North Texans’ love for New Mexico runs deep, but the cuisine of the Land of Enchantment is woefully absent from the Fort Worth restaurant scene. True, you can get roasted Hatch chile by the bucketful for a few weeks every year at area grocers, but a complete, immersive dining experience remains elusive. If you want a bona fide flat-stacked blue-corn enchilada smothered in green chile, you’re going to have to head up 287 to I-40 and then go west until you hit Santa Rosa. A 9-hour drive never tasted so good.
La Choza Fine Food
7001 Confederate Park Rd, FW. 817-751-9060. 11am-10pm Mon-Sat. All Major credit cards accepted.
For those of us beset by cravings but unable to make the trip, a suitable stand-in may be La Choza Fine Food. Owner (and a native of Chimayo) Anthony Aguillon has crafted a menu that, while not strictly New Mexican, hits enough of the high notes to satiate the most homesick Burqueño. Though considerably closer than the competition, La Choza’s remote location on the far side of Lake Worth will make the journey enough of a trek to feel like an adventure.
The drive had me extra peckish when I pulled up on a recent weekday evening, and the colored lights festooned about the patio were a welcome sight. Inside, the place had a slightly upscale, neighborhood vibe. The staff was friendly and proprietary. Hot chips and cold salsa arrived at the table before I had my jacket off. Everything around me had cheerful warmth –– even the faux adobe walls seemed sincere.
La Choza offers two guacamole options. The first, prepared tableside and promising hints of poblano peppers and orange, harked back to classic restaurants like Gabriel’s of Santa Fe. But for a modest evening, the guac prepared in the kitchen is better than most and more reasonably priced. The avocados were chunky and ripe and balanced nicely with fresh pico de gallo and lime juice. The staff wasn’t stingy with the hot chips.
The reason for making the drive, though, is the chile. The kitchen offers green or red, the green made from stewed Hatch chiles, the red from the same chiles ripened, dried, and powdered. You can order either or both, a combination of flavors and colors colloquially known as “Christmas.” At La Choza, both the red and the green chile were excellent, but the smoky, low heat of the red was more familiar to my Tex-Mex palate. The green chile was alive — fiery, reptilian, and dangerous. New Mexican chile is a religion, and it is easy to remember why when you taste the real thing.
I ordered my chile on the kitchen’s flat-stacked “Chimayo” chicken enchiladas, the delivery device of choice for many green chile devotees. The chicken was tender and moist, and the hot platter wasn’t overly smothered in cheese. The only cause for disappointment was the tortillas, yellow corn instead of blue — but when I closed my eyes I couldn’t taste a difference.
Another northern New Mexican classic was the brace of pork tamales, splayed shamelessly on their cornhusks and drenched in red and green chile. I’ve grown accustomed to Tex-Mex tamales that are dense and greasy (and I like them just fine), but La Choza’s tamales were fluffy and light, the masa dough barely holding together around the juicy pulled pork at the center. Served alongside were Spanish rice, perfectly cooked, and refried pinto beans, steeped in the unmistakable flavor of Mexican oregano.
There’s always the chance, though, that someone you’re dining with might not share your enthusiasm for the earthy flavors of our neighboring state. If that’s the case, point them toward the Rosarito fish tacos. Flaky chunks of broiled swai (fancy catfish), sliced avocado, feta cheese, and passionfruit slaw were packed into soft corn tortillas and doused with chile crema. It was almost perfect but a little too wet for the single tortillas trying to hold themselves together. The taco plate turned into a taco salad.
If you need dessert after all of that, the kitchen’s sopapillas will provide that final flourish of cinnamon, cajeta caramel, and honey on fried dough.
Perhaps it’s for the best that New Mexican cuisine hasn’t spread like chimisa across the Lone Star State. Whether it’s simply a function of availability, or if the powers that be protect blue corn and green chile like agronomic sericulture, the gastronomy of New Mexico remains far enough removed from our mainstream to be something that’s still special. But it’s comforting to know that a taste can be found close to home, if we’re willing to make the drive.
[box_info]La Choza Fine Food
Guacamole (small) $5
Chimayo flat enchiladas $11
Rosarito fish tacos $11
Mom’s Christmas tamales $10.50