As a native of south Texas, I am a tough critic when it comes to tacos. The tacos I grew up with were made from scratch with love and a little bit — OK, perhaps a lot — of manteca. I used to love the smell of masa being rolled out from dense balls into flat tortilla rounds on the counter. The best part of this process, though — and trust me, it was a process — was the sound and smell of the masa hitting the piping hot cast iron skillet.
I would stand there, mesmerized, as I watched the bubbles rising in the belly of the tortilla beast as it browned on the stove. If I was lucky, the hands behind the magic would toss me one right from the skillet. I would slather it in butter and salt before consuming the entire thing in one bite.
Those memories, and those delicious homemade tortillas, make it tough to measure up. My childhood diet consisting mainly of other types of Mexican food only adds to the issue.
Thus far, I haven’t found a taco in Durango that can measure up to those south Texas wonders. That said, I did find one that comes close, and I found it in one of the most unexpected places.
As it turns out Derailed Pour House, the bar and restaurant located at 725 Main Avenue, can pull off one hell of a taco.
I recently completed my two-shot series of COVID vaccinations, so I headed out to this bar midweek with a friend, who wanted to catch up and (more likely than not) spend a little time outside of the house. We’d both been trapped in our hermit cages, just like the rest of the world, for far too long — and thanks to the protocols in place and my extra boost from the vaccine, I felt it was finally time to unwind.
Luckily, we were able to do so safely, as the bar area at Derailed had been modified with sheets of plexiglass between seats to avoid any cross-contamination among patrons. The restaurant tables had been arranged to accommodate social distancing, too.
It was early evening when we stopped by Derailed, but the bar-slash-restaurant was already busy with socially distant parties, many of whom were seated facing the acoustic musician playing quietly onstage.
While the social distancing and other modifications were obvious in this Main Ave staple, the atmosphere still felt more like a night out in Durango two years ago — prior to the pandemic’s entrance into our lives — than I’d expected. It was a welcome feeling.
We took our spots at the bar — two cozy bar stools sandwiched between plexiglass — to start with a couple of drinks.
Derailed is known for their creative cocktails, which are hard to pass up in lieu of your standard old fashion or vodka soda. We both opted for a drink called “The Cure,” which is a sea green cocktail made with house jalapeno vodka, fresh muddled basil, lime juice, ginger liqueur, and brut champagne.
The drinks appeared in short order, and wow — did I ever miss having a drink with friends in a venue other than my living room. Between the heat of the jalapeno, the sweet tang of the ginger liqueur, and the bubbles of the champagne, I felt like I was on another planet.
The only problem? These cocktails are so delicious that they’re almost too easy to suck down. It took me maybe five minutes to see the bottom of my glass.
No problem there, I guess. After a year and a half of social distancing, I guess I was due for some real bar drinking.
And, luckily, the Derailed food menu is thick with choices, so there was no shortage of carbs with which to soak up the booze. Out of a lineup of items like Philly cheesesteaks, nachos, and flatbreads, I opted to start with the goat cheese bruschetta, which is thick rounds of goat cheese atop baguette bread, with cherry tomatoes, basil, almonds, and balsamic. I followed with the Derailed tacos: one carne asada, my favorite back home, and one avocado taco.
This bar’s version of carne asada tacos is a little different than what I’m used to. Compared to those traditional tacos of old, which are generally a thin corn tortilla topped with tiny flanks of carne, onions, lime, and cilantro, Derailed does it big. This bar’s carne asada tacos are made with house marinated steak, jack cheese, lettuce, onions, tomatoes, cilantro, with house tomatillo salsa.
The avocado tacos, on the other hand, are made with avocado, black beans, grilled onions, queso fresco, tomato, cilantro, arugula, lime, chipotle ranch drizzle, and house tomatillo salsa. I wasn’t sure what to expect.
My friend, on the other hand, went with what seemed like a safer choice: an avocado caprese, made with fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, avocado, basil, arugula, and garlic mayo on a warm pressed ciabatta roll.
We managed to toss back two more of those delicious Cure cocktails in the time it took to get our food — which was really no time at all — so by the time our plates arrived, the chatter was flowing and so was the laughter. Life was good.
And those tacos? Well, they made it even better. The first thing I noticed when they arrived was that, despite having more ingredients than the tacos I grew up on, they weren’t overdone or stuffed to the gills. There was a healthy portion of each ingredient atop a lightly fried corn tortilla.
Each piece of the taco pie played well with each other, too. The warm carne held its own against the loud flavor of the queso fresco, and the burst of green bite from the cilantro was just what I needed to feel at home with this taco. And that tortilla? Well, let’s just say it could have been a Rio Grande Valley staple. And that’s saying something.
The same held true for the avocado taco, which got just enough kick from the drizzle of the chipotle ranch to set it apart. The tomatillo salsa didn’t hurt, either.
As with the cocktails, I downed those tacos in what felt like seconds flat. Before I could even ask to try my dining partner’s sandwich, it was gone. Erased from the plate like it had never existed. I’ll just assume it was good.
After a few more cocktails, we rolled back into the chilly Durango night air, satiated, with bellies full of booze and carbs.
It won’t be long before I’m back at Derailed to indulge in a few more of those cocktails, and a few more of those tacos. I may not be able to easily get those beloved south Texas carne asada tacos these days, but the tacos at Derailed will do just fine. Just fine.
Angelica Leicht Derailed Pour House is located at 725 Main Ave., Durango. You can reach them at (970) 247-5440 or find them online at derailedpourhouse.com.