When people think of comfort food, they often think of deep-fried or slow-roasted favorites, from donuts to pot roasts. Whether you call this cuisine “greasy spoon,” “diner fare,” or “New American,” it’s typically heavy, fatty, and filling, not to mention familiar, giving you a good, balmy feeling, like sweatpants and a couch on a rainy Saturday. There’s other ubiquitous comfort in America, though, that has nothing to do with meatloaf or dishes covered in potato-chip crusts. If you’re looking for a satisfying meal that’s probably terrible for you, you eat Tex-Mex. And at Mexico Real, the Tex-Mex is as comforting as it gets.
The standard Tex-Mex air here starts at the rustic-looking door and continues past the curio-covered cashier’s counter and through a dining room and bar decorated with faux windows and arches and a mural depicting imaginary Mexican scenery. Seating is at booths or a grid of tables with the most uncomfortable wooden chairs I’ve ever sat in at a restaurant. Straight-backed (I’m talking a 90-degree angle), these chairs are heavy the way ghost peppers are hot, and I defy any petulant toddler (or petulant human at any age) to move one in a fit of rage. Lean forward when you eat, I guess.
From there, the paint and texture changes. The next part of the room offers standard cushioned stackable chairs, and the décor becomes a lot less Mexican and a lot more “this is an aisle at Garden Ridge.” If you happen to be seated in the third area, you might think you’re in a different restaurant, because its walls are covered in what looked like unglazed, russet-colored tile.
Fortunately, no matter where you sit, the menu is always the same. There’s a bit by comedian Jim Gaffigan that basically pares Mexican food down to beans, meat, tortillas, and cheese, and Mexico Real doesn’t stray too far from these staples. The only add-ons: spinach and mushrooms.
Trying to eat outside the stable of typical Mexican plates, I settled on the Chef’s Enchiladas: basically, sour cream chicken enchiladas with spinach and mushrooms. Not terribly inventive but tasty nevertheless, the enchiladas were gooey with sour cream sauce but not so rich that I couldn’t taste the spinach inside.
On my second visit, I went with the carne guisada. What you get with this order at most Tex-Mex places is a heaping plate of succulent beef tips sharing space with stewed tomatoes and peppers in a pool of gravy, all of which puts me in a food coma. At Mexico Real, the carne guisada plate was exactly the right amount of food, enough to make two-and-a-half tacos with the flour tortillas on the side. The sauce was a little thin and the plate was light on veggies, but I’ve never gone to a Mexican restaurant for a salad, so it didn’t really bother me — I was more impressed with the portion size and the savory tenderness of the meat, though I would’ve really enjoyed the stew if I’d had the option of making it spicier.
The aforementioned salad arrived as a side with Martha’s Platter, though as usual it was little more than taco toppings. I ate it anyway. The platter’s main event was a huge slab of seasoned chicken breast smothered in sour cream sauce and cheddar cheese, and I would’ve felt ashamed not to nibble the greenery as well — kind of like ordering a Diet Coke with a Big Mac. Unlike a Big Mac, though, Martha’s dish was legitimately enjoyable. Like the Chef’s Enchiladas, the breast was cooked with spinach and mushrooms. Again I worried that Mexico Real’s preferred veg-and-fungus flavor team would be bowled over in a wave of cheesy creaminess, but they carried the day, and I scarfed down the whole thing.
There is nothing at Mexico Real that will blow the mind of any gourmand, Tex-Mex connoisseur, or foodie wannabe, but it hits the mark with adequately tasty south-of-the-border dishes. “Adequate” moves up to “surprisingly good” when the menu stretches in the direction of spinach and mushrooms. Daily lunch specials are cheap ($5.95) and offer the usual combos of tamales, burritos, and enchiladas. Cherry and peach dessert flautas will appeal to the kids. If you eat at a table in the front room, you might even get them to sit down and stay there. Better still, the service is speedy and well-timed — even the giant chicken breast on the Martha’s Platter didn’t slow things down. The place won’t wow you with anything fancy or inventive, but it will impress you with good fundamentals and great execution.
5613 McCart Av, FW. 817-337-5337. 11am-2pm Sun, 11am-9pm Mon-Thu, 11am-10pm Fri-Sat.
MasterCard, Visa accepted.
Martha’s Platter ………. $10.25
Carne guisada ………….. $8.95
Chef’s Enchiladas …….. $8.25
Daily lunch special ……. $5.95