Beyond the Burrito - City's Best Tex-Mex
Sep 13, 2011 02:36PM
● By Mike
Every year we hit the streets of Southlake to bring you the best in local cuisine. We’ve checked out the pizzas, we’ve tried all the burgers, so for this third annual “Best of” food challenge we wanted to dig out the best, authentic, Tex-Mex food here in our fair city. The problem first was defining exactly what Tex-Mex means.
According to author Robb Welsh, who wrote “The Tex-Mex Cookbook: A history in Photos and Recipes” (Broadway, 2004), Tex-Mex isn’t Mexican food, it’s an American regional cuisine. Although the debate has raged for years and some restaurant owners consider the term Tex-Mex an insult there is little doubt of the popularity of this Spanish/Mexican/ American inspired food now justly known as an American original. It was during the 70s when Mexican culinary expert Diana Kennedy took this common food global and made Tex-Mex a new favorite trend in eating and it’s obvious by looking around town that Tex-Mex is hotter than ever.
With a clearer definition of the kind of food we were seeking firmly set in our taste buds we needed a few more boundaries to keep our quest manageable. With the plethora of Mexican restaurants to choose from in Southlake alone we decided to taste test only those establishments where you come in, sit down, and someone waits on you. Yes, that rule would take some wonderful places like Yucatan Taco Stand (where the nachos are killer and the margaritas sublime) out of the picture, and popular spots like Chipotle, Mi Chulas, and the ginormous delights at Fuzzy’s would have to be visited at a later date. Over the past month we’ve gone from place to place sampling the chips and salsa and a recommended entrée. So, grab your sombrero and maracas and read along as we and bring you the low down on what’s up in Tex-Mex. Our favorite stop for all things Tex-Mex (strike up the mariachi band) is Cristina’s.
Cristina’s Mexican Restaurant was established by the Vargas family in 1989 and with roots that stretch from Central Mexico to Texas the family has created a unique menu that highlights their versatility. The Vargas family has been careful to maintain the original home style of their cooking while growing their number of establishments. During our stop at Cristina’s we commented on a trend we saw developing along our journey. Here was another homegrown, family owned and operated restaurant and that makes all the difference. The moment we walked into the light, airy restaurant the vibrant colors of the walls and decorative accessories had us feeling that we may have stepped through the doorway into an authentic restaurant in Central Mexico. After we were seated by a friendly hostess, the chips and salsa arrived within moments and our taste test was underway. One of our colleagues proclaimed the chips to be, “Awesome, they came to the table warm, thin, and fresh, with a light dusting of salt.” The salsa at Cristina’s was unlike any other we tasted on our journeys, a wonderful blend of spices with a slight smoky flavor that was the perfect accompaniment to the chip’s salty goodness. We chose the Enchiladas Verdes for our main dish, two rolled chicken enchiladas which arrived at the table topped with a zesty tomatillo sauce with rice and borracho beans on the side. The borracho beans were a welcome change from the usual refried and the taste of the beans and tomatoes, peppers and cilantro made a combination that was mouth-watering. The portions were big enough to share but selfishly, we didn’t and we finished every single, delicious bite.le service, we appreciate your visit
It’s All About The Guacamole
Anamia’s is still a family owned and operated restaurant and it shows in the care given to their extensive menu of dishes named for family, friends, and employees. Even the restaurant name shows the love since Anamia’s is a combination of the names of owner Jay Ortiz’s wife, Anna, and daughter, Mia. Jay and Anna opened their first restaurant in Coppell in 1996, followed by a location in Flower Mound a few years later, and we’re so glad they expanded into Southlake in 2001. We were won over by the overflowing bowl of fresh, thin, crispy chips sprinkled with just the right amount of salt that magically arrived at our table within seconds of our sitting down accompanied by individual bowls of perfectly blended salsa, not too chunky, not too “saucy. ” The salsa had enough kick to wake up our taste buds but wasn’t so caliente that we were reaching for the water glasses. We chose the Javier for our entrée, two enchiladas stuffed with chicken and spinach topped with a smooth as silk sour cream sauce. The chicken was so tender we could cut our food with a fork and the combination of flavors in each mouthful was incredible. At Anamia’s the friendly service is just as great as the food. For a taste of some of the best guacamole we’ve ever had order the tableside guacamole and sit back and enjoy the show. Your server will wheel up a cart of fresh ingredients and create a gastronomic delight right before your eyes.
The Color of Flavor
To change things up a bit we headed for Blue Mesa which, according to their website, proclaims itself to offer a “boldness of hand-crafted Southwestern Cuisine.” Even the chips were a bit different here at Blue Mesa, coming to our table in a variety of colors and flavors. The standard tortilla chips were mixed with blue corn and sweet potato chips making a flavorful mix that was fresh and tantalizing to the taste buds. Paired with two kinds of salsa you’ll have difficulty choosing which one you prefer. For the main course we chose the Spa Chicken and Spinach enchiladas which came with their signature blue corn tortillas topped with a tomatillo sauce that had a slight smoky flavor, not overpowering, just right. The chicken was tender and tasty and though the enchilada scored mild on our heat thermometer the flavors exploded in your mouth. A great balance of seasoning and flavor. One of our taste-testers who was checking out the caloric intake proclaimed the skinny margarita on the rocks at Blue Mesa to be the perfect beverage for our meal.
All in the Family
The last two restaurants on our list were Mi Cocina and Taco Diner, sister restaurants born from the dream of four partners back in 1991 when they opened their first 12 table Mi Cocina restaurant in the Preston Forest neighborhood in Dallas. The first Taco Diner opened in 1998 and today the M Crowd Restaurant Group stands at 15 Mi Cocinas, 5 Taco Diners, and The Mercury, all within the Metroplex.
At Mi Cocina our chips came to the table warm and fresh, a little thicker style than some we have tasted with an individual bowl of excellent salsa for each member of our party. Like so many of the restaurants we visited many of the menu items are named after long-term employees so we decided to try Pauley’s. If it’s good enough for him it’s good enough for us. Our menu mentioned two beef burritos with rice and beans and our choice of sauces. It was no problem for our server to change the beef to shredded chicken and the chile con carne sauce on the side was our pick. Our entrée arrived at our table attractively arranged on our plate with burritos so fresh you could cut them with a fork and a deliciously spicy chile con carne that added the perfect burst of heat.
After a few days to recover we salsa-ed our way to our last stop at Taco Diner. On the recommendation of a friend we order Tacos “De Brisket,” known in plain English as tacos with shredded brisket. However, there was nothing plain about the meat, oven roasted overnight with added melted cheese, served with arroz and sliced avocado; the brisket was to die for. With the fresh, crispy chips accompanied by two selections for dipping, a red salsa with a kick and a milder green sauce, our meal was superb.
While making our way home stuffed like a burrito ourselves, we pondered whether or not there was such a thing as too much Tex-Mex food. Without too much thought we decided authenticity abounds in our choice of Tex-Mex restaurants in Southlake and the selections are all so varied you could eat your way from one end of town to the other and never repeat a dish. As a matter of fact, we just might try that. After we take a little siesta.
Trev: We want to put a rating on these after each description paragraph and make the rating sombreros instead of stars.
Cristina’s – 4 sombreros
Anamias - – 3 and a half sombreros
Blue Mesa – 3 sombreros
Mi Cocina – 3 sombreros
Taco Diner – 3 sombreros