In 1926, a Mexican immigrant named Adelaida Cuellar—now affectionately referred to as "Mama"—set up a tiny stand at a county fair outside Dallas, selling homemade tamales and chili con queso. The spicy specialties soon drew throngs of hungry patrons, and by 1940, she and her 12 children had transformed the stand into a café. Today, her legacy lives on at El Chico's many locations, where the staff rolls fresh tortillas into steaming enchiladas and salts the rims of towering margaritas. Waiters hoist platters of Tex-Mex favorites such as spicy beef burritos, crispy tacos, and guacamole prepared right at the table from fresh, self-puréeing avocados—a technology Mama never could have imagined during the early days of black-and-white tomatoes.
The owners and chefs at Santa Fe Cattle rely on old family recipes that demand steaks are aged and cut in-house, rolls are baked fresh each day, and signature sauces are mixed onsite. These touches transform the menu’s casual, regional eats into dishes worthy of John Wayne’s personal dressing-room buffet. Steaks, fajitas, and sliders are plated next to housemade sides of cole slaw, Santa Fe taters, and of course, a bucket of peanuts—which guests shuck directly onto the floor. The peanut shells add character to each one of the restaurant’s 20 locations, which evoke old-west saloons with touches such as brick walls draped in horse saddles and weathered wooden floors.
The menu at Don Serapio’s Mexican Restaurant pays tribute to Mexico as much as it does to the owner's family. Janie Meadow's father Serapio Sanchez helped her brother Larry open his first restaurant back in the 50s. It was at this restaurant that Janie met Jim Meadows, her husband and the man she would eventually join forces with to open Don Serapio’s Mexican Restaurant. Today, the pair draws on family recipes to marinate steak and pork, smother enchiladas in cheese, and fry jumbo shrimp.
Cooks bustle about the kitchens of Tulio's Mexican Restaurant, stuffing flautas with juicy morsels of skinless white-meat chicken and marinating strips of sirloin steak. The beef soaks in its bath of spices for a full 24 hours before it’s deemed ready for fajitas al carbon and mexican steak-tip dinners, a slow but necessary process that typifies the restaurant’s concern for getting traditional Mexican recipes right.
Though they share certain ingredients in common, there’s no mistaking the difference between a giant burrito—stuffed with up to five pounds of meat or piñata candy—and light entrees such as veggie fajitas with steamed rice and ranchera beans. Whether sautéing peppers or deep-frying chimichangas, the cooks keep an eye on heart health and use only 100% vegetable oil. Fresh produce goes into dishes such as the Cancun chicken, whose sweet bell peppers and guacamole-celery hot sauce make for more green than a bank vault filled with lime jello.
Cha Cha's provides hungry patrons with a bevy of border-straddling dining options ranging from authentic Mexican cuisine to Tex-Mex and Southwestern favorites. The enchilada-centric menu allows diners to launch their feast rockets with an appetizer of enchilada dip—a creamy blend of green-chili queso, chicken, and melted cheese sealed in by a layer of sliced avocados ($7.49)—before tackling a myriad of 'chilada main courses, such as Cha Cha's signature cheese enchilada ($8.99). Or savor the taste of traditional street tacos stuffed with fajita beef, chicken, or blackened shrimp ($9.99) from the modern convenience of tables and chairs. Stubborn thirsts can be tackled with a double-punch-packed Margarona, the liquid lovechild of Jose Cuervo and Senorita Corona.
La Luna's menu features traditional Mexican dishes that are made from scratch, and La Luna's tables feature complimentary salsa fresca, chips, and queso. A plate of olivenos ($6.25)—large black olives stuffed with salsa and cheese, then breaded and deep-fried—prime stomach engines within the restaurant's festive atmosphere. Fajita tacos ($11.95) combine strips of marinated beef or chicken breast, and spinach quesadillas (small $9.95, large $11.95) are served with guacamole and sour cream and consist of soft tortillas filled with sautéed spinach, onions, tomatoes, and cheese. During an episode of pollo verde ($11.95), chicken gets into a humorous situation with green chiles, Monterey Jack cheese, tomatoes, and onions. Most entrees come in a moon-lite portion for those who don't want to be fuller than a purse packed with encyclopedias. Frozen margarita swirls ($7.45 each), which combine different liquors, can be sipped at the bar's multi-colored tile mosaic flat-top that guards the restaurant's bevy of tequilas.