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Plano Tex-Mex

Mi Cocina's food may be tepid, but the margaritas are magnificent


By my third visit to Mi Cocina, undercooked vegetables have become a recurring -- and annoying -- theme. I've got two dining companions this time, and both of them are bitching. One has ordered the camarones chile y ajo from a section of the menu called "The Moderns." The big shrimp, coated with garlic and chile, are terrific. The menu says they come with "Latin stir-fry vegetables and arroz blanco." These turn out to be plain rice and dreadfully crunchy zucchini and carrots. The shrimp are the only thing on the plate worth eating.

Luckily, our mood has been mellowed by another round of Mi Cocina's exceptional cocktails. This time we tried a drink called a "mambo taxi" made by alternating layers of frozen margarita and sangria. I know, it sounds disgusting, but trust me, you'll like it. And you'll also like the "mambo limousine," a taller version of the same drink made with an extra floater shot of Chambord, served straight from the freezer. I think they call the frozen concoction a mambo limousine because on a hot day, you just want to climb in.

Mi Cocina masters frozen drinks, with a variety of fruit- 
and Chambord-laced margaritas.
Troy Fields
Mi Cocina masters frozen drinks, with a variety of fruit- and Chambord-laced margaritas.

My other tablemate has ordered a dish called Mama's chicken con hongos, a grilled and sliced boneless, skinless chicken breast presented fajita-style on a sizzling comal with mushrooms, onions and poblano strips, all of them barely cooked. I make myself a taco out of the chicken and vegetables and nearly choke on it. There's a good reason why poblano chiles are generally roasted and peeled before being used in a recipe, I think to myself as I fish pieces of tough chile skin out of my mouth with my fingers.

I ordered the bistec tampiquena. I hardly ever get a steak in a Tex-Mex restaurant, since it usually turns out to be a thin, gristle-laden slice of chewy beef. But tonight, I make an exception. Mi Cocina's food is designed to please upscale Dallasites, after all. The menu says the steak tampiquena is a filet in Oaxacan mole, so I figure it's a safe bet.

The steak's cut thin for a filet, and I have my doubts when it arrives. But it turns out to be very tender, cooked medium rare. The pale brown mole is delightful, and the Spanish rice and refrieds are just what I want with a Tex-Mex steak. Pretty soon, both of my disgruntled dining companions are raiding my plate to make steak tacos.

I try to protest, but they can barely hear me above the din. A Latino techno beat pounds out of the stereo system, and the noise level rises steadily as the Saturday-night crowd fills the restaurant to capacity. Parents chase their toddlers around the dining room while the bar fills up with middle-aged singles.

On our way out, I notice all the BMWs, Mercedes, Infinitis and Audis parked in front. The restaurant is evidently very popular with the affluent Memorial crowd. And it's ideally located in the same shopping center as Whole Foods.

Modern Tex-Mex is an idea whose time has come. Acenar, Bruce Auden and Lisa Wong's new restaurant on the River Walk in San Antonio, is doing it brilliantly. And so are many other restaurants across the state. Mi Cocina's food is a little bland for many Houstonians, but they're on the right track. Their frozen cocktails are already among the best in the city. Now all they need to do is give their modern Tex-Mex a little "Space City sabor."

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