On a late afternoon, after crawling through traffic past Bob’s Steakhouse and The Great American Hero, I pull into Mia’s for the first time in years. There are few things in the world better than a cold, Mexican beer with chips and salsa after a long day and snarling traffic. It’s the closest Dallasites get to dangling our feet into the pool.
For a few minutes, I have an entire area of the restaurant to myself. It’s just me, the vibrantly fuchsia walls, incredible paintings of roosters and never-ending chips and salsa. I find myself doing what I’ve done my whole Texas life — vigorously consuming a basket of tortilla chips like it’s essential nourishment. I smash a lime into a glass of Topo Chico. The wall-unit air conditioner and oscillating fans won’t let me forget that it’s still summer.
And Mia's won't let me forget about the brisket tacos, lightly toasted flour tortillas topped with Monterey Jack, sautéed onions, poblano peppers and brisket bathed in its own gravy. Two tacos come to an order, surrounded by refried beans, rice and a shredded salad. A dipping cup of that brisket gravy sits in the center. The brisket tacos are easily the most discussed and legendary dishes on the menu.
In the early '90s, a little over a decade after opening, owners Ana (known as Mama Mia) and Butch Enriquez served brisket tacos off-menu, only on Wednesdays, until patrons began to line up for them.
"They were actually never on the menu," says owner Mia Enriquez, Ana and Butch's daughter. They served the tacos until they ran out. Sometimes hungry diners waited at length for a table only to find out the tacos were sold out.
"A lot of hangry people at that point,” Enriquez says. "It went to every day but Monday because we were closed on Sundays, and my mom would not let my daddy go into work on Sundays."
Until moving to a new location down the street in 1987, Mia’s was a small strip mall eatery at 4418 Lemmon Ave., a wonderful 12-table hole-in-the-wall.
"There’s a lot of history, you know?" Enriquez says warmly.
When asked if she'd be willing to share her brisket taco recipe, she pauses.
"Now, I can tell you like he [Butch] would tell you if he was here: It starts with a head of cabbage. That’s all I can tell you," she says. "We do slow cook them all night long."
The dish has all the hallmarks of a Tex-Mex classic — a slightly greasy taco loaded with cheese, the flour tortillas capturing that salty brisket gravy. The poblano peppers just barely speak up through the brisket. A spoonful of their kinetic red salsa cuts through, adding a spicy punch. They’re doing their job, but I can’t help feeling like it's a one-note dish. I'm left wanting more.
On a much balmier day, around lunch, I’ve got the #5 combo in front of me: A sour cream enchilada coupled with a cheese enchilada smothered in chili and a crunchy beef taco on the side. This is the pupil-dilating Tex-Mex fare I was looking for.
A good sour cream sauce is utterly addictive. The taco shell is sturdy, with a heaping pile of well-seasoned ground beef. The chili-covered enchilada is rich with hints of spice from the salsa, and it's delicious.
They may be the beloved dish on the menu, but the brisket tacos are not the reason to stay dedicated to Mia’s. There’s unending Tex-Mex pleasure in sharing the many flavors of a combination meal: A spoonful of sour cream sauce here, a forkful of chili cheese there. The food is like family at Mia’s — it’s best when it talks to each other.
Just before I leave Mia’s, on both visits, people pile in one after the other, all smiles and hunger. The tables fill quickly. Behind me, a young man and woman sit and immediately dive into their chips. The man salts the tortilla chips aggressively, and she asks, “Do you want some chip with that salt?” They’re locked into the chips and salsa zone, sharing like everyone else, and more brisket tacos make their way from the kitchen.
Mia's, 4322 Lemmon Ave.