In the dark of night, the brightly lit façades of The Fat Cactus locations glow like a beacon, beckoning diners to come and sample their classic Mexican and Tex-Mex foods. The restaurants' interiors are no less eye-catching. House-specialty fazzizzles—short for sizzling fajitas—top tables in dining rooms filled with vibrant reds and yellows. Rows of hubcaps glisten on walls next to strings of lights. And hundreds of emptied tequila bottles dangle from the ceiling, testament to the popularity of the menu's dozen specialty margaritas. For extra entertainment, musicians fill ears with their tuneful crooning every night, and a room with classic arcade games lets kids play at adult tasks, such as driving a car or helping zombies file their tax returns.
The burritos at Ixtapa Mexican Grill & Cantina aren't the handheld fast-food variety. Far from it, actually. The sauces and melted cheeses that smother the tortillas make them best eaten with a fork. Some of the burritos are stuffed with classic fillings, such as chicken or slices of grilled steak, whereas others are more innovative: the Atlantic Burrito is filled with shrimp, crab, fish, and scallops. There's even a fried apple-caramel burrito for dessert.
Though Ixtapa's chefs eagerly experiment with their dishes, there's no "Tex-Mex" on the menu?every taco, chimichanga, and enchilada is a remnant of an old family recipe. Each one can be traced back to its inspiration in Guadalajara and its namesake resort in Mexico. Margaritas complement the food with flavors of blackberry and kiwi, and range from the classic hand-shaken lime margarita to El Presidente, made with Cuervo 1800 tequila and delivered via motorcade.
Border Cafe is ostensibly named after the border between the United States and Mexico. Dig a little deeper into the legend, however, and you’ll find that the restaurant’s history lies squarely on the border between truth and mythology. It all started with a man named Jose Creole—at least that was what people called him when he emigrated from Mexico to Louisiana in the 1930s. He didn’t just bring plain old Mexican food with him; instead, he combined his recipes with the Cajun soul food of his new neighbors in Lake Charles, and a legend was born. Jose Creole’s blend of Mexican and Cajun cuisines is now the cornerstone of Border Cafe, where chefs honor tradition by preparing his spicy dishes from scratch. The menu features fusion specialties that would be hard to find elsewhere, such as blackened-catfish fajitas and crawfish quesadillas. Even the margaritas are a bit offbeat—the New Orleans version is blended with Cointreau and served over chilled Mardi Gras beads.
At Acitrón, chefs elevate traditional Mexican mainstays to bistro-level sophistication. Like the world’s most edible bionic man, each dish is assembled by a crack team using locally sourced produce, meats, and seafood, with menu items including tilapia fish tacos and the crepas de rajas poblanas stuffed with grilled poblano strips, corn kernels, yellow squash, zucchini, and sour cream. Meals unfold in a dining room decked with hardwood floors, floral artwork, and sparkling granite tables topped with flickering candles. Shielded by a basket of fresh limes, a full bar slings libations including margaritas, specialty cocktails, and tequila drinks. Acitrón’s scratch-made desserts also add sweet punctuation to meals with bites including flan, tres leches, and chocolate tamales topped with Mexican-vanilla ice cream.
Classic Oaxacan cuisine receives a contemporary update at Zocalo Mexican Bistro. Crispy flautas and grilled chicken topped with house-made mole sauce showcase the restaurant's traditional roots. However, chefs exercise a bit more creativity when making dishes such as beer-battered, fried avocado sticks or a Cuban-inspired torta—a slow-cooked pulled pork sandwich with smoked applewood bacon, a black bean purée, pickled jalapeño, and chipotle mustard.
These bold flavors complement the dining room's vibrant decor, which features sunset-hued walls, colorful tiles, and hand-painted ceramics. During the warmer months, the outdoor patio opens, providing guests with a cozy place to enjoy a bottle of Mexican beer, a glass of sangria, or a balloon animal filled with sparkling water.
Mexican chefs prepare Mexican food that's served in a dining area enclosed by walls decorated with Mexican art. Wooden hot plates keep tile-topped tables and overzealous servers' heads safe from fajita skillets that emit the sounds and scents of sizzling chicken, beef, or shrimp. Patrons may enhance their authentic meals with sprinkles of salt and pepper shaken out of repurposed Coronita bottles and complement their cuisine with oversized margaritas—crafted at the wraparound bar with a selection of more than 40 tequilas.