Maíz Cocina and Tequila Bar
1722 US 287 Frontage Rd, Mansfield. 817-477-6249. Sun-Thu 11am-9pm, Fri-Sat 11am-10pm. All major credit cards accepted.
Regulars who attempted to dine at the Mexican Inn Café’s Mansfield location last August found the place closed for “renovations.” Flash forward to February, and the 80-year-old chain was gone, replaced by Maíz Cocina and Tequila Bar (pronounced May-eez). The Mexican usurper is the brainchild of local restaurateurs Mike McMahan, whose Mac’s Bar and Grill has been going strong in South Arlington for three decades, and Chris Carroll, founder of Spring Creek Barbecue (which shares a parking lot with the newly open eatery).
On my recent visit, our server made an extra effort to point out that the menu was specifically “Monterrey Mexican,” differing from the Tex-Mex stylings of the space’s former occupant. “No fajitas or combos on the menu,” she said, so you can’t order a chimichanga, but the kitchen offers other oddities such as chicken-fried steak – as opposed to traditional Mexican milanesa.
Diners still enjoy complimentary chips and salsa. (Wouldn’t we riot if we didn’t have our free corn chips at a Mexican restaurant?) Unfortunately, Maíz’s thick red version, pureed to the texture of baby food, was atrociously bad, and the chips were fairly standard. The tomatillo habanero or avocado cilantro versions ($3 each) were much tastier – but why wouldn’t a new Mexican restaurant put its best salsa forward?
The serving of guacamole was generous, but the flavor was dominated by onion – and not even spicy – and the whole dish needed salt. The kitchen’s goopy, mild queso blanco arrived with a tiny dollop of pico in the center. We could have stirred the salsa into the dip for added spice, but when the salsa is bad, the queso stays bland.
As despair began to set in at my table of three, the fabulous platter of barbacoa tacos arrived. Three grapefruit-sized, thick corn tortillas held a generous amount of tender, silken strands of beef stewing in a mild red sauce with a little drizzle of pico-kissed queso fresco on top. The plate was accompanied by uninspired red rice that sat undisturbed after the first bite.
On the recommendation of our server, the camarones tequila were also excellent: six plump, grilled shrimp in a thick, creamy, lemony sauce that was positively plate-lickingly good. The shellfish sat atop a gorgeous, light emerald arroz verde that was far tastier than the red rice. However, at $16, six shrimp felt sort of skimpy.
I’d never heard of mole blanco before, but apparently that’s not unusual. Even Diana Kennedy, the maven of Mexican cookbooks in the United States, didn’t have a mole blanco recipe. The white mole is a fancy Oaxacan specialty and holiday treat. The primarily nut-based sauce (almonds, peanuts, and pine nuts) has a little habanero pepper added for kick. Here, the sauce just tasted like spicy white gravy – grainy from being thickened with a bit too much flour. While I appreciate the unusual attempt at exotic cuisine, the pieces of charbroiled chicken never did meld with the mole.
For dessert, the sopa was a housemade wonder composed of a soft, fist-sized churro topped with Henry’s Mexican Vanilla ice cream and Goldbrick chocolate sauce –– that magical elixir that hardens on ice cream as soon as the sauce touches the cold. The dessert had a lot of things going for it –– one bite was full of soft, warm cinnamon dough and cold ice cream, another a mouthful of chocolate and vanilla augmented by the strawberry sauce that decorated the plate. The key lime pie was fresh and light with a tasty graham cracker crust, but it couldn’t match the sopa.
Maíz looks completely different from its predecessor: The simple white, blue, and yellow tiling has been replaced with sleek flooring, glamorous light fixtures in the main dining room, and big-screen televisions in the bar area. The bar menu offers a respectable collection of tequila, beer, and wine and good happy hour specials. I appreciate the attempt at originality, especially in Mansfield, where good non-chain restaurants are few and far between. But you have to wonder about a place that touts its Mexican authenticity while offering key lime pie and chicken-fried steak on the menu.
Maíz Cocina and Tequila Bar
Queso blanco $7
Barbacoa tacos $12
Camarones tequila $16
Pollo mole blanco $15
Dessert sope $8
Key lime pie $8