Short Orders: Primo's

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3309 McKinney

I have to admit that I've learned not to expect much from Primo's. Not that it's a bad place, just that the kitchen doesn't justify the crowds.

As Tex-Mex goes, Primo's is a middling restaurant--and the Dallas standard is pretty low to begin with. Yet it's blessed with a large and loyal set of regulars. I remember even reading in an Alan Peppard column years ago that Dean Fearing took some famous folks from the culinary world there for dinner (leading me to suspect Fearing's tastes).

That being said, the restaurant fries up some of the better stuffed jalapenos you'll find in Dallas.

Yeah, they are just meat and cheese piled into a common chile. In most places, what you remember from an order of poppers is either a rush of heat or a gush of sour cream. But here the experience breaks down into several stand out encounters. The jalapenos tend toward the upper end of their Scoville possibilities, for one. So the kitchen cools the appetizer with a creamy dip, one that both softens the blow and underscores some of the vegetal bitterness hidden in each chile. Then instead of force-feeding the beast with a mass of sour cream, they fill it loosely with just enough cheese to add supporting sharpness to nicely browned chicken. All this sits under a crunchy, dry, mottled crust.

So Primo's is capable of wringing as much as you can from common Tex-Mex. Wish they'd do it more often.

Tacos camparos fall into their typical 'just good enough to satisfy Uptown' category. Fajita beef can be parched and stringy or--if you're lucky--chewy with a roughcut flavor. But this sits in a dull cheese and is folded into forgettable corn tortillas. You can add pico de gallo at your pleasure, though it won't help.

Still, the kitchen offsets this with a salsa much more resonant--and smoky--than the fiery bitch they serve with chips.

Nothing much changes at Primo's. The cooking is generally mundane. Their popularity rests on location and the kitchen's ability to maintain a known standard--and for this they deserve to be applauded.

It's all too easy for a restaurant to drift once popularity is achieved and investor pockets lined. Primo's doesn't aim at stellar Tex-Mex. They just don't sink to the point where patrons start turning away.

Such is the path to success.

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