24 November 2012

Food Diary of a Tex Mex Addict

Pending my return to the States all I could think about was the TexMex delicacies that awaited me in my hometown of Dallas.  Upon arrival I was hoping for a Taco Bell fix but my health conscious mother instead insisted on making fixins for homemade fajitas instead.  I guess I can't complain.  Chicken grilled in taco seasoning and covered in salsa, sour cream, and cheddar is not a bad way to start a trip home to Texas.

Still jetlagged (and not trusted to drive the car on the right side of the road after regularly driving on the left), I was chauffeured around town by my mother to various appointments set up in anticipation of my return.  As lunch time grew closer my stomach growled and knowing that if I requested Taco Bell I would have to indulge her deafening silent judgment while trying to enjoy my seven layer burrito.  Instead, I decided Mi Cocina, a well-known medium-range Tex Mex chain based in Dallas, was a better bet.  As a vegetarian she could even find something on their extensive menu to appease her palate.

We rolled into the Coit and Campbell location on the Dallas/Richardson border and slid in a booth before the lunch rush hit.  I devoured the tortilla chips and salsa and chugged iced teas like there was no tomorrow.  Saving myself for the best fajitas in Dallas (Uncle Julio's), I ordered the Rico chicken salad with a variety of dressings on the side.  Spicy blue cheese, chili garlic vinaigrette, and good old Ranch; I just could not decide between the three.  The menu did not lie, the blue cheese was spicy and the the vinaigrette had a kick.  I alternated between those and the cooling Ranch with each bite. 
Rico salad with beef. Photo credit: marniefernandez.wordpress.com
The service was decent, not excellent, by Western standards, but was a welcome change to someone who has been dining in countries with no concept of the term customer service.  The food was served quickly and the waiter offered options not listed on the menu.  Furthermore, while I do not consider myself a demanding consumer, it was refreshing to be empowered to return a salad with no guilt after it appeared with unadvertised bacon liberally sprinkled across it.

Wednesday saw more appointments and running all over town but ended with a leisurely dinner at my favorite neighborhood Gloria's.  The Gloria's on Greenville Avenue has long been one of my go-to happy hour spots when I lived in Dallas and worked at Southern Methodist University just down the road.

As I sat down and waited for my girlfriend I snacked on tortilla chips, salsa, and their specialty black bean dip.  I perused the menu and tried to decide between their Tex-Mex, El Salvadoran, "Salvatex", and Mexican dishes.  The cheese stuffed pupusas beckoned, however I refrained and stuck with the grilled chicken salad.  Not very Mexicany, but I since the next day was to bring the typical Thanksgiving over indulgence I thought it best to abstain.

The salad was large and very filling with grilled chicken, romaine lettuce, iceberg lettuce, jicama, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, and red onions.  Deprived of authentic Ranch dressing in Nairobi I stuck with my old favorite.  My friend ordered a small chicken soup "hearty...with lots of vegetables, chunks of chicken and rice".  Granted she's a stick figure, but she was full from the small bowl and commented on how thick and hearty the soup was.  

Monday through Thursday the Greenville location has all day happy hours with $4 glasses of sangria and margaritas and $3 domestic beers.  Perhaps it was the location but we discovered that they no longer serve pitchers; which in retrospect is probably for the best considering the large university population it attracts.  Instead we sipped on glasses of sweet, but not very strong, red sangria.  The service was amazing; there was always a busboy refilling my water and bring me more salsa.  The waiters and staff were incredibly friendly and no one tried to hurry us out the door.  The prices are reasonable; with a salad, a few drinks, and a tip; my bill came out to just about $27.  

After indulging in the Thanksgiving standards I made a trip to yet another Tex Mex favorite, Uncle Julio's, not far from my parent's hacienda at Keller Springs and the Tollway.  Uncle Julio's has been a family favorite for many years and I even had my 16th birthday party dinner there back in the day.  They are renowned for their specialty "swirl" cocktail, a mix of frozen margarita and sangria.  And according to the sign outside they now boast a happy hour starting at 3pm Monday through Thursdays.

They also offer a fajitas especial platter for $2 more than the classic fajitas.  Which pretty much just means you don't have to order everything (i.e. sour cream, cheese, guacamole, and other fixins) on the side anymore.  They are still covered in a whipped melted butter which sounds kind of iffy, but, trust me, is delicious.  The meat is never dried out thanks to the buttery topping.  At $18.95 an order this isn't the most economical platter of grilled chicken and fixins you'll ever have but it is a heaping serving and I guarantee you'll leave stuffed.

Fajita feast - Jan 2012
Indulging in some sopapillas
I also love the salsa which has a distinctive wood fired taste.  My friend said he didn't like it at first but it grew on him but his wife agreed with me that it was good and had a smoky flavor.  The tortilla chips are thinner than your typical Mexican style chip which is annoying if you're trying to scoop up some guacamole and the poor structural integrity of the chip causes it to continually break, but they are much lighter and less filling than typical chips.

The service was great, even though the restaurant was packed with probable Black Friday shoppers pouring in from the nearby mall.  The waitstaff was quick and efficient and quickly replaced a mistaken order of queso with the desired guacamole and had our entrees out in no time. 

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