Saturday, December 28, 2013

Dueling Tex-Mex - Restaurant Reviews

This wasn't an intentional plan, but when we went to Memphis over Thanksgiving, my sister took me out for Mexican food for my birthday, and when she visited us in Dallas a month later, we returned the favor and took her out for Mexican food here.  It just so happens each was our respective favorite Mexican joint in our respective hometowns, so this morphed into a dueling restaurant review.  Like me, my sister grew up in Texas, so she knows a thing or two about good Tex-Mex.  Can the best of what Memphis has to offer compare to the real deal in the Lone Star State?  Find out after the jump!

I'll start off with the challenger from Memphis. 

Molly's La Casita

2006 Madison Avenue
Memphis, TN 38104
11-10 Sunday-Thursday; 11-11 Friday & Saturday
Directions:  from IH-240, exit Union Avenue (Exit 29) and go east.  Turn left at Morrison Street.  Cross Madison Avenue, and the restaurant parking lot is on your left
Price:  $10-15 per person (excluding alcohol)

I was expecting a massive crowd the day after Thanksgiving, but it actually wasn't crowded at all.  Our party of 8 was seated without a wait.  My first impression of the place, both from the outside and the inside, was "Chuy's rip-off", right down to the decor and the hipster 70s music playing in the background.  For those unfamiliar, Chuy's is a chain of Tex-Mex (really more Santa Fe style) restaurants in Texas, and the site of the Bush sisters' unfortunate run-in with the law in Austin.  Chuy's is alright, but frankly, isn't a place I'd go out of my way to eat at, so I was kind of hoping that my initial impression was wrong.

I ordered a variation on my usual selection - two chicken enchiladas, one with sour cream sauce and one with salsa verde, beans, and a bowl of queso for the table.
Starting with the queso, it wasn't bad.  In fact, it tasted like the queso at - wait for it - Chuy's!  The only problem was, it turned to glue rather quickly, a common problem with queso if you don't scarf it down fast.  As for the enchiladas, the salsa verde had some serious kick to it.  The waitress wasn't kidding when she said it would be spicy.  The sour cream one was alright, but seemed to need some spice; this might have been because I'd just had the fiery green sauce, though.  The chicken was reasonably tasty.  The refried beans had a good taste, and were quite rich, but also had the whiff of having sat in a freezer overnight and then been reheated on the stove.  My mom ordered cheese enchiladas, and she gave her dish the dreaded and patented "pout and fork twirl", where she twirls her food repeatedly on her fork while pouting.  Clearly, she didn't enjoy her meal at all.

The verdict?  My initial impression was right.  If Chuy's had a branch in Memphis, this would be it.  Rating:  3 stars. 

Now on to my local favorite...

Mattito's Tex-Mex

7778 Forest Lane
Dallas, TX 75230
(3 other locations in the Metroplex - Dallas Uptown, Irving, and Frisco)
11-10 Sunday-Thursday; 11-11 Friday & Saturday
Directions:  from US 75 (Central Expressway), exit Forest Lane and go west.  Restaurant is on your left.
Price:  $10-15 per person (excluding alcohol)

NOTE:  this isn't well advertised, but Mattito's is a spin-off of Matt's Rancho Martinez (several locations in the Dallas area), which in turn is a spin-off of the original Matt's El Rancho in Austin.  The giveaway:  all three offer up Bob Armstrong dip and "cowboy-style" chicken fried steak on the menu.  I've never been to the original Matt's in Austin, but both dishes taste almost exactly the same at both Mattito's at Matt's El Rancho.

Mattito's/Matt's has long been a favorite of mine for good Mexican food (though a word of warning - what constitutes the "best" Tex-Mex in Dallas is a highly controversial subject, and is the source of many a spirited argument among Dallas natives).  My pick on this visit?  My usual order here of cowboy style chicken fried steak with rice and beans, and a bowl of queso for the table.  My wife had the tacos al carbon.

The queso isn't as good as the Bob Armstrong dip, which is basically queso with guacamole, sour cream, and ground beef mixed in (it isn't on the menu at Mattito's, but they will make it for you upon request), but we couldn't order it because my sister and one nephew don't eat meat.  It's still pretty good - a hint of spice thanks to three different types of peppers mixed in - though as is way too often the case, it turns to glue way too fast, so eat up quickly.  Yes, I realize that ordering chicken fried steak at a Mexican restaurant sounds like sacrilege, but don't knock it until you try it.  This version is smothered in chili con carne, cheddar cheese, and onions.  It is phenomenally delicious thanks to the chili and cheese, and is what keeps bringing me back to Matt's/Mattito's, even though it does leave me feeling like a beached whale afterwards.  Refried beans here are average, though much better if you mix in some queso or Bob Armstrong.  My especially finicky nephew Ravi ordered cheese enchiladas with chili con carne, and licked his plate clean, so clearly, they earned his rare seal of approval.  I'd also add, if fajitas are your thing, Mattito's version is solid.

Rating:  4 1/2 stars. 

The overall verdict:  Memphis may be a fine place to visit, but if you go, stick with BBQ.  The best Tex-Mex the city has to offer would barely rate in the third tier compared to the real deal.

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