The Margaritas are Good But the Food is Better

In Dallas there are several great spots for Tex-Mex that are worth checking out.
The Dallas-Ft. Worth area has several great spots for Tex-Mex that are worth checking out.

By Hannah Allen White

Margaritas are important. Period. We’ve all had those days where happy hour is just not going to be happy without an ice cold glass of top shelf tequila, Grand Marnier and that rim of salt that’s just as noticeable as the rings of Saturn.

There is no substitute for a killer margarita when that’s what you’ve got your heart set on and there are places to get a stout one made with all kinds of creative ingredients. That’s not what this piece is about, though. This piece is about the inherent need everyone goes absolutely overboard to satisfy when the Tex-Mex craving hits and hits hard. Like other, ahem, “needs” every human with a pulse has this need that is very real and not to be trifled with. You always can go the Corona route if need be but can you really sacrifice good Tex-Mex in the name of booze if you are, in fact, starving for south of the border sustenance? I say no.

Giant corporate versions of Mexican cuisine which are just the other side of Taco Bell will not satiate your needs. If you’ve lived in Texas for more than a week you’re probably well aware. We’ve found that smaller regional chains carry the charm of free-standing establishments but maintain a consistency that’s helpful to their customer base.

You don’t have to look to hard too find several places that meet those criteria all over the Metroplex. At the top of that list is Cantina Laredo. We could argue Tex-Mex vs. more region-based Mexican cuisine but that would be a waste of space since it’s all of our favorite things about both culinary traditions in the same place. From start to finish this restaurant (with several area locations and one in London!) is perfect for any occasion where you might need to put food in your mouth. It’s inventive, fresh and sexy. Cantina Laredo has a pretty serious selection of margarita and margaritaesque beverages but it doesn’t enhance the meal.

If you find yourself in the northern expanses of the Metroplex opt for Anamia’s, a family-owned and operated group of restaurants where you’re treated like one of the family. As corny as that sounds it’s really true. In a new take on tried and true Tex-Mex, Anamia’s forgoes the average garish bright colors and iffy lighting associated with small chains. Warm tones and modern lines manage to make favorite dishes – some named after family members and loyal customers – comforting as opposed to just delicious.

Comforting comes from more than just the décor, though, and El Paisa holds a special place where that’s concerned. The place serves this hearty pork and hominy soup called Pozole on weekends and a bad-ass Mexican version of a sandwich called a Torta (bolillio bread with beans right on there with everything else) in brunch and lunch/dinner varieties. Of course there’s the usual suspects: tacos, enchiladas, nachos etc., and they’re all exceptional.

And then there is Gloria’s. Billed as a Latin establishment it does have a big chunk of its menu dedicated to Tex-Mex deliciousness. You can order crazy things like papusas and quail but the Chimichanga with chicken and chili sauce is better than you might believe. The two-story location in the Bishop Arts district is our favorite with soft lighting and dark colors which make it feel chic and exclusive and consequently a fantastic place for a date. Sure there are lot of tequila based drink options but if you’re looking for a buzz the mojitos seem to be more complimentary to the atmosphere.

Over on Elm Street just on the outskirts of the now thriving music and nightlife scene a few doors away sits Pepe’s & Mito’s. This place is an amazing break from the competitive main stretch of Deep Ellum where originality can either propel a business to greatness or miss the mark entirely. At Pepe’s & Mito’s there’s an amazing balance of both. The Mexican slant on a traditional shrimp cocktail is so clever it’s a wonder every Tex-Mex place on this list doesn’t have a copy cat version and the vegetable fajitas (made with sauteed mushrooms, chayote squash, potatoes, carrots, and green bell peppers) are worth even the most devout carnivore’s attention. While the undoubted favorite are the chipotle enchiladas served with a surprising chipotle wine sauce everything on the menu hits a proverbial home run.

While it’s always worth trying the house margarita at any establishment it’s good not to get completely boxed in by the alcohol options. Sometimes a Mexican Coke or fountain Coca-Cola with a lemon will do the trick just as deftly when you’re trying to squelch the ole’ Tex-Mex craving. If you’ve absolutely gotta have the tequila though, and you find yourself in a place with a full bar getingt a little frisky and ask for a Salted Chihuahua – the margarita’s sexy sister made with tequila, triple sec and grapefruit juice in place of sweet and sour. It’ll do the trick if the house sweet n’ sour is lacking. Just remember it’s OK to go just for the food.