A little over a year ago, Vance Godbey’s, a spacious North Texas restaurant known as the kind of place you could have a celebratory family gathering or an inexpensive holiday buffet, shut its doors after 60 years, although it still maintains a catering business.
In July, Star-Telegram “Eats Beat” columnist Bud Kennedy reported that El Cerrito, a Mexican restaurant in the Parker County town of Reno, would be moving to the east, taking over the Vance Godbey’s space on Jacksboro Highway in the tiny western Tarrant County town of Lakeside.
Carol Godbey, daughter of the founder of Vance Godbey’s, told Kennedy that El Cerrito’s owners had been asking her if they knew of another potential location for their restaurant. She told Kennedy, “Finally I told them, ‘Well, what about mine?’ ”
It’s in a 15,000-square-foot ranch house, big enough for the both of them: Vance Godbey’s Catering continues operating out of a second kitchen there, while El Cerrito uses a main kitchen and the sprawling dining room. Be prepared for some quirks: If you’re over 6 feet tall, chances are you’re going to have to duck at least once, thanks to some low-ceiling areas. But there’s also a lovely picture window with a view of the restaurant’s greenery-covered “back porch” space. And, appropriately, the restaurant is on a small hill — cerrito translates as “little hill.”
There are two ways a Mexican/Tex-Mex restaurant can operate in a large space like this: Go for a minimalist menu, like Joe T. Garcia’s with its focus on enchiladas and fajitas, or be expansive, with a mix of traditional dishes and still-traditional-but-more-adventurous specialties, which is the way El Cerrito rolls, with a menu that has about 50 options on it.
A half-order of basic nachos ($6.25) was a good way to start: Rather than a mound of cheese-covered chips, this consisted of five large, round tortilla chips, artfully and thickly layered with refried beans, melted cheese and chicken or ground beef, and accompanied by jalapeños and sour cream. They made for easy eating, without loading up too much before the meal.
We added to the cheese quotient of the meal with queso fundido ($6.25), a bowl of gooey, thick, melted cheddar and queso blanco covering bits of chicken fajita, grilled onions and peppers. Cheese lovers will not complain about this dish; heat lovers will want to toss in a few jalapeños.
Among the house specialties are carnitas en adobo ($11.50), a large slab of pulled pork with a surprisingly small cup of adobo sauce on the side, more like carnitas beside adobo rather than in it. The sauce was pleasantly dusky and mildly spicy, but it almost seemed like an afterthought, especially since the pork was flavorful and fall-apart tender.
The charro beans that came with it were pretty porky themselves, with sizable chunks of meat. They upstaged the rice, guacamole and pico de gallo that made up the rest of the plate.
Rib-eye tacos ($13.50) made for an equally hearty dish, with three rolled flour tortillas filled with strips of well-cooked, well-seasoned steak. The tacos, accompanied by guacamole and pico de gallo, alone would have been enough for a meal, but there were also healthy-size portions of rice and refried beans.
At the time of our visit, the lengthy menu didn’t list desserts, but we asked, and then ordered fried ice cream ($3.75) as well as cinnamon nachos (because there was a big meeting that day, and what better way to prepare for a big meeting than to have dessert after already sleep-inducing Mexican food, right?).
Of the two, the cinnamon nachos ($5.50) were the more aesthetically pleasing, nicely cinnamon-dusted tortilla chips surrounding a baseball-size scoop of ice cream. Tasty, but we preferred the softball-size scoop of cornflake-crusted fried vanilla ice cream, an appealing blend of flavors, textures and temperatures. Yes, we needed to stay awake for that meeting, so of course we finished both.
If you had ever visited Vance Godbey’s, chances are you’ll have flashbacks. Even now the restaurant has that wedding-reception/anniversary-dinner feel to it and, of course, there’s no reason you can’t celebrate something at El Cerrito.
What will likely bring you back again is the size of the menu, which had enough interesting options that we had trouble making up our minds.
Which just gives us a reason to return and try something else.
El Cerrito Mexican Grill
8601 Jacksboro Highway
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday. Closed Mondays.