This is Texas, right?
So, there is naturally an abundant and varied array of Tex-Mex options. There are also a lot of opinions on what constitutes “Tex-Mex” food and restaurants.
We’re here to try to address that. With so much variation, we know we aren’t even going to be able to satisfy the opinions of all the authors of this blog(!), but we’ll give it our best shot.
We’ve created a “rubric” of sorts for our reviews of Tex-Mex restaurants. For each restaurant we visit, we hope to share a blog post and will also assign a “grade” in several categories.
I introduce to you, the rubric; our visual representation of the grading scale we have created.
As you can see, we’ve committed to trying a variety of different things at each Tex-Mex restaurant we visit. The items listed are most of our “go-to” choices when we visit a new restaurant. We hope to give a snapshot of each place visited using this rubric as a way to say, “hey, check this place out if you enjoy a great Tex-Mex scene and ambiance”, or “avoid this place if you want a decent enchilada”. Each category is rated on a scale of one to five, five being the highest score. The number of shaded states indicate the score assigned.
The categories are shown on the rubric above, but let’s dive into them a little deeper so you can know exactly what we look for in a great Tex-Mex restaurant.
Atmosphere–what is the general feeling of the restaurant when you walk in the door? Is it welcoming? Festively decorated? How big is the restaurant? Does the restaurant have an authentic aura about it? Do you order at the counter or sit down and wait to be served? Is it a family-friendly environment or more geared for a romantic date (assuming you and your date want Tex-Mex and feel that is an appropriate cuisine based on your relationship history). All these questions and more are answered when we are talking about atmosphere.
Chips & Salsa–this is the measure by which every good Tex-Mex restaurant is graded. We love chips that are lightly salted and of a “medium” thickness–too thin and it doesn’t hold the salsa or queso; too thick and your chip to salsa or queso ratio is overwhelming. Salsa comes in a variety of ways: hot, cold, mild, medium, spicy–you get the picture. We all enjoy a chunky salsa with bold flavors–tomato, onion, garlic, jalepeno and cilantro are all a must! And I hate to say it, but just so it’s out there, salsa from a jar should be forbidden at a restaurant.
Margarita–the quintessential drink paired with your Tex-Mex. Although some would prefer Dos Equis or Corona, the margarita is often a point of pride for most Tex-Mex restaurants. When we sample, we ask our server what is the house favorite for frozen versus on the rocks (meaning, we do not discriminate when it comes to a good margarita!). We are looking for the bold flavors of lime and tequila while still being able to drive ourselves home after one drink.
Queso–another one of our favorites, each restaurant has their own spin on exactly what constitutes a good queso. Our favorites are those that have “mix-ins”, meaning not just being served a bowl of (real!) cheese. We love when tomatoes, onions, or beef can be found swimming in the queso. Good queso in our books is not Velveeta and Rotel; that combination has its place, but it is not at a Tex-Mex restaurant.
Tacos–the variety in which tacos can be served is a huge positive. With options such as corn or flour tortillas; crispy or soft, breakfast or gourmet, the options are presumably limitless. Consider the filling options: pork, shredded or ground beef, barbacoa, chicken, fish, veggies; and of course you can’t forget the toppings: you’ve got the standard tomatoes, lettuce, salsa, onions, cheese, or the adventurous choices of cabbage slaw, radishes, cilantro, and an array hot sauces. Most of our reviews will be based on the combination of each of these factors (tortilla, filling, and toppings) culminating in the perfect flavorful bite. We are looking for taste, portability (can I hold the taco without it falling apart), cleanliness (am I going to go through 20 napkins to eat this?), and economy (I don’t want to pay $5 for a taco that just has two pieces of chicken in it)–again, we ask for restaurant recommendations and favorites.
Enchiladas–similar to tacos, there are many ways an enchilada can be served–so many combinations make them so versatile which gives them an even bigger appeal. The easiest way to rate enchiladas is if there is both variety of enchilada options and the sauces they are topped with. From there, it is up to the diner to decide whether or not their combination is full of flavor and packs a punch.
Service–this is a given–we hope to receive excellent service every time, but also have to take into consideration the time of day visited, size of the establishment, and how many other patrons are visiting at the time we visit. Service can be a tricky category because of the factors mentioned above, but we will reflect our experience and at least share our opinion.
So, there you have it. Our take on Tex-Mex and how we’ll report it all back to you. What do you consider when you go to a Tex-Mex restaurant?