Chef Paul Willis has his fingerprints all over some of the area’s most popular restaurants, including Fuzzy’s Tacos, Yucatan Taco Stand, and the now-defunct Pedro’s Trailer Park. Willis sells a simple package these days: He develops menus for restaurateurs, and if the concept is followed without much tweaking, success probably ensues.
Willis’ latest kitchen endeavor is Buffalo Cantina Mexican Kitchen & Tequileria, which has a sort of unfavorable location just south of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. The restaurant is too far from Arlington attractions to be doable for a pre- or post-event meal and too far from the airport itself to provide an escape from a three-hour layover. Nonetheless, Buffalo Cantina seems to have become somewhat of a local watering hole, as evidenced by the full parking lot on a recent Wednesday evening.
The place features some of the things that Willis’ restaurants do best. The place looks lovely: cool and shady inside and out. The dainty patio is fancified by some progressive art on the walls and lots of wood and stone. Look at the eclectic dishware and glassware and sample a margarita –– Yucatan Taco Stand’s DNA is everywhere. But Buffalo Cantina offers some interesting fusion items that stray from the traditional funky-Mex and -Latin cuisine for which Willis is known.
The wasabi guacamole with chips was basically a great serving of traditional guac. There was no discernible wasabi bite or pungent smell. Either the kitchen is still tinkering with the recipe, or the combo wasn’t successful.
The dish came with a beautiful scoop of pico de gallo that featured tiny diced cucumbers in with the tomato, plus onion and spices. The cucumber added a fresh taste and a nice crunch to the dish.
The chipotle salsa is the mild, puréed, smoky variety, not the so-hot-your-lips-fall-off kind. Like at Fuzzy’s, the tasty corn chips are dusted with something mildly chile-like.
The Firecracker Calamari were perfectly cooked (not rubbery), but the breading was more cracker, less fire. The garlic aioli, however, was worth slathering all over the calamari –– and almost anything else we could lay hands on.
The appetizer of crawfish-and-chorizo empanadas was quite impressive. I was expecting something the size of my thumb, but the three empanadas that appeared were the size of softballs –– and stuffed with spicy chorizo. We lost the taste of the delicate crawfish, partly due to the sweetly tart chimichurri sauce on top. The pastry exteriors were impeccably flaky, not mushy.
Finally, the Manchego-cheese-and-mushroom quesadillas were a lovely take on grilled cheese. Perfectly cooked and deliciously gooey, the comfort food was a favorite.
The chipotle garlic chicken enchiladas smelled and tasted heavenly: not too spicy, with a great kick of garlic and some tart queso fresco. The chicken was nicely moist and shredded. The plate came with what the menu describes as “Latin BBQ rice” but what was actually just saffron-colored dirty rice. The black beans were excellent, with spice provided by more of that pico de gallo.
The Cuban-style beef chorizo torta sandwich was an impossibly large serving of beef sausage, a fried egg, garlic mayo, Chihuahua cheese, and avocado, all between slices of slightly sweet grilled bread. The sandwich wasn’t as flat or dry as a panino. Spicy, deliciously oozy, and remarkably flavorful, the nontraditional torta was a winner.
And I appreciated our server’s honesty: None of the three desserts is house-made. I settled for finishing an extremely potent slushy margarita, which was house–made. Besides, we were too full from the large portions.
Buffalo Cantina Mexican Kitchen & Tequileria
4120 Highway 360, Ste 101, FW. 817-868-7800.
Closed Sun, 11am-10pm Mon-Thu, 11am-11pm Fri-Sat. All major credit cards accepted.
Chipotle garlic chicken enchiladas…………………. $7
Beef chorizo torta……………………………………….. $8
Crawfish-and-chorizo empanadas……………….. $8
Firecracker Calamari w/roasted garlic aioli…….. $9