Dallas recently got a new spot for Tex-Mex, this one a bit fancier and pricier in the form of Muchacho, Omar Flores’ new spot in the Plaza at Preston Center.
The nature of these “first look” pieces is to give an idea of what the place is about. If we do a full-on review, that comes later.
This line of transparency is in here because we assume that this newly opened restaurant still has tweaks to make and dishes to perfect. And we do feel that way after a recent visit to this one.
First of all, it’s doing something right, as the space — decked out with a bit of cowhide on the walls and just enough accents to make it feel Tejano — was packed with diners on a weeknight. And Muchacho is prepared for it: It had a ton of front-of-house staff working, too.
A couple of two-top tables are situated beneath windows that see into the kitchen — a nice thing at a glance from across the room, perhaps, but if you do get one of these, a glaring white light will grace your face during your meal.
The tamarind margarita was the best part of the night ($15).
To start, you’re probably safe with the margarita list. The house margarita, el Muchacho, has Lunazul tequila anejo, dry orange curacao, agave and lime, on the rocks, frozen or skinny ($10).
The Tamarindo is a fine choice, though, with Ghost tequila, tamarind, lime canela syrup and dry orange Curacao ($15). If you enjoy two of those, you’re about at the price tag of the U.P Marg, the Don Patron, as it’s listed on the menu: Casa Dragones Blanco, ginger, tangerine and Grand Marnier Cuve Luis Alexandre ($29).
Other cocktails range from $11 to $16.
Queso fundido, made even better with chorizo
That said, we’re not at a cheap place. The location wouldn’t have us thinking that anyway, and a good drink at $15 seems more and more like the norm these days.
Chips and a couple of fine salsas will be delivered well before your drinks arrive. If you want more food before the entree, try the queso fundido ($10). We're happy to see this on menus anytime, and it’s perfectly fine here. It comes out bubbling, with that bit of crispness along the edge. It’s a delightful, greasy scoop into a fresh tortilla. Adding chorizo is a solid choice, too ($3).
Other appetizer options include a Mexican shrimp cocktail ($17) and queso with poblano and onion ($8). A next stop would have to include the blue corn molotes (something we don't see on menus everyday): A crispy empanada is filled with chorizo and sweet potato and served with Oaxaca cheese, avocado salsa and toasted sesame ($15).
A pozole verde is on the menu, which we’re always glad to see ($10). But let’s move on to entrees.
These are categorized by combos classicos, enchilada dinners, tacos y tostadas and house favoritos. We figured we’d start at the top with “Combo # Juan,” as it’s written ($20).
Before getting into what this involves, we have to address how it all looked: Everything appeared thrown on the plate, from the enchilada to the cheese for the taco. We're not forgetting we're talking Tex-Mex: It can be beautiful, but those of us who grew up with it know it tastes perfectly fine when it's messy. But here it stood out. When you see other Tex-Mex plates cost $11 and look like they have more intention in the plating, you wonder what’s up here. Surely they were in a hurry — it was busy.
The Combo Juan plate is $20 at Muchacho. (For fun, I sent this photo to a number of other people, having them guess how much it should cost: That range was $9-$14).
A beef picadillo taco is one part: It’s nice to have all the toppings, including some sour cream, but the picadillo was a touch oversalted. The appreciated toppings also make this item one you should eat immediately before all of that quickly makes your crispy taco soggy.
The cheese enchilada seemed like it had time to hang out before it reached our table, as it was a bit rubbery, making it an item worth skipping. There was a rolled taco with chicken al carbon, a simple delivery that didn’t offer any excitement in flavor. The rice and beans were just that — nothing special to report, though in no way offensive in experience or flavor.
On the second interior page of food, my tablemate pointed to the pork belly al pastor, asking our server what he thinks of it ($17). He recommended it, he said. And why shouldn’t he? Achiote and guava-glazed pork belly with charred pineapple, shaved onion, avocado salsa on corn tortillas sound good.
What ended up coming out, though, were three rolled tacos. We had instead been given the tacos al carbon with crispy pork belly ($16).
Tacos al carbon with "carnitas," crispy pork belly ($16)
Again on plating, we needed something more exciting than some naked tortillas. The tacos were plain, but that’s transparent on the menu, which says these house tortillas are rolled with carmelized onion, guacamole, taqueria-style pickles and roasted tomatillo salsa. Really, the meat of your choice (steak and chicken are also available) are rolled with onion. So open it up and make it better with the other listed items, which are elsewhere on the plate.
The pork belly, though, is where we need to pause. Each taco is filled with plenty of it: Yay! But it’s pretty darn dry: bummer.
But, hey, people around us seemed happy. So they either had more margaritas than we did, or they ordered better. In the enchilada section, you can get a plate most of us who grew up in Dallas are used to: chile con carne, which will be my next order ($17).
There are some brisket flautas, more rolled tacos, this time crispy, with shredded brisket, sour cream, guacamole, radish salad, queso fresco and marita salsa ($18).
The combo plate we ordered was almost the chile relleno, which was tempting aside from its $25 price tag. The poblano pepper comes stuffed with beef picadillo, with Chihuahua cheese, charred corn salsa and chile guerro salsa.
It’s a pretty place, offering a fancier environment to go alongside Tex-Mex cuisine. But as they settle into this space, there may be a few things to work out to justify the heftier price tags.
Muchacho, 4011 Villanova St., University Park.