Even diehard fans of traditional Mexican cuisine will admit the fare tends to be too heavy while also being light on flavor. It’s as if the goal of a typical plate of enchiladas was merely to fill up your stomach rather than engage your tastebuds. But Don Mario’s, a family-owned Mexican restaurant in southwest Arlington, succeeds admirably at both: Their dishes leave you sated –– overstuffed, if you’re not careful –– but happy that each bite was full of delicate, sometimes surprising flavors.
As a starter, the roasted poblano corn soup was far from the light affair we expected –– the steaming “broth” was white cheese-based and very thick, filled with big, sweet kernels of yellow corn, small pieces of grilled chicken, and bits of earthy, mild peppers. Wonderfully spiced and savory, it was more like a queso designed to be eaten with a spoon — remember that before you order it as a first course.
All of Don Mario’s plates are served with sides of sticky, orange-red Mexican rice and either refried or charro beans. Do yourself a favor and pick the charros. They were delish: a mildly spicy, stew-like concoction of whole pintos, green chiles, and salty bits of lightly fatty ham. They went especially well with the Baja enchiladas: made with corn tortillas that had the soft, cake-like texture of masa (the cornmeal base for tamales). Fresh guacamole filled the three ’tillas, which were covered in a sour, citrusy green tomatillo sauce with bits of roasted chicken breast. Strips of mild Monterey jack were melted on top. The flavors of the tomatillo sauce and the guac, rather than the chicken, dominated the dish, making it a refreshing option on a hot day.
The Jayson’s burrito was slightly smaller than those stuffed monsters you order ingredient by ingredient at the counter, but it still could’ve made two meals. A thick, warm, fluffy flour tortilla was filled with rich ground sirloin, refried beans, and gooey white cheese and smothered with a rich red “chile con carne”-type sauce that also had ground beef and thick strips of mild yellow cheese. It was too messy to eat by hand but also tough to divide with a mere fork, so out came the knife. The sirloin gave the whole dish a marvelous, extra savory edge.
The shrimp Acapulco was another hit: six large, plump, grilled shrimp tightly wrapped in tender strips of salty, fat-striped bacon. The small side of hot, oily tequila-lime dipping sauce was good but actually got in the way of the heavenly bacon-crustacean duet, so we left it alone. The grilled vegetable medley came as a small side stack, but the still-crisp vertical carrot slices, broccoli florets, cabbage strips, red onion, and large zucchini slices were so fresh and flavorful, we wanted more.
The Mercado’s chicken appeared to be the simplest entrée we ordered, so plain someone could mistake it as a low-calorie dish. But the thick chicken breast, lean but juicy, had been grilled and lightly sauced with a garlic butter condiment that, rather than overwhelming the meat with buttery force, brought out all of the natural poultry deliciousness. (And probably kicked up the fat calories by a few hundred digits.) It nicely summed up our whole experience at Don Mario’s –– ample portions of Mex-Mex fare that didn’t stint on intricate flavors.
5900 W I-20, Arlington. 817-478-2887.
11am-10pm Sun-Thu, 11am-11pm Fri & Sat. All major credit cards accepted.
Jayson’s burrito ………………. $8.99