red onion, a flourish of micro-arugula . Ceviche verde, more like a crudo than a ceviche, is more cheffy: plated cubes of raw albacore drizzled with citrus chimichurri, delicate slabs of avocado and radish, smatterings of chicharron dust and micro-herbs.
Not all the tacos are as successful as my three faves. Duck breast, a lovely idea, was overcooked to chewiness more than once (duck breast really needs to be medium-rare to taste right). The salsa roja, which douses more than half the selections, was almost inedibly salty on an early visit; Wagyu carne asada, al pastor and calabacitas (summer squash): All were ruined by it. Another time a somewhat less salty version of the same salsa enhanced a taco de lengua fashioned from Wagyu beef tongue. Why is that same salsa saucing so many of the tacos? Couldn't one or two sport the tangy, fiery salsa verde in a squeeze bottle?
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the mostly unsuspecting taco lovers perched on their stools, one of Dallas' most pleasurable dining experiences is to be had in the back, in the Purépecha Room.
Named for the Purépechas – an indigenous people in the southwestern Mexican state of Michoacán, where owner Regino Rojas grew up – it's meant to evoke Rojas' mother's kitchen. Copper pans, earthenware jugs and wooden utensils hang on an eggshell-white wall. The floor is concrete and the chairs simple wood, the tables set with fine linens, gilt-edged china and graceful stemware. We're going to cook with homespun soul, seems to be the message, but we're pulling out our Sunday best.
How could a Mexican-food lover not melt?
My two friends and I, having arrived for our 9:30 reservation on a Saturday evening, were alone in the intimate space; an earlier seating for the eight-course dinner had been sold out, my friend was told when she called earlier that day to reserve.
Seated at a table in front of an open kitchen presided over by Hugo Galván (opening executive chef at El Bolero, and more recently a line cook at Stephan Pyles Flora Street Cafe), we were presented course after gracious course.
Guacamole dusted with crushed chapulines oaxaqueños (savory toasted Oaxacan grasshoppers) gave way to a lively seabream ceviche. Next came bowls of delicate creamed soup, a velouté of chayote and elotes, artfully garnished with a few elote kernels on a corn husk, dots of corn mousse and elote-ash gel. A juicy octopus tentacle curled seductively around dots of salsa verde was followed by a pair of tacos: Australian lobster tail and A5 Miyazaki beef. Lomito de puerco (pork loin) came lapped with mole verde, velvety and suave, rich with pumpkin seeds. A slice of duck breast – beautifully cooked, rosy-fleshed and juicy this time – basked on a glistening, dusky, soulful mole coloradito.
Rojas' mother, Juanita Rojas, makes the wonderful moles, along with a few other dishes. Her terrific très leches cake, moist and rich, steals the stage at dessert time, when it shares a plate with Aunt Teresa's buñuelos.
At a time when modern Mexican cooking is capturing the spotlight, is that what's going on here? Buñuelos and très leches aside, certainly. In terms of inventiveness, however, the creative collaboration between Rojas, his mother and Galván usually skews traditional – with an upgrade with luxury ingredients and cheffy flourishes. Other than the Miyazaki beef, which was overcooked, most everything was well executed and delicious.
But it was the experience that wowed me more than any particular dish. Just the three of us in that delightful setting, having a talented chef cook wonderful dishes for us, was a rare treat.
Many will wonder whether the price tag – $85 per person – is worth it. Same for the tacos in the front room: $5 for pescado, $8 for cabrito; ceviches are $18. A recent lunch for two there (two tacos, one appetizer and a margarita each) topped $80, pre-tip – a lot to spend when you're perched on a stool. But there are costly ingredients involved: The pescado is wild cod, the carne asada is Wagyu beef. In the Purépecha Room, you're enjoying the exclusive services of your very own chef for a couple hours – even if there are others booked at the same time. Rojas books no more than 12 for a seating. (And by the way, it would be a spectacular alternative if you're looking for a private room for a small event.)
In any case, what's going on back there – and in the taqueria in front – is an exciting addition not just to Deep Ellum, but to the Dallas scene.
Revolver Taco Lounge (3 stars)
Price: $$$-$$$$ (Taqueria appetizers $3.50 to $20; tacos $2.50 to $8; dessert $5. Purépecha fixed-price dinner $85 per person).
Service: In the taqueria, a server takes your order at the table; in the Purépecha Room you're served by the cooks.
Ambience: Stylish taqueria in front; homey-yet-elegant, intimate dining rooom in back
Noise level: The Purépecha Room is blissfully quiet, the taqueria appropriately chattery; it's easy to converse in both.
Location: Revolver Taco Lounge, 2701 Main St., Dallas; 214-272-7163
Hours: Taqueria Sunday and Tuesday-Thursday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday-Saturday 11 a.m. to 2:30 a.m. Purépecha Room Tuesday-Sunday 6 to 10 p.m.
Reservations: Accepted only for the Purépecha Room, where they are required and must be guaranteed with a credit card. Call the restaurant or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Credit cards: AE, MC, V
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Most recent health department inspection score: Not yet inspected as we go to print
Alcohol: Margaritas, sangria, micheladas and beer in the taqueria. The Purépecha Room offers a brief list of mostly California, and a few Mexican, wines from $35 to $300 per bottle.
5 stars: Extraordinary (Defines fine dining in the region)
4 stars: Excellent (One of the finest restaurants in Dallas-Fort Worth)
3 stars: Very good (A destination restaurant for this type of dining)
2 stars: Good (Commendable effort, but experience can be uneven)
1 star: Fair (Experience is generally disappointing)
No stars: Poor
Average dinner per person
$ -- $14 and under
$$ -- $15 to $30
$$$ -- $31 to $50
$$$$ -- More than $50