Winds of fortune

Talk about timing: Pablo and Olga Esparza opened Amaya's Grill in Lancaster just five weeks before the tornado hit. Undaunted by the disaster, the family rebuilt their south-of-the-Trinity location and then expanded north to a second restaurant across from Love Field.

The night we ate there, our party included two children, and though not that many tables were taken, I'm afraid that our group and a full wedding party, complete with three kids and a bride in full lace and satin regalia, made the place seem very full to a couple of quiet twosomes.

But Amaya's is a comfortable, family-run place, and the waitress was accommodating to all of us, taking pictures of the bride and groom with their friend the photographer, bringing the food to our kids first (perhaps to stop the imaginary baseball game), and providing everyone with complimentary beers because the liquor license "wasn't ready yet."

There are a million (so it seems to a food writer) Mexican restaurants in Dallas; it's usually a challenge to find something more to say about another plate of cheese enchiladas with chili. WordPerfect seems to have only so many synonyms for "meaty," "melted," and "rich."

Fortunately for me and my overtaxed word-processing program, at Amaya's, there is lots of other stuff to talk about. We ordered a "Tornado '94" basket and found it to be the kind of fry fest you used to order at a drive-in--piled with fried chicken fingers, french fries, fried cheese sticks, and fried stuffed jalapenos. Heart-stopping stuff, but what Tex-Mex aficionado was ever afraid of a little grease?

On the more traditional side, a plate of assorted botanas held some fine quesadillas and nachos that were nearly soggy with the pile-up of ingredients on each chip.

Amaya's is one of the few restaurants in town that serves nopalitos--yes, that would be cactus pads--and on weekends they serve caldo de res, a home-made soup based on beef ribs with vegetables that undoubtedly should have made it on to the great soups list a few weeks ago.

Gorditas became familiar to Dallasites when Zuzu opened; the dainty little patties served there are only distant cousins to the mammoth, meat-filled gorditas served at Amaya's. Three of these come on a platter, each a hefty corn cake a full four inches across, one stuffed to overflowing with too much taco meat, another with smoky beans and cheese, the best one with big hunks of barbecued chicken. One would have been a meal; it staggers the imagination to think of eating them all. (How did we manage?)

Spinach enchiladas were filled with fresh greens sweetened with onions (the promised mushrooms were missing), and the poblana a la parrilla, an excellent variation on the usual battered chile relleno, was a grilled pepper stuffed with an incredible amount of melted cheese (I guess it might as well have been fried, if you're into fat grams) and chunks of chicken.

And for all you die-hards, of course there are enchiladas, tamales, and tacos on the menu--in fact our dear ex-governor Ann ate them all on the "Texas Tornado Plate" when she visited Lancaster.

Speaking of disasters.

--Mary Brown Malouf

Amaya's, 3701 W. Northwest Highway, 352-2863. Open Monday-Thursday 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday-Saturday 11 a.m.--9:30 p.m. Sunday 11 a.m.-9 p.m.

Amaya's Grill:
Tornado '94 Basket $6.50
Enchilada Dinner $5.25
Chile Relleno $6.



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