Del Norte Tacos is a 6-year-old restaurant located in the Johnson County town of Godley, about a half-hour southwest of Fort Worth. Despite living in Fort Worth for most of my life, I’d never been to Godley before. But I found myself there recently to check out a buzzed-about barbecueria called Del Norte Tacos.
And as long as chef Chris Garcia and his wife, Mary, are running this barbecue-taqueria combo, I’ll be back again … and again.
The restaurant is housed in a ramshackle-looking building with attractive, Austin-esque signage, located next door to the local hair salon at the end of Main Street. The adventure starts when you open the doors to the screened-in patio, a rough-hewn ode to shabby-chic decor. Take a hard left and you’re at the counter, gazing at three blackboard menus hanging above the kitchen’s pass-through window.
The service is small-town friendly, innocuous even, but behind the window, chef Garcia means business. A Houston native who worked at Pappas Seafood, the Houstonian and a handful of other restaurants there, Garcia moved to Godley because it’s Mary’s hometown. Since 2008, the duo has grown their restaurant (which happens to be BYOB) so that now it’s not unheard of to sit next to a visitor from Alaska in the dining room who claims he traveled from there just to eat here.
Despite only voyaging from far-flung southwest Fort Worth, we nevertheless arrived hungry. Locals get their day started with the breakfast tacos, but we arrived too late. Instead, we took advantage of tasting Garcia’s barbecue: brisket, ranchero pork, mesquite grilled chicken and steak, plus blackened tilapia and Southwest ground beef.
The Del Norte taco ($3.50) comes with your choice of meat and was simply garnished with cilantro atop a corn tortilla. With meat this good, you don’t need much else. The grilled chicken was smoky with a slow, roiling effect, and was cut in little chunks, overflowing out of the small tortilla.
The skirt steak fajita taco ($4.25) encapsulated all that is good and simple and decent about street tacos. Except the ones here are like street tacos on steroids. Crispy on the outside and caramelized, the steak was immensely flavorful, and a few sautéed onions only enhanced the sweetness.
Other non-taco items were also eye-rollingly good. The stacked enchiladas ($10.99) were flat corn tortillas anointed with chicken, cheese, a fried egg and our “Christmas” order of both red and green salsas.
At a certain point, a diner in our party posed the afternoon’s elephant-in-the-room question to our table of self-professed “foodies”: Why hadn’t we ever heard about this place before now? (Our first notice of Garcia came during last month’s inaugural Fort Worth Food + Wine Festival, where his food made a big splash at a Sip + Savor event.) One bite of the beef chile relleno ($13.99) and I was toying with the idea of not writing this review so that I could at least keep the restaurant a secret among friends. Ha!
On weekends, the Del Norte crew serves pork ribs ($13.99) that come with rice, potato salad, charro beans and Texas toast. Three large ribs continued the meal’s theme of crispy at first chew, followed by juicy, expertly ’cued meat.
And speaking of those charro beans, they come in a serve-yourself cauldron — under a sign that says “Free Beans” — near the beverage station, in a small space between the front room where you order and the small dining room, which is decorated with tree-stump chairs, bar stools and mismatched tables.
In other news, I briefly deliberated moving into this vestibule, because that’s where you’ll also find the salsa bar, where four house-made salsas will vie for your tastebuds’ attention. The avocado serrano salsa was creamy and spectacularly spicy, as was the salsa verde and the habanero salsa. The salsa roja is for spice-wimps … or kids.
For awhile now, our area has been enjoying a food renaissance, where it’s easy to find taco heretics who’ll dress up their wares with goat cheese, ahi tuna — heck, even fried chicken. I’m here to testify that while that stuff sure can be tasty, the tacos (plus the assured entrees) at Del Norte are the real deal. For that reason alone, the people of Godley are truly blessed.