Very few things are like they used to be. Everything changes, and “everything” includes menus at favorite restaurants. But not at Fiesta. The traditional Southside Tex-Mex eatery does things much as it did when it opened 33 years ago. In this case, the adherence to tradition is also dedication to simplicity and quality –– two traits that have helped keep Fiesta in business for so long.
Upon entering, customers see an employee making tortillas by hand. The smell of doughy corn gets the appetite going. A member of the Barriga family, which has owned Fiesta since the beginning, sits behind the cash register. Someone with a smile seats guests and then promptly returns with drinks (in red plastic tumblers) and homemade chips and salsa.
Fiesta’s salsa won’t win any culinary awards, but it is fresh and just spicy enough. Everyone at the table gets a personal ceramic bowl, and the servers usually offer fresh corn tortillas. Only a fool would turn down a new handmade tortilla.
A recent lunch crowd was mostly down-home Fort Worthians. Somehow the number of staff members seems to match the number of diners. And I’ve seen some of the same smiling faces serving up the food here for the last 10 years. Any place that retains a happy staff is worth return visits. A smiling staffer probably means that he or she likes to eat there too.
The lunch menu fills only one side of one page, but that’s enough space to satisfy just about any Tex-Mex craving: Tacos, enchiladas, tamales, chimichangas, and salads are all there. Can’t decide? Fiesta also offers a combo plate. Lunchgoers can choose one, two, or three main dishes with rice and beans. It’s a bargain too. A sampler of three entrées with a side of rice and refried or ranchero beans empties the wallet of about eight bucks.
The chimichanga was filled with ground beef and fried to a golden crispiness on the outside. The inside part was soft and chewy and complemented by a sidecar of fresh guacamole, earthy in both flavor and texture. The plastic ramekin of watery, bland queso didn’t add anything to the platter.
Fiesta’s dinner menu is a little more extensive. Almost everything on it, however, can be fashioned from a handful of carefully selected ingredients. And everything is super-fresh, from the avocados that accompany the tortilla soup to the shrimp for the seafood fajitas and the tomatoes that are somehow incorporated into almost every dish. No brown spots or wilted lettuce in sight here.
The appetizers include quesadillas, flautas, nachos, and guacamole. And soups. The chicken and tortilla soups were slow-cooked to flavorful, spicy perfection. The meat and vegetables were not overcooked, and there was no film of grease on top. The chef’s grandmother would be proud.
For dinner, Fiesta offers all of the expected items plus a few house specialties. The beef fajitas came out sizzling like they should, and the beef (which also can be stuffed inside a gordita, taco, or salad) was seasoned with Texican spices such as garlic and cayenne and then grilled to a melt-in-your-mouth texture. The cheese enchiladas, which were not skimpy with the cheese, were carefully baked for that hard-to-achieve balance between soft and crispy.
Fiesta has a bar, but it seems to be there for appearances only. An antique Budweiser sign advertising the “World Champion Clydesdale team” sits above the domestic tap beers and tequila selection.
The dining room is also tranquil. Sounds of conjunto music float around the paintings of desert landscapes and jungle birds. The hacienda-tile floor is spotlessly clean, though the vinyl chairs are so cracked that you wonder if they’re original to the place. No one seems to mind, though. The shabby chic only adds to the “way things used to be” vibe. And that’s just one more reason to visit Fiesta.
Fiesta Mexican Restaurant
3233 Hemphill St, FW. 817-923-6941.
11am-5pm Mon, 11am-9pm Tue-Thu, 11am-10pm Fri-Sat.
All major credit cards accepted
Fajita special (lunch) $8.49
Chimichanga plate (lunch) $6.59
A la carte gordita $3.99
Chili con queso cup $3.99
Fajita dinner $11.99
Flauta dinner $8.99