At Luna de Noche, the Upscale Tex-Mex Formula's Alive and Well

Are they links to dining nirvana.....or are they chains of fools?

So goes the conundrum of chains, those bastions of food consistency so beloved by time-pressed suburbanites and so often despised by die-hard food lovers for their perceived and often very real mediocrity. Endless repetition of mundane cookery seven days a week, 365 days a year, forever. So say their detractors.

To be sure, not all restaurants with multiple locations suffer from this perception. Remember, Craft, Oceanaire, and Lawry's are all chains, and they are often mentioned when the subject of fine dining comes up. The key is to empower a standout chef and let him explore his creativity from time to time while simultaneously presenting the restaurants strong points. One of the best ways to keep a fresh perspective is to introduce new, bolder dishes periodically to the faithful.

Luna de Noche still manages to present a high standard of quality in its signature line of thoughtful Tex-Mex items. But after a decade in operation, a fresh infusion of ideas would not be amiss.

Luna's interior designs have always been one of their strongest points, simultaneously casual and chic. For instance, the Plano location that I recently visited sports cream-colored walls, woods, well-placed plants, and a postmodern bar, complete with water wall. Instead of blaring mariachi music, soft flamenco guitar and South-of-the-Border jazz are used for atmosphere.

The entire effect is sharp enough to be considered upscale, yet laid-back enough for Tex-Mex. I've been to several Lunas over the years, but chose the Plano location because it's newer and I wanted to get a firsthand glimpse of how the interior design has evolved over time.

Luna's salsas excel as well. The red has pronounced garlic notes, the green a more subtle cilantro burn. Superbly marinated fork-tender chicken fajita meat was easily the best dish we tried, served with a classic Tex-Mex cheese enchilada that was quite flavorful. Bean soup was another plus, redolent of bacon and spices, although it lacked the final touch of smokiness that really makes this dish sing. Spicy Enchiladas featured shredded beef, not the all-too-typical ground, plus pork commingled with cheddar cheese, tomatoes, onions, and serrano chiles, served with rice and rather soupy refried beans. The serranos added an extra punch to the dish, greatly assisting the pork, which was slightly bland. The beef was spiced more aggressively, although a bit too dry.

Total with tax and generous tip for the very good service was $40, which was somewhat expensive for a meal for two people with iced tea and no alcohol.

All things considered, Luna de Noche is an excellent Tex-Mex chain meal, one that was state of the art for Dallas a decade ago. Since then, however, other worthy contenders have entered the fray, such as Carolinas and Los Cucos, and both places feature more choices not typical of area chains such as carnitas, caldo de res, and pollo con mole. Surely, Luna de Noche shows enough staying power to remain a player in the new decade, but they need to expand their offerings to suit the ever-growing sophistication of Dallas and suburban diners. To not do so might be quite foolish.

Luna De Noche
1401 Preston Rd
972 818-2727

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Chris Meesey