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The lobster fajitas are representative of El Bolero’s upscale Mexican menu. Photo by Lee Chastain.

El Bolero Cocina Mexicana

2933 Crockett St, FW. 682-250-7583. 10am-10pm Sun, 11am-10pm Mon-Thu, 11am-11pm Fri, 10am-11pm Sat. All major credit cards accepted.

The first thing that you might think when you walk in to El Bolero Cocina Mexicana, especially if you’ve been to the restaurants that preceded it in its Crockett Row space, is “love what you’ve done with the place.”

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Gone is the cozy-sofa bar that greeted you when it was Tillman’s Roadhouse and the efficient coffee bar counter that formed the casual “Market” side of short-lived follow-up, Fort Worth Market + Table. Instead, you’re quickly greeted by a sleek-looking bar with a hacienda-like feel.

The dining room has been brightened up with lots of natural light at lunch. The patio feels more relaxed. The walls are decorated with Southwestern/interior-Mexican photographs, as well as with a mosaic portrait of a tequila destilador –– not, as some have assumed, an early 20th-century Russian gangster. Apparently the staff takes a lot of questions about it.

One of the last things you might think after a first visit to El Bolero is, “Whoa, that was a steep check.” El Bolero is part of a wave of higher-priced, you-get-what-you-pay-for restaurants with an emphasis on regional Mexican cuisine – similar to recently opened Meso Maya and Mesero – that have made their way from Dallas to Fort Worth in the past couple of years. Higher prices usually mean more premium ingredients, but that doesn’t lessen the sticker shock. My guest and I even avoided ordering anything over the $20 mark.

We were off to a good start with complimentary chips, sturdy enough to hold up to the red salsa and the brighter, tomatillo-based green one, although the chips were so well-seasoned that they often didn’t need any help. They didn’t need to be sturdy for the runny-but-otherwise-stellar queso blanco, a blend of three cheeses (Chihuahua, Monterey, and Oaxacan) with some barely detectable jalapeño and cilantro. Texture was an issue here, but flavor wasn’t.

Our other appetizer, ceviche de huachinango, a twist on Veracruz-style red snapper, was less impressive. The presentation – chunks of red snapper, tomato, red onion, avocado, and watermelon half-spread out on one of the restaurant’s black plates – appeared unispired, and few of the ingredients possessed any spark. The avocados, which are optional, helped – and added $4 to the price. 

Things improved with the chile relleno de queso, a poblano split wide open, stuffed with mushrooms and espazote, and covered in a blanket of goat and panela cheeses so thick and crusty that it lovingly reminded us of some cheese pizzas we’ve had.

The lobster fajitas, which happened to be a $15 lunch special on the Friday we visited, were slightly less successful –– the corn tortillas that accompanied the dish scored, but the lobster, while flavorful, was just a little rubbery.

The only under-$10 item that we ordered was the Neapolitan tres leches, which was more than worth the cost: a moist vanilla cake with a strip of chocolate down the middle, framed by a couple layers of strawberry frosting and decorated with a zigzag of chocolate syrup. It was the highlight of the meal. 

We didn’t go too deep into the cocktail side of the menu, but we had to try The Oilman, a citrusy-tasting black concoction made from El Tesoro Reposado Tequila, Patron Citronge Orange, and charred agave, with a gold salt rim and a skewer of rock-candy garnish. Now that our curiosity is sated about this made-for-social-media drink, we’ll probably start exploring the margarita side of the menu more. We’re pretty curious about that blood orange/ghost pepper mule.

Crockett Row, of course, has undergone much turnover through the years, and El Bolero is catty-corner from where the not-dissimilar Hacienda San Miguel shuttered a few years back. It has been replaced by the more successful Mash’d. 

But El Bolero is backed up by the clout of ARG Concepts, the Dallas restaurant group behind acclaimed Dallas Design District restaurant Oak as well as Pakpao Thai Food, due to open in the summer across from El Bolero. The ARG restaurants will need that clout – and some strong bar business – to succeed in Crockett Row, where each of them occupies a space haunted by previously failed tenants.

El Bolero Cocina Mexicana

Queso blanco $11

Ceviche de huachinango $15

Chile relleno con queso $16

Lobster fajitas $15

Oilman cocktail $16

Neapolitan tres leches $8

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