Moctezuma's revenge

No matter the name, this local Tex-Mex institution serves memory well

Speaking from several experiences, I know that marriage has its ups and downs. You have to judge it by the long haul, because it can be miserable in the short run; a bad week out of a lifetime relationship is not very long, and yet it can end a marriage. So it is in the life of restaurants. Moctezuma's on the corner of Willis and hot-again Henderson has changed its name a couple of times, as I have--in previous incarnations, it has been called Garmo's, Garmo y Lito's--and it's had its ups and downs.

My own feelings for this little place have been fickle. For several years, everyone I knew went there all the time, the food was terrific, and Martin was the top Tex-Mex waiter in town. Then the kitchen seemed to go into a slump, Martin left, and in recent years I haven't been there at all. I still remember the chicken nachos that finally drove me away. But a colleague recommended Moctezuma's recently, and when I revisited it, I found that, like a marriage in its 11th year, it seemed fresh and interesting again. Moctezuma's is a pleasant place, surrounded on three sides by windows looking out on the surrounding patio. I am glad to renew the friendship.

This restaurant opened as an outpost of one of Dallas' bigger Tex-Mex success stories, the original McKinney Avenue Moctezuma's (sister restaurant of Genaro's Tropical), the '80s margarita-and-tanning palace. The original's focus then was on high-quality Mexican food, with lots of style. Somehow, it stayed firmly within the Tex-Mex mainstream, but ahead of the flow, occupying the same top-notch niche that Mi Cocina managed to find when it opened a few years ago. It's the kind of place that makes Mexican food seem interesting again, even when it's really the same old thing.

The current Moctezuma's is the only member of its family that remains, and its style has segued from hip to healthy. For the most part, the trend toward "healthy" Mexican food is pure baloney, the degree to which this philosophy diminishes the pleasure of the food far outweighing its supposed benefits. I do like La Suprema and its same-named hip sib in Las Colinas, but they actually claim only to be vegetarian, and there is probably as much fat in those goat-cheese quesadillas as in any traditional dish.

Fortunately, although the menu at Moctezuma's boasts that the only oil the kitchen now cooks with is olive, there is still enough fat in this food to carry the flavor and then some. The menu also says Moctezuma's serves all-natural B3R beef, from the herd raised up in Childress that never sees a feedlot. You can taste the difference when you eat the poblano-stuffed steak. The rich, purplish meat is contrasted against sharp, dark green peppers and sprinkled with crumbles of white feta.

There are several vegetarian dishes, too. The "Cha-Cha Enchiladas" don't offer much jaw exercise, but the subtle variations in smoothness--avocado like satin cold cream, black beans with their pussy-willow fuzz, feta cheese like fresh butter--are a luxury on the tongue and are saved from blandness by a tart tomatillo sauce. The same sauce was one of the layers on the just-this-side-of-vegetarian "Monterey Chalupas," a pair of red-chile tostados layered like a birthday cake with a spread of black beans, stewed chicken, lettuce, and guacamole and topped with an ice-cream scoop of commercial sour cream.

The most sublime flauta I've ever eaten, to my memory, was served at the old Garmo's; for some reason, one night the chicken was the whitest, most tender, and most flavorful ever, the tortilla tube was as light and crisp as French pastry, and the guacamole as fine as heavy cream. The ones I ate at Moctezuma's the other night were good, but they didn't measure up to the memory. Of course, that's just one more thing love and food have in common.

--Mary Brown Malouf

Moctezuma's, 2847 N. Henderson, 827-1114. Open Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-3 a.m.

Moctezuma's:
Cha-Ca Enchiladas $7.95
Monterey Chalupas $7.95
Poblano Steak $11.95

 
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