Tex-Mex time warp

Oak Cliff's Tejano hasn't changed its menu in 14 years, and they're proud of it

Tejano in Oak Cliff is the mother of Mexican food in Dallas. One of the original jewels in the Cuellar (El Chico to you) crown, it's owned now by David Cruz, who hasn't changed the menu or the recipes for 14 years and vows that he never will.

And why should he? Leave the fish-Mex, veg-Mex, and New-Mex to someone else. Specialties aren't Tejano's specialty, either, although that's where flautas are listed, and they're a deal for the odd price of $5.70. Seafood is skippable, but the chef's suggestions are a good idea--I like the flat, ultimate cheese plate called Taquitos de Pepe: corn tortillas filled with cheese, covered with tomatoey ranchera sauce and more cheese.

Mainly Tejano's serves this kind of Tex-Mex--Tex-Mex the way it used to be--rich and gooey, hot plates of unidentifiable, inexpensive food. The menu is for those who really care about their combinations--they want one cheese enchilada and one beef taco, and they don't want guacamole, but they do want rice and beans.

At Tejano's, there are nine lunch combinations and eight dinners--or you can design your own from the master list. Crispy tacos are a big deal here, and burritos. But the enchiladas are the ticket--fat with cheese, smothered in Texas-style, meaty chili.

Tejano's serves children comfortably. There are usually several parties that require the staff to rearrange the dining room, shoving tables together to accommodate an extended family. The service at Tejano's is fast and professional; they replace chips as soon as they're gone and whisk plates in and out, off and on. It's not exactly a gracious pace, but when you're out for a Sunday night enchilada fix, efficiency has always been more appreciated than grace.

Even the problems are familiar: I remember Matt's special margarita at the old El Rancho in Austin--day-glo, frozen, frightening. Tejano's serves a similar drink--extruded coils of green slush. Order yours up or on the rocks. Don't you love laminated menus illustrated with photos of the food? Take a look at these desserts: sopapilla, photographed with a package of honey, and cinnamon ice cream, the cup set off by a melamine plate.

Tejano even looks the way Tex-Mex used to--no cantina, no Mexican art, no pretensions to "cool." It's big, bustling, energetic, and pretty funky. There's a big gumball machine in the foyer, and on the back wall of the dining room is a remarkable stained glass piece that tells the story of El Chico in the medieval, simultaneous-happening style--you know, where Jesus is born at the top right of the picture, and at the bottom, they're rolling away the stone.

Replace that with corn, tortillas, and enchiladas, and you get the picture.

--Mary Brown Malouf

Tejano Mexican Restaurant, 110 West Davis, 943-8610. Open Monday-Thursday 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Friday-Saturday 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m.-10 p.m.

Tejano:
Enchilada dinner $5.35
Taquitos Tio Pepe $5.50
Spinach enchilada dinner $5.

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