Tacos, enchiladas, burritos--oh my.
These are the standard fare of Mexican food chains throughout Dallas, and despite certain subtle differences, their taste is difficult to distinguish from one chain to the next, from one location to the next. In these establishments, nachos purchased in Duncanville taste remarkably similar to nachos ordered in Allen. Too predictable and dull. Why can't chains at least offer more interesting dishes found in some of the better joints located along Oak Cliff, Webb Chapel, and Maple, and at taquerias scattered throughout the city and burbs?
Well, in the past year, a couple of new contenders have quietly entered the fray, such as Carolinas, which serves a seductive Pollo en Mole, and Los Cabos, where you can request a fiery habanero sauce. For months, my wife and I have been carefully monitoring Los Cucos Mexican Café, and while their fare may never equal the food at El Ranchito or La Calle Doce, their more assertive flavor profile and dishes new to Dallas chains may just have nudged the bar higher.
Los Cucos Plano location sits in an adobe-esque building reminiscent of a San Antonio mission, where the wild game restaurant Tenaya once stood. Inside, the sprawling complex seats over 150 patrons, so you might worry about getting a good food and good service where everything is on such a gargantuan scale. On this occasion, my wife and I decided to sit in the bar, where there were only a few other patrons. We were assisted by an able bartender capable of multi-tasking. He nimbly concocted drinks, delivered food, spoke in Spanish to other staff members, and listened to music coming from his headset, all night long.
Since it was Happy Hour-- chips and salsa and other goodies were readily available in a corner of the bar-- my wife and I took advantage. Most of these were mundane, but the beef taco meat and the salsa provided a swift kick of spice, which was the case with most of what we ate.
You see, Los Cucos is based in and around Houston, where most of its venues are located--that and central Texas. Typically, diners in these parts prefer a more aggressive flavor profile, so the cooks often turn the heat up a notch, with more satisfying results than the bland fare too frequently available in the metroplex.
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My carnitas fritas confirmed as much: Chunks of slow-cooked pork loin were served with a zippy tomatillo sauce, and the well-browned meat was nicely spiced and presented with sour cream, onions, avocado slices, pico, very good tortillas, and nice rice and borracho beans. Rather than the sides, the slightly fatty meat was clearly the star of the plate. The meat was also stellar in my wife's Chicken Fajitas a La Cucos: Tender chicken with a citrus tang was covered with sautéed mushrooms, tomatoes, jalapenos, onions, cilantros, and Los Cucos sauce. The citrus and cilantro notes balanced each other nicely, but if you want a fiery presentation, they offer a diabla version as well.
The hefty menu is of Tolstoy proportions, and may seem intimidating to those accustomed to a one-page bill of fare. We paired our meals with Dos Equis draft (Los Cucos could use a few more draft selections, as there were only three), and we chatted up the bartender, who had worked in several locations and was proud of his company and the intense training they provided.
In sum, while there are certainly better options for Mexican dining along Jefferson Avenue, Los Cucos succeeds where other chains fall flat.
LOS CUCOS MEXICAN CAFÉ
1900 Dallas Parkway