Joy of Mex: Dallas
The crowds vote with their feet in favor of Tex-Mex at Herrera’s, Javier’s, La Calle Doce, and Matt’s Rancho Martinez.
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2326 N. Henderson, 214-823-1859; cash only.
Pozole (hominy stew) and lengua (tongue) make the menu more Mex-Mex, but there’s plenty of Tex-Mex at this fine place. The homemade lemonade is a nice little appetizer all by itself, and you’ll still feel like ordering simple and flavorful burritos (bean, chicken, and beef all available), chiles rellenos cooked to order in a light, frothy egg batter, and addictive homemade corn tortillas. Even though Cuquita’s is big and always crowded, it’s well run.
Guacamole: 3.5 (plain mashed avocado, with pico de gallo served separately). Chips: 4 (intense flavor of corn). Red salsa: 3.5. Jalapeño-and-tomato-based salsa: 3.5 (served hot).
EL NORTE MEXICAN GRILL
2205 W. Parker Road, Plano; 972-596-6783.
This Plano outpost straddles the worlds of traditional and modern Tex-Mex: You can have time-honored crispy chicken tacos or heart-healthy mesquite-grilled chicken breast. Highly recommended: chicken-stuffed Street Vendor tacos made with exceptionally fine tortillas. Equally good: spinach quesadillas with mushrooms and zucchini. Even the flan is special, with roasted pecans on top. All in all, a good place, way up north.
Guacamole: 4 (chunky, needs salt). Chips: 3 (too thin). Salsa: 4 (a touch of cumin).
2831 Greenville, 214-827-2112.
New Mexico has staked out territory in central Dallas. Long green chiles rule instead of poblanos, and flour tortillas predominate. Hardly traditional, the Mexican pizza with chiles, sausage, black olives, and tomato sauce on a crisp flour tortilla is quite tasty. Ditto the nachos topped with tender, smoky fajitas. The chile con queso was seemingly pure stewed chiles, with very little queso. Beware the lethally hot chicken-stuffed fried jalapeños. The decor evokes a New Mexican frontier saloon.
Guacamole: 3 (plain mashed avocado with lime). Chips: 2.5. Salsa: 3.5 (odd, ketchuplike flavor).
4001 Maple, 214-528-9644, and six other locations.
There would be a lynch mob waiting for any writer who failed to include this much-loved, funky fifties place in the lineup of Mexican restaurants in Dallas. So here it is, folks. Tacos, enchiladas, chalupas, and all the Tex-Mex classics are on the menu—and better than many competitors’ versions too. The Maple address is the original.
Guacamole: 4.5. Chips: 4.5 (hot from the oven). Salsa: 4.5 (intense).
LA VALENTINA DE MEXICO
14866 Montfort, 972-726-0202.
You’re not in Dallas; you’re in Mexico. La Valentina is in fact a branch of a classy, cutting-edge Mexico City restaurant, and the owners are patiently introducing Texans to the breadth and unexpected delights of their country’s cuisine. Huitlacoche is lavishly used, the smoky-tasting corn fungus giving depth to soups, crêpes, sauces, and main courses. A soup of chicken broth and cilantro was earthy and subtle; herb-marinated beef tenderloin came perfectly cooked on a bed of melted white pot cheese. The building, with graceful stone columns and arches, is a gem. Prices are high.
Guacamole: not offered. Chips: not offered. Green salsa: 4.5 (tomatillo-onion-lime, sour with a hint of sweetness). Chipotle salsa: 4.5 (barbecuey flavor, very hot).
7726 Ferguson Road, 214-319-8834.
Despite a commitment to well-seasoned Tex-Mex dishes that are low in fat, Martin’s doesn’t make a fetish out of it. You can still get a chile stuffed with ground beef (or chicken or cheese), raisins, and pecans with a barrel of sour cream on top. The location is out of the way and the decor rather modest, with a pleasant patio for nice weather.
Guacamole: 4 (high quality, low salt). Chips: 4.5 (baked or lightly fried). Salsa: 4.5 (terrific roasted-chile flavor).
4322 Lemmon Avenue, 214-526-1020.
One of the best in Dallas for basic, straight-ahead Tex-Mex, carefully prepared. You’ll be lucky to get in without a wait, but persevere. The chicken flautas are crisp and crunchy; the butter-grilled quesadillas are filled with Monterey Jack cheese, onions, and pico de gallo. A big family favorite here is the Jack Hongos, a bowl of melted Monterey Jack topped with mushrooms, onion, and poblanos, to be wrapped in fresh flour tortillas.
Guacamole: 4 (too mashed but great taste). Chips: 3.5. Salsa: 3 (the “sunset salsa” is liquid fire).
Preston Forest shopping center, 11661 Preston Road, 214-265-7704, and five other Dallas locations.
You can count on Mi Cocina’s six outposts for well-prepared basics. Tacos al carbón, corn tortillas filled with grilled beef, are tender and flavorful, and the Deluxe 57 platter lets you sample several dishes: two enchiladas (one chicken, one cheese) topped with sour cream sauce and good chile con carne, respectively, soft tacos filled with Monterey Jack cheese, and a moist pork tamal. Even the rice is a cut above the ordinary, with—hooray!—none of those dessicated peas beloved by so many Mexican restaurants. Decor varies—the location on Preston Road is a noisy, plain-Jane, family-oriented place.
Guacamole: 3. Chips: 3. Salsa: 3.
2013 Greenville, 214-887-8148, and two other locations.
When you see a menu with dishes like mancha manteles (“tablecloth stainer”) and cabrito al horno, you know you’re homing in on the real thing. The first, beef tips in a deep-red mole sauce, is a great favorite in Mexico. The second, kid marinated in guajillo chile sauce and slow-baked in a banana leaf, is a carnivore’s dream (or a vegetarian’s nightmare) because it comes with either carnitas (morsels of pork) or a roasted quail. Very popular place.
Guacamole: 3.5. Chips: 3. Salsa: 4 (served warm).
PEPE AND MITO’S
2935 Elm, 214-741-1901, and one other location.
Can you get mainstream Tex-Mex here? Absolutely. But the vegetarian menu is the surprise, and it’s delicious. The kitchen knows its herbs and spices, witness fresh-tasting spinach-mushroom-and-white-cheese quesadillas, lush avocado quesadillas, and wonderful tamales filled with refried beans and spread with a sprightly tomatillo sauce. In the middle of the Deep Ellum arts district, this place has an appropriately funky decor: yellow walls, royal blue pillars, and well-worn red paint on the concrete floor.
Guacamole: 4. Chips: 3. Salsa: 4.5 (intense).
RAFA’S CAFE MEXICANO
5617 W. Lovers Lane, 214-357-2080.
On West Lovers Lane, a favorite shopping street of well-heeled Dallasites, you can stop in at Rafa’s for excellent marinated quail in garlic sauce or a fine, oniony, long-simmered pinto-bean soup (it comes with the entrées). Snapper a la Felix—steamed and topped with crabmeat—is a healthful specialty, not always the case with Mexican food.
Guacamole: 2 (chunky, very little tomato and onion). Chips: 3. Salsa: 3.5 (very hot).