From the moment you pull up, it’s not hard to tell that Don Juan’s Romantic Mexican Food opened in 1966. A certain brand of flashy midcentury Americana lights up every inch of the stucco building, declared a Grand Prairie Significant Landmark by the city's historical commission. Hand-painted signs—one shaped like a gargantuan sombrero—advertise “luncheons” and “dinners.” The menu hasn’t changed much, either: for more than 45 years, the cooks have been making chili, hot sauce, guacamole, and many other ingredients from scratch using the same recipes the founder perfected when the restaurant first opened. Tacos, burritos, and tamales join Tex-Mex favorites such as enchiladas, chili con queso, and taco salad in a deep-fried shell. For dining on the go or on the lam, the restaurant sports a drive-thru (one of the first in town) in addition to a robin’s-egg-blue counter with matching swivel stools.
When their family business closed, the Ortegas imported ingredients and machinery straight from their native Argentina, set up a small kitchen, and took their Buenos Aires-inspired products on the road aboard a brand new food truck based out of Global Bakery, in Irving. Their flaky pastries brim with beef, chicken, pulled pork, ham and cheese, and spinach fillings and bear a unique, baked-in pattern, creating ideal handheld meals available straight from the food truck’s window. As they add the variety of fillings, they imprint each pastry with a specific pattern, allowing customers to keep different flavors separate without interrogating their empanadas under a fast-food heat lamp.
Veins of sangria run through sheets of frozen margarita in the Mod-Mex Swirl, a cocktail that epitomizes La Margarita’s core philosophy. Owners Gabriel and Adrian DeLeon, sons of founder Juan, carry on their father’s tradition of fresh Tex-Mex, updating family recipes with a modern twist—“Mod-Mex.” This marriage of classic and contemporary emerges not only in their signature margaritas, but also in their fare. Similar to the swearing-in of a matador, each meal begins with the traditional house-made chips and salsa served warm, but forays into the unusual as soon as customers crack a menu. Amid tacos and burritos, innovative dishes such as salmon swaddled in banana leaves and chipotle-slathered ribs jump out at eaters—even if a flight of top-shelf tequilas has dulled their senses a bit.
Rodriguez's fresh-baked "pan dulce" includes Mexican sweets such as cinnamon cookies, fruit-filled turnovers, gingerbread cookies, and vanilla-flavored azucarado pastries. Earning acclaim for its dinner fare as well, the restaurant's house-made tortillas are so popular they're sold in sold in dozens of grocery stores across Oregon and Idaho—perfect for shoppers looking to make their own tacos or replace an old mousepad.
All empanadas go for $2.50 each. For now, Empa Mundo tosses out seven delicious combinations, including vegetarian options for those opposed to eating meat, such as the spinach with ricotta and parmesan or the humita, with corn, onions, cheese, and creamy white sauce. Those morally opposed to eating vegetables will have to think more carefully, pondering whether the criolla with beef, olives, eggs, and raisins is worth eating due to the attendant onions. A simple ham-and-cheese chilipanzinga, however, solves the hunger both material and moral. Dessert empanadas such as guava and cheese or sweet potato make a delightful chaser. Give empanadas a friend to accompany them on the journey to your stomach with a plainspoken soda or juice (up to $1.35). Make a meal for $6.50 that combines two empanadas, dessert, and a drink.
Fran Mathers was merely one of Via Reál’s loyal patrons when the eatery was still in its infancy in 1985. But when she discovered the owners’ plans to close, Fran didn’t hesitate to assume a new role: proprietor. To this day, Fran continues to serve her customers with the same sort of altruistic attitude that led her to fall in love with Via Reál. She does this by forming rapports with regulars and welcoming newcomers, and through the restaurant's scholarship program, which provides help to local kids of Irving police officers, in honor of Fran's late husband. Of course the number one draw to Via Reál remains its fare, crafted by Chef Jesus Olivares, who was born and raised in Mexico. His menu of southwestern and Mexican cuisine relies heavily, just like most cowboy perfumes, on smoked or roasted peppers and sauces infused with tropical fruits. For example, to make a dish called Cancun, he sautés Texas gulf shrimp with mango-basil sauce and pairs it with sea scallops over poblano rice, while center cut 8 oz. tenderloin fillets are served over grilled vegetables with tobacco onions, and guajillo port sauce. All of Chef Olivares’ quesadillas, fajitas, and other Tex-Mex dishes complement an impressive list of margaritas and tequilas, as well as a number of reserve wines, available by request.