The proprietors of Nuevo Leon recently launched a small restaurant across the street from Irving Mall on Beltline (adjacent to Hooters). With poor signage and almost no street visibility, the place will rise or fall on word of mouth. Taco Macho Grill, while small, is nicely decorated. Light earth tones make for a warm, relaxed feel. Photographic prints of men with sombreros, bandoliers, and rifles dot the walls. Tucked in the corner is a small bar-currently dry, as they await their liquor license. In décor (and cleanliness), its a cut above most taquerias. Gringos wont feel out of place or intimidated. (Menus, while basic, are arranged well, in English, and include thorough descriptions of each item.)
Service was exemplary. One waiter was working the room, but glasses were always filled, plates promptly cleared, chips and salsa replenished, extra utensils provided, napkins replaced, etc. I dont know if our service experience was typical of the restaurant. But, if it was, Im impressed. While taking our time looking over the menu, he checked to see if we had any questions. I told him it was our first time, so wed need a minute to look over the options. When he returned to take our order, he asked, Do you like salsas? Were making 12 different sauces tonight. He then brought out seven small molcajetes with samples of salsas and sauces, in addition to the table salsa. While I generally consider myself a hardcore Its all about the food kind of guy, when a restaurant is this open, generous, and eager to please, I have to admit that it changes my mindset. It instills a predisposition to *like* the food, whatever it may be. (I suppose the opposite is probably true, also. Poor service can raise the critical hackles.) Anyway, on the service front, theyre doing exactly what they need to do to build the positive word of mouth necessitated by their poor storefront visibility.
The food reveals the restaurants roots. The table salsa (i.e., a cooked, mild, red salsa) is almost identical to Nuevo Leons. (This is a good thing. A very good thing.) Other salsas and sauces sampled, including a fresh salsa verde and mole poblano, were also comparable to those at the big sister restaurants. All of the sauces we sampled-table salsa, mole poblano, fresh salsa verde, cooked tomatillo salsa, chimichurri, avocado sauce, chile con queso, and chili con carne-were very good. They dust most taquerias and hold their own against the best sit-down Mexican restaurants in town.
We started with a couple of tacos ($1.25 each). The carnitas were tender, crispy on the outside, and had a sweet citrus glaze. The al pastor was tender and tasty, but the bulk of the flavor came from the pork rather than the caramelized exterior (as I would have preferred). Both were a cut above most comparable taqueria offerings in the area. While the price is slightly higher, you have your choice of white corn or flour tortillas (with no extra charge), the meat portions are generous, and the quality is a step up from the competition.
For entrees, we ordered the fajita plate (beef and chicken) and the chalupas de tinga (beef and chicken). While the flavor of the beef and chicken fajitas was good, the beef ended up dry. With the price ($6.95) and hefty portion size, though, it was still a good value. The chalupa entrée ($5.95) had two freshly fried tostada bases, topped with refried beans, lettuce, onion, tinga, avocado sauce, and crumbled queso fresco. The vegetarian components of the dish were all up to snuff. The use of the avocado sauce to take the edge off the tingas heat was a good idea. The salty queso fresco was of a higher quality than you find in most taquerias. But, as with the fajitas, the meats didnt match the same level of excellence. Again, while the beef and chicken were well flavored, both were on the dry side (which one doesnt expect from a stewed meat). I dont want to overstate that complaint. The meats were good. They just werent as good as other elements. And, when everything else is so good, a contrast like that can be jarring.
For desserts, we ordered tres leches and sopapillas. The tres leches was similar, but not identical to, Nuevo Leons (e.g., no nuts, less coconut). A fine dessert (especially for under three bucks) and, with the dairy components, a good finishing option for those who need to give their tongue a break from spiciness. The sopapillas were excellent ($2.95). Two light, perfectly cooked sopapillas are dusted with cinnamon sugar, drizzled with cajeta quemada, and served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. I would have been happy with the typical cinnamon sugar and plastic honey bear presentation, at that price. But its nice to be surprised. Simple, but delicious.
The menu takes in a wider sweep than I expected, picking up items from taquerias, Tex-Mex, and traditional Mexican. It would take a handful of visits to get a better sense of their strengths and weaknesses. Maybe they have a great pozole, tamales, enchiladas, mole, etc. I wont know until I try. And, on the basis of this visit, I know I *will* try. And try again. And again.