Tia’s on the Bluff, 1301 E Bluff St, FW. 817-349-0964. 11am-3pm Sun, 11am-10pm Mon-Sat. All major credit cards accepted.
Raise a salt-rimmed glass to the family-owned Tex-Mex restaurant, a beloved and long-standing Fort Worth tradition. Passed down through generations, these institutions (many of which grew from the kitchens of family homes) lend a sense of permanence and stability to a shifting gastronomic landscape. They change slowly, if at all — eschewing trends and fads, trusting to secret recipes and proven success. May their cheese be always yellow, may their chips and salsa be fresh and free, and may their plates be ever too hot to touch.
Of course it’s never that simple — or easy. New folks move to town, tastes change, kids grow up and decide they’d rather go to culinary school than take over the family kitchen. The old-school eateries fight the good fight, but when they’re gone, they’re gone. You can’t just open up a new family Tex-Mex joint and expect the place to feel like it’s been there a hundred years …
But that’s exactly what Tia’s on the Bluff has accomplished. In the owners’ home, remodeled to accommodate a modern clientele, the Sotelo family has rolled out a modest menu of del norte classics in a forgotten corner of downtown Fort Worth — though a lunchtime menu of enchilada plates for less than $10 is sure to attract the attention of the nearby courthouse crowd. Bright and charming, the casita features broad patios, bejeweled with flowers and crowned with palm trees, a stone’s throw from Sundance Square. Margaritas and a little country music make Tia’s the perfect hideaway for day drinking.
A recent dinner service was laid back — not a bad thing in itself, but the perfect heat of the house salsa had my guest and I craning our necks for an iced tea refill before the basket of fresh corn chips was half gone.
A bowl of queso blanco, silky smooth and chunked with green chiles, was perfectly comforting. The kitchen isn’t out to reinvent the wheel, but classic preparations are given a timeless execution that feel like coming home. Likewise, the house guacamole was a smoother texture served by most places these days, but you won’t have to worry about your avocado salad being spiked with bacon, pineapple, or green peas.
My guest’s combination fajitas arrived as they should, on a cast iron skillet sputtering smoke and steam into the night air. The marinated strips of skirt steak and chicken breast were tender and smoky, mixed with a sweet caramelization of red peppers and onions. The portion wasn’t ridiculously outsized, but then neither was the price.
I had ordered the kitchen’s chicken mole, stewed and shredded in a rich brown sauce. The only problem with it was the name — around here we generally expect our mole to be a rich, dark sauce of chiles, chocolate, and nuts. My dish seemed more like a pollo guisado, chicken in a rich gravy with chiles, perhaps, but missing the sweet component. Taken for what it was (and wrapped in hot flour tortillas), the bird was delicious.
A return visit during weekday lunch service was an excuse to try out the sour cream chicken enchiladas, a pair of rolled corn tortillas swaddled around payloads of shredded dark meat and drenched in tangy white sauce and jack cheese. Sides of rice and beans — again, if it ain’t broke … flanked the twin enchiladas and helped fill in any empty corners.
Tia’s isn’t a slick new launch. There weren’t armies of marketers and branders mining big data to formulate the best means of separating you from your money. Nobody did a demographic analysis. Instead, it opened with the simple idea that serving good food for a good price would bring customers. It feels good to live in a town where that can still happen.
Tia’s on the Bluff
Queso blanco (small) $3.95
Guacamole (small) $1.95
Combo fajitas $15.95
Chicken mole $12.95
Sour cream enchiladas (lunch portion) $8.95
Crème brulee $6