Maybe it’s because I’m the child of divorced parents, but I always get a little teary when great duos breakup. It happens all of the time in music – Simon and Garfunkel, Sonny and Cher, Paul McCartney and John Lennon. But now Fort Worth restaurant fans are dealing with the trauma of Paco and John going their separate ways. Was it over a woman? Drugs? Sagging business? Credit for the brilliance of the former 8th Street eatery that shuttered in the great citywide restaurant collapse of 2015? We may never know.
Like Cher and Paul Simon before him, Paco has decided to strike out on his own. Although based only on the location, the newly opened Paco’s Mexican Cuisine (1508 W Magnolia Av, 817-759-9110) may be charting a path of relative artistic obscurity closer to that of Sonny Bono or Art Garfunkel. Paco’s is the third restaurant to move into that hole in the wall in the past calendar year, following the ignominious footsteps of Temaki Sushi and the short-lived Nha Trang Vietnamese Cuisine –– both of which were outstanding. That tiny space is now firmly on the list of cursed real estate in this city.
But owner Paco Islas has some serious name recognition in this town. He’s worked at standout French café Saint Emilion for years, and his former restaurant was widely known for purveying a brand of haute Mexican cuisine that borrowed heavily from French influences.
It’s impossible to avoid comparing Paco’s to Paco and John’s for obvious reasons (the name, duh) –– but also because obnoxious foodies like me want to see who was the real brain of the former operation. Judging from just one visit, my vote goes to the new restaurant’s namesake.
The menu at Paco’s doesn’t have the same l’accent aigu of Paco and John’s, but it does have a decidedly upscale lilt. The offerings will seem approachable to fans of Mex-Mex, with a selection of enchiladas, burritos, tortas, and street tacos.
The décor is eerily similar to that of the building’s two previous tenants –– those super modern-looking chairs and tables must come with the place. Paco might want to consider hiring an old and young priest to come cleanse the stench of failure off the furniture.
On my recent lunch visit, the place was full but not packed. My guest and I found a table, but subsequent walk-ins had to wait a few minutes to be seated.
On a cold day, the creamy, piquant pablano-queso soup ($5.95) hit all the right notes. The tiny bowl was loaded with chunks of tender chicken, fresh-tasting slices of avocado, and gooey queso fresco.
If my street tacos were any indication, Paco’s has captured the past glory of P&J’s. Luscious flakes of red snapper ($3) sat atop a warm, pillowy soft corn tortilla and were topped with slivers of avocado and an artful drizzle of crema. For my second taco, the tortilla could barely contain the chubby fistfuls of carnitas ($3). The oily slabs of pork melted on the tongue, they were so tender. Straightforward in preparation, the meat didn’t need anything more than cilantro and gleams of white onion, but the quick-tempered salsa with its chunks of tomatoes and jalapeños was a welcome touch.
Paco’s has a long way to go before we know whether it will share the fate of Sonny or Cher, but at least the restaurateur’s solo career is off and running. And if this restaurant thing doesn’t work out, he can always run for Congress.