At Wahoo, things go better with booze.
At Wahoo, things go better with booze.
Kristen Karlisch

Bump in the Road

Like the burger and onion ring, Tex-Mex has become a tavern staple, and it's no surprise why. It's salty, which generates the thirst that generates the cash from drink sales. This cuisine is highly absorptive, which means it serves as a stomach-lining hurdle: a bean-cheese-tortilla-salsa speed bump that keeps your blood from becoming a fire hazard before you can pay the bill.

Wahoo Grill & Cantina, whose inspiring motto is "life, liberty, libations...and some tasty food" (Thomas Jefferson must be so jealous), has lots of speed-bump fare: nachos, fajitas, tamales, quesadillas, flautas, tacos and seven kinds of salsa that can be ordered to go. There's even a hefty side of "queso boracho," in case you want to dress your bump in caution yellow. And like virtually every bar-centric concept in the greater Dallas area, Wahoo is drenched in picture-tube flicker (a big-screen TV as big as a highway lane in the "Cedar Room"), and lots of creative happy hour specials. Monday night is neighborhood night out where folks residing in certain ZIP codes take 15 percent off all food. "Scrub ya Tuesdays" offers half off on appetizers and deeply discounted happy hour drinks for all those who arrive dressed in scrubs, an apparent pitch to the Presbyterian Hospital crowd, though the sight of hospital workers acquiring a happy hour hum on account of their attire might be terrifying to some. Wahoo also has a blizzard of frozen margarita recipes including coconut, sangria swirl, mango and so on.

The speed-bump part doesn't work as well as you might expect. We found ourselves drinking faster than we ate, and not because of thirst. The food is...let's just say it would make a fine stand-in for asphalt.

Tortilla soup comes tethered to a choice of a half order of nachos or a half order of quesadillas. The surface of the soup flickers with a grease patina. The quesadillas were spongy and greasy and stuffed with chicken drenched in barbecue sauce--a mosaic of industrial-strength flavors.

But while the tortilla soup and accompaniments were hefty and clumsy, the ceviche was puny and clumsy. Settled on a plate of garden sprawl (lettuce, avocado and tomato cluttered with tortillas strips), the nuggets of marinated white fish, "krab" (a shellfish impostor), shrimp and scallops were spongy and lacked the brisk bite of a thorough lime marination, though there were pepper spikes breaking out of the puddle of weak fluid soaking the whole assembly.

That illustrious krab substance makes another appearance in the crab rolls, angle-cut cones of crispness injected with a dark pasty substance allegedly composed of white fish, krab meat, mushroom and cream cheese. It looked like Vegemite, that Australian delicacy made from leftover brewers' yeast extract, though it was hard to tell in the flicker of the Oklahoma and Colorado bout in the Cedar Room. While seafood allegedly resides in these cones, there's virtually no evidence of any briny-sweet ocean flavors. It's a kind of drowsy cone with a crunch.

Pulled pork residing in the tamales kind of pulled Wahoo out of its protein slump. It was juicy and tasty. But the masa tamale armor was mushy, and the cilantro-pesto chili sauce that topped these corn dogs was dull.

Much better was the Oaxaca enchilada, a flattened corn tortilla log stuffed with juicy oven-roasted beef, peppers, onions and cheese and topped with a concentrated and tangy charred tomato sauce. A side of black beans was firm and smoky, but the rice was hard and parched and curled like a batch of freeze-dried reptile meal. "Fiery slaw" didn't even smoke.

Tacos picked up the tempo a little more. The "macho taco" was crammed with savory mesquite-grilled beef, sour cream and shredded cheese. Texas fish taco, with ingots of delicate white fish coated in a corn crust, was just as tasty, though the thick four tortillas thwacked both versions with excessive doughiness.

Wahoo is a comfortable neighborhood outlet done up in yellow and red with rough wood paneling and thick rough-hewn chairs in the Cedar Room. It's also stuffed with arcade games--Galaga, Missile Command, Centipede, Ms. Pac Man, etc.--with bright paintings on the walls of flowers and fruit. Not exactly smooth congruency, but then again speed bumps exist to jar.


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