First Look

El Vecino Is Bringing Great Tex-Mex to the Shores of White Rock Lake

El Vecino True Tex Mex opened just east of White Rock Lake in mid-October.
El Vecino True Tex Mex opened just east of White Rock Lake in mid-October. Brian Reinhart
At White Rock Lake’s newest Tex-Mex restaurant, culinary heritage runs in the family.

El Vecino, on Buckner Boulevard just east of the lake’s sailing club, opened Oct. 16, but its heritage runs deeper than that. Owner John Michael McBride is a direct descendant of Miguel and Faustina Martinez, who founded El Fenix nearly a century ago. Not surprisingly, McBride worked at El Fenix while the chain was still family owned, and he spent a few years at New York City’s iconic Tex-Mex chain, Rosa Mexicano.

El Vecino has been slammed more or less from day one, an instant hit in the neighborhood — so it’s good to report that the Tex-Mex here promises to be excellent. I stopped in at 8 p.m. one Thursday night and took a seat at the bar, every table still full. The bartenders marveled at the place’s instant popularity to anyone who would listen.

click to enlarge Charley's Choice is a combo of three styles of enchilada. From left: chicken mole, brisket in guajillo salsa and shrimp in poblano crema. - BRIAN REINHART
Charley's Choice is a combo of three styles of enchilada. From left: chicken mole, brisket in guajillo salsa and shrimp in poblano crema.
Brian Reinhart
Then my food showed up and I understood why. I’d gone for a small appetizer of guacamole ($5.95) and the Charley’s Choice ($13.95), a combo plate of three enchiladas, poblano-green rice and refried beans. Each enchilada sported a different filling and a different sauce: a brisket enchilada with guajillo pepper salsa, a chicken mole enchilada and an enchilada stuffed with tiny shrimp and topped with poblano crema.

El Vecino makes its mole in-house from 19 ingredients, and it’s a rich mole with nuttiness, a strong hint of chocolate and the barest hint of heat. The chicken underneath was actual pieces, not shredded mush. The poblano enchilada mostly caught my attention because the shrimp inside, small as they are, didn’t overcook and kept a delightful texture. But the star of the plate was the brisket enchilada with big chunks of meat and a spicy guajillo sauce that had me scraping the plate with my fork for another hit of flavor. Combine that with the creamy, fatty, big-time beans and we have a winner.

click to enlarge The interior at El Vecino features warm blues, greens and teals and a few brightly-colored booths. - BRIAN REINHART
The interior at El Vecino features warm blues, greens and teals and a few brightly-colored booths.
Brian Reinhart
There are a few kinks to work out as the restaurant learns its neighborhood and adjusts to its high demand. I was surprised, for instance, to find out that my $5.95 guacamole appetizer came with exactly one tortilla chip. (The kitchen probably assumed that I had a basket of chips, but as a party of one, I wasn’t provided any.) Never mind: The guacamole was good enough, with generous chunks of avocado, tomato and onion to enliven the texture, that I ate the whole bowl with a fork.

In addition to all the classics — borracho bean soup, fajitas, chile relleno, breakfasts served all day — El Vecino also has a slightly more modern selection of main courses. There’s a “lasagna” of stacked corn tortillas, cochinita pibil and a chicken breast stuffed with huitlacoche.

Dallas has a lot of Tex-Mex restaurants coasting on their reputations, getting lazy or otherwise half-assing their way through mushy enchiladas and syrupy frozen margaritas. We won’t name any names, but El Vecino is a fresh reminder that good Tex-Mex is still going strong and a reminder to Dallas restaurateurs that a great neighborhood spot with quality execution is always welcome. We’ll be back.

El Vecino True Tex Mex, 718 N. Buckner Blvd., No. 108. 469-802-6060, elvecinotexmex.com. Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
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Brian Reinhart has been the Dallas Observer's food critic since spring 2016. In addition, he writes baseball analysis for the Hardball Times and covers classical music for the Observer and MusicWeb International.
Contact: Brian Reinhart