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Mezcale’s serves traditional Tex-Mex cuisine without pretension. Photo by Lee Chastain.

There was a time (and it wasn’t that long ago) when family-run Tex-Mex restaurants were the backbone of Fort Worth’s casual dining scene. These neighborhood eateries were institutions in their own right, handing recipes down through generations. Their patrons knew exactly what to expect — a menu of standards and combo plates along with one or two standout house specialties. The enormous platters would be served with a friendly warning from your server that the plate you were about to receive was really hot. And you’d likely be already full from the complimentary chips and homemade salsa that preceded your meal.

[box_info]Mezcale’s Mexican Bar and Grill
5532 Jacksboro Hwy, Samson Park. 817-625-0004. 11am-8pm Sun, 11am-10pm Fri-Sat, 11am-9pm Mon-Thu. All major credit cards accepted.[/box_info]

It is rare these days to see a newly opened family-run Tex-Mex restaurant succeed in offering up regional classics without pretense, apology, or irony, but Mezcale’s Mexican Bar and Grill has done just that. Though the Mark Millers and the Bobby Flays of the world have done their part to disparage Tex-Mex and sell us on a gourmet Southwestern fusion cuisine, a few local enchilada shops have resolved to carry their traditional recipes forward without making concessions to the latest culinary trends. Though many such holdouts have closed their doors, Mezcale’s gamely joins the ranks of those that remain –– Benito’s Mexican Cuisine, Esperanza’s Mexican Café and Bakery, The Original Mexican Eats Café.

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Mezcale’s appeared on the scene about eight months ago, occupying the former home of the Williams Ranch House on Jacksboro Highway. Other than a fresh coat of yellowish paint in the dining room and a few wrought-iron lizards hung on the walls, not much about the décor has changed. While this wouldn’t fly in some of the tonier parts of town, the design decision works well here. Mezcale’s feels like it has been around forever. Dark wood and tacked vinyl chairs create a decidedly un-hip vibe but does do so in a way that is comforting and genuine.

My guest and I hiked out to Samson Park on a Wednesday evening to try the fare, and we were ushered through the nearly empty bar to a dining room abuzz with couples and families. Our server arrived immediately with hot chips and fresh salsa. The sauce tasted alive, just hot enough to tease the tongue and make us crave some guacamole, which was brought with our iced tea. You won’t find green peas in Mezcale’s’ guacamole salad, but you will find chunks of ripe avocado mixed with plenty of pico de gallo, the way tradition demands. One of the strengths of the place is that the kitchen knows how to leave good enough alone. The chefs haven’t been trolling the Food Network for cute ideas to jazz up the menu.

Our server’s recommendation was to order anything with the fajita meat, so my guest tried the fajita burritos. The smoky, marinated skirt steak was beautifully seared and fork-tender, but it would have been more enjoyable with the usual garnishes of guacamole and sour cream. These little burritos were smothered in a queso sauce that tasted cheap compared to the luxurious beef.

The chicken enchiladas in green sauce represented everything there is to love about Fort Worth Tex-Mex. The shredded chicken was moist and flavorful. At a time when “chicken” so often means meat that tastes like nothing in particular, the enchilada stuffing tasted like it came off a bird and got stewed in a pot. The tomatillo sauce served over the three rolled enchiladas was tangy and vibrant, a clear cousin of the house salsa that was still getting some attention well after the entrées arrived.

[box_info]Mezcale’s Mexican Bar and Grill
Guacamole salad (small)     $3.50
Fajita burritos     $9.99
Enchiladas verdes     $9.99[/box_info]

The entrées were served with Spanish rice and refried beans. Both were delicious, and neither was suitable for vegetarians: The golden rice studded with yellow corn was light and fluffy, with a chicken essence that suggested the broth from the shredded bird had been put to good use. The refried pinto beans were creamy with pork fat.

Mezcale’s isn’t fancy or slick, and it probably won’t win any Michelin stars. But if you love Fort Worth’s Tex-Mex tradition, you will be glad to welcome this new addition to the family. Be careful though — the plates are really hot.

 

[box_info]Mezcale’s Mexican Bar and Grill
Guacamole salad (small)     $3.50
Fajita burritos     $9.99
Enchiladas verdes     $9.99[/box_info]

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