The words “gluten-free” and “Tex-Mex” combine in a way that makes your average cowboy grimace. In reality, Mexican cuisine, like most Western regional cuisines, is heavy on green veggies, beans, and corn, all of which lack the particular protein that gluten-intolerant folks can’t digest. The premise behind North Fort Worth’s Elote Mexican Kitchen, according to co-owners (and wife and husband) Cynthia and Justin Loeb, is fresh, healthy Tex-Mex with multiple flourless options. The couple also owns the nearby Oliva Italian Eatery, and Cynthia’s extensive restaurant experience –– both front and back of the house and sommelier work –– shows. It’s there in the décor (gorgeous black-and-white prints by Austin-based artist Alfonso Huerta) and the eclectic menu.
Elote’s menu is full of unusual takes on Tex-Mex. There are no fajitas and no orange Velveeta queso, but there are some semi-exotic offerings that I’ve never seen before, like the Elote Especial: a whole roasted ear of corn slathered with mayo, cotija cheese, and spices. The corn was roasted to almost-burned in some spots, but the heat brought out the sweetness in the kernels. Add that to the piquant cheese and spicy chile sprinkle, and the appetizer was absolutely, messily divine — but not enough to share.
The Chips Fiesta (salsa, queso, and guacamole) seemed to be the best way to sample the three Tex-Mex faves, and the serving was so generous a diner could make a meal out of this one appetizer. The salsa was heavy on crushed tomatoes, which gave the whole dish a mild and slightly disappointing ketchup-y taste –– although the gringo at the table did prefer this mild salsa to other, spicier versions. The white queso, a combo of queso blanco and pepper jack cheese, got better and tastier as it cooled. Elote’s version of guacamole was excellent: heavy on the red onion, not too spicy, not too much cilantro.
At Elote, you pick your item (taco, burrito, salad, whatever) and then pick your “substance”: the protein or veggie stuffing. The burrito can be ordered either with flour wrapping or as a “bare-ito,” a.k.a. served with the stuffing on a plate. The slow-cooked brisket sounded good and, ordered as a burrito, tasted better. The flour tortilla was so generously stuffed with the meat (fall-apart tender and delicious) that the beans, jack cheese, rice, and lettuce were a little overwhelmed. The ginormous construction was served cut in half, leaving my dining companion to giggle about “rolling a fat one.”
The salad, to which we added shredded chicken, was also an excellent choice. A generous plate of mixed lettuce came out with the savory and wonderful bird in a little corn tortilla cup. The dressing choices included a Caesar-avocado, which was inventive but unnecessary –– the guacamole left over from the starter course called out to us. For fun, we added a side of the spicy spinach. The sautéed green was hotter than Texas concrete in July, although a generous dump of the queso cooled off the fire and enhanced the flavor of both.
The Loebs have done a great job in creating a fast-casual dining experience. The margaritas –– a mere $5 all day, every day –– were homemade, strong, and better than any I’ve tasted in upscale establishments. The far North Fort Worth location suffers from being an island in the middle of extensive construction (especially if you approach from the Keller side). The kitchen is not strictly gluten- free, because of the presence of the flour tortillas. However, the staff says they’re prepared in a separate area. If you’re truly gluten-free for health reasons, you might ask. Otherwise, just enjoy.
Elote Mexican Kitchen
12584 N Beach St, FW (in the Kroger shopping center). 817-741-3600. 11am-9pm Sun-Thu, 11am-10pm Fri-Sat. All major credit cards accepted.
Chips Fiesta …………… $6.99
Elote Especial …………. $2.99
Burrito …………………… $6.49
Margarita ……………….. $5.00