If you already know Mesa, the Mexican restaurant, from its location in Dallas, then you’ll hardly recognize the new branch now open in Grapevine.
For this spinoff, owners Raul and Olga Reyes have taken all the elements of their original restaurant in Oak Cliff and blown them up: bigger space, bigger menu, bigger wow.
At the new location near the Gaylord Texan Resort, in the former Vineyard Steak House space at Grapevine Station, the Reyeses engineered an amazing escalation, to meet the wider open spaces and appetites of Grapevine. At the same time, they’ve retained their roots as an authentic, creative Mexican concept, serving killer mole and tortillas made by hand.
The restaurant is worth a visit if only to see the renovation. Raul is an artist and an accomplished carpenter who did much of the work himself, just as he did for the original location.
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At the Grapevine restaurant, that includes an elaborate metal sculpture that forms a curtain between the dining room and the bar as well as the construction of a new patio. Run your hand over the gorgeous surface of your tabletop, which he also did, with its cut-outs and inlaid pieces.
The Grapevine menu is the same as Dallas, but with extra dishes and a beefed-up menu of tequila drinks. The food is mostly Veracruz-style, with lots of seafood options. For those who may not be familiar with dishes such as Mesa’s shrimp with chipotle sauce ($22), they’ve added some basic Tex-Mex items.
Those include fajitas, which you can get with vegetables ($11), chicken ($13), tenderloin ($15) or a combo ($15). Their version was prototypical, served on a mildly sizzling black stone platter, with pico de gallo and nicely charred jalapeños.
What made the fajitas — and for that matter, everything at Mesa — so good were the house-made tortillas. The Reyeses make their own from a dough that’s mostly corn but supplemented by flour, which gives them their irresistible texture: thick, chewy and pliable. You could put anything in those tortillas and win.
One of their best dishes were the enmoladas ($8) because it put the tortillas front and center. They were dipped in the restaurant’s stellar mole sauce, then folded in neat triangles and sprinkled with queso fresco, simple but great.
The mole entrée was Mole Mama Cata ($18), a homey yet elegant dish with an ultra-tender chicken quarter — the thigh and leg — in mole sauce, accompanied by jasmine rice and sauteed green beans.
Their mole was a deep rust-brown, velvety in texture and complex in flavor, with heat, subtly smoky chipotle and chocolate. You want to drink it.
Lobster enchiladas ($27) came two to an order, the tortillas enclosing a bountiful filling of chopped lobster and crab. This dish was all about opulence: fat chunks of lobster claw, a cloak of rich cream sauce tinted with red chiles, a precise slice of avocado and a gorgeous edible flower on top.
Accompanying the enchiladas were julienned carrots and zucchini, cooked until just tender, over a bed of flavorful rice, studded with diced onion and bell pepper.
Tacos were three to an order for $15, with choice of filling from tenderloin, pulled chicken, fish or shrimp. At the recommendation of the savvy, attentive server, we ordered tenderloin — cut into tender chunks, with melted cheese, shaved carrots and avocado sauce. The combination of the beef and cheese gave it a cheesesteak vibe; a sprinkle of microgreens lent a gourmet touch.
The tacos came with rice and a small bowl of very good pureed black beans, with the right hit of salt and a few beans left whole to add some texture.
Other dishes on the menu included snapper Veracruz, ropa vieja and pork cochinita pibil. A cool unique salad ($7) has jicama with cucumber and papaya, sprinkled with cayenne pepper. Entree prices range from $16 to $27 — cheap for such a high-end experience.
A full bar has beer, wine and some distinctive cocktails from the Dallas location, such as an enchanting horchata ($11) spiked with rum. Grapevine gets a lineup of new tequila drinks, including a tequila version of a Moscow mule ($11) and a smoky margarita made with mescal ($11).
We’ll count the days until patio season arrives, and we can take a closer look at Reyes’ outdoor handiwork.