Though Luna de Noche's menu doesn't stray far from its Mexican roots, the restaurant’s chefs introduce nuanced flavors in all their dressed-up versions of Tex-Mex classics. As staff members make guacamole tableside for patrons, they may add unique ingredients such as pecans, creating a dish that is as distinctive as it is traditional. Even the margaritas—served frozen, on the rocks, or from a hose—build on the classic recipe by incorporating ingredients such as Kahlúa, fresh jalapeño juice, or housemade sangria.
Arturo and Tina Vargas have a unique way of celebrating their family's central Mexican roots. They make an annual journey to different locales south of the border, ending each trip with a visit to their hometown of Cuernavaca. But these aren't average vacations. Instead, Arturo and Tina use the opportunity to discover new ingredients or recipes that they can bring back to Cristina's Fine Mexican Restaurant, their flavorful franchise of Texas eateries. Their culinary findings appear throughout the menu of Tex-Mex cooking.
The staff at each of the Vargas' venues wholeheartedly embraces those deep roots, making flour tortillas in-house, hand-rolling enchiladas, and preparing orders of guacamole directly beside diners' tables. But that's not to say the dishes are expected—salmon with pineapple butter and fried chicken breast with white wine-cream sauce demonstrate some of the kitchens' more experimental inclinations. Flavored margaritas and mojitos can add spirited refreshment to meals, as can any of the beers that the restaurants import from Mexico via man with a very strong throwing arm.
Since 2000, the cooks at Norma's Tex Mex have brought together Mexican and American food to dance a culinary tango of bold flavors. They sculpt pork tamales, grill shrimp quesadillas on housemade tortillas, and top burgers with avocado slices and jalapeño rings that patrons can also use for spur-of-the-moment marriage proposals. Diners can also slurp bowls of caldo de res, a soup made with beef broth, carrots, zucchini, and cabbage, or savor spoonfuls of deep-fried ice cream. Citrus-toned walls lend a cheerful ambiance to the eatery's clean interior.
For a Tex-Mex experience that feels decidedly urban, downtown lunchgoers and happy hour enthusiasts head to casual Iron Cactus, located in the thick of the city’s hustle and bustle on Main Street. Alongside expected dishes like chile con queso, fajitas, quesadillas and carnitas street tacos, diners will also find crispy Baja fish tacos, New Mexico-style pork enchiladas with salsa verde and cornbread-crusted fish with jalapeño and mushroom cream sauce. Rustic brick walls adorned with folky art and cushy, bright-colored booths make a comfortable perch from which to sip on potent margaritas – concocted with your choice of several dozen tequilas, ranging from budget-friendly to extravagant – while signature cocktails like the El Corazon, served with tequila and fresh prickly pear purée, make for a delicious dinner companion as well.
For the last 25 years, Ricardo and Michelle Avila have been dabbling with spices and tenderizing meats, meticulously perfecting the recipes that populate Mextopia’s menu. From brisket gorditas to guisado de puerco—a house specialty of braised pork loin in chili cascabel sauce—the traditional and Tex-Mex entrees pair with a roster of beers from Mexico and Central and South America. During happy hour on Thursdays and Saturdays, the draft beers are served with complimentary plates of sweet-and-spicy bacon in an effort to provide the community more protein in preparation for hibernation. The savory-sweet combos can be enjoyed on the outdoor patio or inside, where the purple glow of neon lights washes over the granite-topped bar and warm orange walls cultivate a festive atmosphere.
Acclaimed chef Abraham Salum opened chic regional Mexican spot Komali in early 2011, just one door down from his eponymous Uptown restaurant Salum. A far cry from the gloppy, cheese-smothered Tex-Mex that’s so popular around Dallas, the food at Komali is rustic yet refined, and just about everything is made by hand including the corn tortillas and tamales. The sleek, minimal dining room with its white walls, cushy banquettes and concrete floors keeps the focus on the food; think braised pork cheeks with salsa verde and hominy grits, chicken mole, quail stuffed with huitlacoche bread pudding or grilled flank steak with cilantro chimichurri. Lunch means tacos, sopes or tostadas with a variety of fillings, from carnitas to crispy fried snapper – and don’t miss the sugar-dusted churros for dessert.