Westfork is our series exploring the dining culture of Fort Worth and its surroundings.
Occasionally I enjoy a little nostalgia. The fondest of these trips down memory lane end up taking me back to the glory days of post-college years in the mid 90s, when my drinking budget was at its then-apex and occasionally there was enough anticipated cash flow to indulge in dinner out before a night of purpose.
Magnolia Avenue gives me that time warp feeling, replete with neighborhood bars, edgy restaurants and a crowd that is effortlessly cooler than I could have ever hoped to be.
It's a feeling I'm used to.
When there, I find myself immediately attracted to Yucatan Taco Stand (909 W. Magnolia), hipper-than-thou patrons and all.
The premise is decidedly fast-casual in concept. Arrive and stand in a line that can range from one to more than twenty minutes long, depending on table availability. Line times seem to be equally dependent on table availability and menu reading skills--and the need to quickly decide from a large menu can be overwhelming under pressure.
Order food and beverages at the counter and find a table. Adult beverages and food are brought out to your table. Those skipping past the menu can proceed directly to the bar, but they'd be missing out on the best part (the food, not the scenery--although both are worth the visit).
It's difficult to get past the well-rounded appetizer menu--and on at least one visit, I didn't. The Empanadas Picadillo stand out among the fifteen options: two thin perfectly crisped pastry crusts filled with lightly spiced ground beef that creates a delightful texture combination. The empanadas rest atop a bed of mildly tangy habanero papaya salsa and creamy garlic aioli. The aioli is thinner than one might expect. On the plus side, its garlickly essence is tamed by a bit of spice.
Ahi Tuna and Sweet Shrimp Ceviche also stand out. Large chunks of fish are lightly dressed in citrus with finely diced fruit, onion, and pepper, garnished with fried plantains, and accompanied by three thin rounds of torta bread garlic toast. For a light eater, this might be a meal in itself if one could resist the other temptations. Other appetizers also received raves from the Westfork posse: Black Beans & Latin Fried Rice, a dish I normally think of as an unremarkable side, were tender and fluffy with just a hint of seasoning to keep bland thoughts at bay. Spicy Yucatan Fish Cakes were crispy outside, delicate inside, no overwhelming fishy taste, dressed up by the now ubiquitous habanero papaya salsa and the more ubiquitous garlic aioli.
Yucca Fries are thickly cut and served with (you guessed it) aioli.
An entrée portioned Chile Relleno Espanole was a large crispy tempura fried pepper filled with spicy beef, cheese, and grilled onions. I tend to find chile rellenos to be overwhelming in consistency but this one was light and well-balanced. The Ground Sirloin Nachos came out as an oversized tower (didn't the get the "not cool anymore" memo?) of crispy chips drizzled in cheese and garlic aioli, piled with large spoonfuls of spiced beef, a multitude of vegetables (grated purple cabbage, tomatoes, onions, jalepenos), guacamole, and sour cream. The portion was too large for one and even shared, left little room for sampling other items.
But I've been hedging around the best part. Tacos are the house specialty and not to be missed. They are served in a double stacked soft white corn tortilla and each topped with a range of finely diced veggies, cheese, queso fresco, and the ever-present garlic aioli. Geez.
The Original Tempura Fish Taco garnered mixed reviews. Some thought the batter overwhelmed the fish flavor while one California member proclaimed it "the best fish taco she'd had since leaving San Diego". One definitely must like fried fish to appreciate this selection, no doubt. The Spicy Tequila Shrimp Taco caught my attention with large chunks of shrimp that blended nicely with the tang of queso fresco--each bite was a well rounded blend of flavors. Only the garlic shredded beef taco disappointed - there was no real flavor balance and it seemed as if I should be eating it open-face with a fork.
Grilled Latin sandwiches come served on large rounds of grilled torte bread which is slightly sweet and incredibly soft and fluffy. Our group sampled two--the garlic shredded beef and the tequila lime chicken and I was careful to sneak bites of both when they were unguarded. Torture, as I dreamed about the mix of bread, meat, gentle cheese, and aioli for weeks after. Plus, those portions came accompanied by a side of long thin crisp fried plantains and a side dish of the garlic aioli to dip them in.
Individual aioli, yes.
The crowd at Yucatan is selectively casual with daytime crowds drawing a disproportionate share of medical workers from nearby hospitals and evening crowds that are hipper-than-thou in their carefully selected vintage t-shirts...splattered with garlic aioli.
Live music dominates over conversation on Wednesday through Friday evenings and early Saturdays resemble the Anthropologie version of Mommy-and-Me with as many hipster toddlers as table-hopping parents. Now if only I could will myself back to the 20-something flush with cash and not too worried how I'd look in a vintage t-shirt days.
(Second location - 2801 East Southlake Boulevard, Southlake)