Certain Dallas street names conjure up images of good food and eating. Just mention Greenville Avenue, and you might think of bar snacks, pastries, ramen and pho. Jefferson Avenue is a mecca for tacos, enchiladas and fajitas. Royal Lane is synonymous with Korean comfort foods and steakhouses.
Not many people think of South Buckner Boulevard in the same way. It’s a main street for Pleasant Grove, a neighborhood that has historically been dominated by chain restaurants. Buckner isn’t walkable or especially pretty, lined by pothole-studded parking lots, some of them unpaved.
The restaurant scene in Pleasant Grove isn’t widely talked about or promoted, with the significant exception of El Palote Panadería. Even locals have told me that the traditional chain dominance doesn’t help.
And yet there’s good eating to be had here. Over the course of two recent weekends, I dined up and down Buckner Boulevard in the company of José Ralat, taco editor for Texas Monthly. We sampled as many tacos, enchiladas, burritos and Mexican pizzas as we could, and talked about the area’s revival.
“Revival” is the right word because many of our favorite businesses on the street are only a few years old. We also observed plenty of coming-soon signs. Watch out for new openings Catrina, billed as a “Mexican-inspired bakery and deli,” and Elotes Lokos, which will also sell paletas.
“I would say that Buckner is one of the great North Texas taco roads,” Ralat told me at the end of one meal. “There’s something for everyone.” He said he understood the neighborhood’s lack of fame among food lovers — it’s far from other parts of Dallas, and has suffered a history of economic disadvantage and disinterest from the rest of the city. Most restaurants here offer low prices to draw working-class crowds.
But Ralat also detects a bit of hypocrisy in many foodies’ ignorance of Pleasant Grove and surrounding neighborhoods. “How do they justify not coming down here,” he asked me, “when most of them have a preconceived notion that Mexican food should be cheap?”
Here are all of our Buckner Boulevard destinations, in order from most to least recommended.
The most stylish and modern dining room on the street is also one of Pleasant Grove’s best places to eat. Three-year-old Los Molcajetes serves top-class Mexican food, like the specialty tacos molcajetes, filled with beef, grilled cactus and soft cubes of potato. We also liked mild, tender carnitas that pair beautifully with the restaurant’s habanero tomatillo salsa.
Salsa verde fans shouldn’t miss the plate of tender strips of bistec bathed in salsa. Ralat showed me how to turn the plate into a build-your-own-taco adventure: Put a layer of rice down on the tortilla before the meat, to soak up all that comforting sauce.
2306 S. Buckner Blvd. losmolcajetesdallas.com.
Tortilleria La Potosina
Think you know enchiladas? Think they need to be rolled up and baked in a cheesy sauce? Think again: This 6-year-old tortilla shop sells five regional varieties, including enchiladas huastecas, which are a delicious reminder that the word “enchilada” merely means “in chiles” or “in chile sauce.” Fresh tortillas are folded and doused in either red or green salsa, with the meat, peppers and onions on the side.
Both salsas are boldly flavored, and you can sample both on a combo platter (“enchiladas Don Cayo”). As we tucked into that hefty, cheap plate ($9 for a huge portion), Ralat gave a perfect three-word review: “Life is good.”
But wait! There’s more. You can also explore enchiladas rioverdenses (tortillas flat on the plate and piled high with mild chorizo, potatoes and salad) and enchiladas potosinas (folded, filled, crispy-fried and maybe my favorite).
Service is warm-hearted and traditional, but if you don’t speak Spanish, bring a friend who does. Zacahuil, a Huastecan tamale, is available on weekends.
8238 Scyene Road. facebook.com/Juliovaltierra60.
Carnitas La Cotorra
This is the kind of taco joint every neighborhood should have: good carnitas, fiery salsas, brightly colored walls, and a trompo turning on its spit. Taco plates come with grilled onions and jalapeños to scoop on as garnishes.
We sampled a couple of trompo and carnitas tacos and were satisfied by both meats and the dazzling, unusually dark-colored salsa rojo. Next time, I’ll be trying Carnitas La Cotorra’s most unusual specialty: galiafajitas, or fajitas with potatoes, a word so rare there are no Google search results for it.
2031 S. Buckner Blvd. A second location is in Garland.
Que Buen Taco
Trompo is the order here, whether on tacos or on a Mexican burger. The burger has a fast-food Big Mac vibe, but in a good way, with its squishy bun and perfect harmony of ingredients — in this case, a beef patty, sliced ham, trompo meat, square cheese, avocados and jalapeños. There’s nothing wrong with the fries, either.
“I got a nice piece of fatty trompo,” Ralat told me. “Well-seasoned, with the char on the outside, the white on the inside, it has everything I’m looking for.”
8131 Bruton Road.
Pizza y Tacos El Rancho
Look closely at a Shell gas station on the east side of Buckner, and you’ll find a spacious convenience store with snacks, slot machine games and a taco counter. But, although it’s not advertised on the outside, this Shell also houses one of Dallas’ oldest Mexican pizza operations.
Pizza y Tacos El Rancho turns out a solid pizza, its well-baked crusts topped with choices like al pastor meat and pineapple or chorizo and jalapeño slices. The dough’s crisp, the jalapeños pack a punch, and your box comes with little cups of salsa to drizzle on top.
Expect to wait about 25 minutes for a pie, bring cash (only cash and the Zelle app are accepted) and, if you order chorizo, learn to love the pool of red grease that comes with it. Leftovers don’t age well.
2438 S. Buckner Blvd. facebook.com/pizzaytacoselrancho.
The beef birria tacos here are the main attraction. In homemade corn tortillas, they’re crispy, cheesy and greasy in all the right ways, and served with ample scoops of onion and cilantro. This is satisfying birria, which is good, as other dishes at Don Jorge’s can be disappointing. Save your calories by skipping the free chips from a bag served with salsa from a jar.
1436 S. Buckner Blvd. facebook.com/DonJorgesCocina/.
El Palote Panadería
Pleasant Grove’s most famous restaurant — at least in the minds of people who live somewhere else — is known for its vegan Mexican menu, including an all-vegan list of famous meat tacos made with soy substitutes.
Unfortunately, when Ralat and I visited, we ordered a plate with four kinds of tacos, and then couldn’t tell any of them apart. One of the four featured soy cut into squares rather than strips, but that was the only difference. Vegan carne guisada, for instance, didn’t come with any stewed gravy or sauce.
El Palote was founded in response to its owners’ health crises and their need to eat more healthfully. But I wish the menu featured even one taco built around fresh vegetables like rajas, calabacitas or nopales.
We did find a dish worth ordering again: the flaurrito, a burrito filled with, yes, whole flautas. Take a big bite and enjoy the surprise crunch hidden inside.
2537 S. Buckner Blvd. elpalote.com.