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This is a taqueria-style taco, and on Oklahoma City’s southside in Historic Capitol Hill, it’s easy to find a good one.

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(Cover by Erin DeMoss / Oklahoma Gazette)
  • Cover by Erin DeMoss / Oklahoma Gazette

It’s so simple yet so enticing: a pair of warm corn tortillas stacked together, with a line of diced meat placed down the center. Diced onions and chopped cilantro are sprinkled on top. This is a taqueria-style taco, and on Oklahoma City’s southside in Historic Capitol Hill, it’s easy to find a good one.

That wasn’t always the case. When the Capitol Hill area, located just south of downtown Oklahoma City, was purchased by B.R. Harrington in 1900, it was meant to be the home of our state Capitol. Ten years later, it was annexed by the city.

It never developed into a political hub, but it did become southside OKC’s main street, said Donna Cervantes, Historic Capitol Hill director.

But by the late 1970s, with the rise of the suburban shopping mall, the population shifted, Cervantes said. Those who remained and businesses that moved into the area formed a strong bond.

Today, the area is returning to prominence and showcases its culture, which Cervantes said includes food.

“[Food] can be the bond that might be missing in language or shared experiences for people looking for commonality,” she said.

If tacos are what it takes to bring people into Historic Capitol Hill to ask questions, learn something new and bond with their south Oklahoma City neighbors, Cervantes said she’s absolutely fine with that.

“That’s part of the authenticity,” she said. “Food is comfortable.”

Owner Alex Trejo at Taqueria Cardenas in Oklahoma City, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016. - GARETT FISBECK
  • Garett Fisbeck
  • Owner Alex Trejo at Taqueria Cardenas in Oklahoma City, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016.

Authentic fare

“The first step to bringing people together happens over a dinner table,” Jake Fisher said.

A passionate immigration reform advocate, Fisher and his Bridges Strategies business partner Ashley Quintana work a lot within the Latino community. He has discovered that, often, cultural and language differences can be easily overcome with food.

Fisher doesn’t claim to be a taco expert — he just loves them. So he created The OKC Taco Map, a croudsourced map on which people can pinpoint favorite metro taco shops and share why. (Try it out at bridgesstrategies.com.)

His favorite is Taqueria Los Desvelados, 1516 SW 29th St.

“It’s not health food. It’s not high cuisine,” he explained. “It’s comfort food.”

Desvelados is a long restaurant located in a shopping center, the product of a few walls coming down over the years. At its east end is a counter covered in handwritten menu additions, but the main draw is a long-standing sign offering diners plenty of taco options.

Once you place your order (and if the restaurant isn’t too busy), stroll around the rooms to look at murals painted on each wall.

What should you order? Barbacoa tacos are supple and fall apart on the tongue. Asada is just sturdy enough make it through a couple of chews before dissolving.

Taqueria Los Desvelados also offers deep-fried tacos dorados, which are corn tortillas wrapped around mashed potatoes. The crunch of the shell is intoxicating. The freshly cooked, creamy potatoes inside pour out steam, so diners should probably cut them open to let them cool off a bit before taking a bite.

Taqueria Durango in Oklahoma City, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016. - GARETT FISBECK
  • Garett Fisbeck
  • Taqueria Durango in Oklahoma City, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016.

Capital delight

The easiest way to find Durango Taqueria y Restaurant, 3401 SW 29th St., is to look for the giant scorpion on its sign.

Durango is often called the scorpion capital of Mexico, hence the venue’s logo. For those looking to dine on carne deshebrada tacos, this scorpion points the way to some of the best in the city.

Deshebrada has a texture similar to cabeza, but with a fresh green chile sauce, the depth of flavor is quite different.

Like many taco shops along SW 29th Street, Durango makes its own tortillas. Fresh corn tortillas are tender with a mild, hearty sweetness and a pliability that makes them perfect for diners to tear apart bite by bite.

Hours for all appetites

Taqueria La Tropicana tacos are at once a joy and a frustration. The taqueria, located at 1028 SW 29th St., serves some of the best in the city, but the restaurant opens late and stays open later.

For night owls, it’s the perfect place to find carnitas tacos. Tropicana’s pulled pork is alarmingly tender and has a somewhat more pronounced taste than what you might find at a few other eateries.

Those in search of an excellent lengua also will be pleased. The tongue is firm without being chewy, an important textural distinction that gives these tacos a pleasant mouthfeel.

While they can stymie those looking for an early dinner, Tropicana’s late-night hours are a nice respite from taco trucks, meaning diners can enjoy the comfort of the indoors while demolishing a plate of tip-top tacos.

Pastor pioneer

Alex Trejo went to court to protect the right to serve great al pastor.

Eleven years ago, the owner of Taquería Cárdenas SLP, 1233 SW 29th St., made an impassioned plea to a judge to let him continue to slow-cook his al pastor on a vertical grill.

“They said I couldn’t serve it because the meat in the middle wasn’t cooked,” Trejo said. “But with al pastor, we only shave off the outside, which is cooked.”

Finally, he asked the judge if it was acceptable to serve a rare steak. That argument swayed the court and he was allowed to continue cooking his way, which other Capitol Hill area restaurants have since adopted.

One cue he won’t take from nearby restaurants and taco trucks is lowering his prices. He looks for value to keep things priced fairly, but he won’t skimp on quality.

As a traveling musician, he gets to visit Mexico often, allowing him to bring back authentic Ranchero cheese regularly at a fraction of the price.

Taqueria Mr Dollar in Oklahoma City, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016. - GARETT FISBECK
  • Garett Fisbeck
  • Taqueria Mr Dollar in Oklahoma City, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016.
Carne asada taco at Taqueria Mr Dollar in Oklahoma City, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016. - GARETT FISBECK
  • Garett Fisbeck
  • Carne asada taco at Taqueria Mr Dollar in Oklahoma City, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016.

Instant gratification

Dollar tacos are hard to pass up, especially when colorful food trucks are parked so prominently on the roadside. Taqueria Mr. Dollar food trucks dot the Historic Capitol Hill district. One mobile eatery is parked near SE 29th Street and S. High Avenue.

There is something delightful about handing over a single dollar bill and getting a fresh, warm asada taco a few minutes later.

The steak has plenty of flavor, and the fine dice makes it easy to chew. Generally, the cut of the meat determines the quality of the steak — a larger cut means it is higher quality. For taco trucks with ultra-thin profit margins, chopping a steak finely indicates value. The meat retains the flavor of the marinade and the griddle without becoming too tough.

Mr. Dollar tacos don’t necessarily need the accompanying salsa and are best with a squeeze of lime.

Walk in

Like Desvelados, La Oaxaqueña Bakery & Restaurant, 741 SW 29th St., is beautifully decorated. And inside, the chefs do plenty of decorating, as the restaurant is also a tasty Mexican bakery — save room for churros, or sweet fried-dough pastries.

The asada is delightful, but the real find is La Oaxaqueña’s mole taco. Dark, rich sauce permeates the chicken to give it a slightly sweet, bitter taste. Mole takes a lot of time to prepare, but one bite of these tacos and they’ll disappear off your plate in no time.

Print Headline: Capitol adventure, Take a trip through Historic Capitol Hill, where you’ll discover some of the best tacos available just about anywhere.

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