Food & Drink

El Tejas keeps its eye on the prize ... all day long

The molcajete at El Tejas Mexican Restaurant in North Richland Hills
The molcajete at El Tejas Mexican Restaurant in North Richland Hills kbouaphanh@star-telegram.com

While many restaurants open all day put their best feet forward at dinner, a new Mexican restaurant in North Richland Hills is doing wonders from dawn till dusk.

El Tejas is newly opened in the cavernous space most recently occupied by beloved home-cooking palace Our Place. Smartly, the restaurant is aiming to regain some of Our Place’s breakfast crowd, tempting them with American staples like French toast, egg dishes and pancakes, sometimes with little twists here and there that raise them above the norm.

During an early morning visit, cheesecake pancakes ($7.99) were absolutely terrific. Made in-house, the pancakes were fluffy and thick, not to mention huge; an order of two was enough for two. Even if the bits of minced cheesecake, cooked into the pancake mix, weren’t creating moisture and sweetness, I still would not have reached for the butter or syrup; they didn’t need either.

Of course, there are Mexican breakfast dishes, too, plenty of them, from tacos stuffed with eggs and chorizo to chilaquiles and huevos rancheros. Migas ($8.99) were a straightforward rendition — scrambled eggs mixed with crisp tortilla strips, bacon, onions, cheddar and tomato — but done well.

On the side came a pool of rich refried beans, upon which bites of egg were dunked and smeared. I wasn’t a fan of the commercial corn tortillas but they were a viable option for making migas-filled tacos.

There was much to like about dinner, too, starting with crackling tortilla chips, evenly salted, and the salsa, a red, chunky concoction of tomatoes, garlic, cilantro and peppers.

In an area filled with good Mexican restaurants, it can be hard to find a good tortilla soup. El Tejas’ rendition was so well done, we were irked that we ordered a cup ($3.50) as an appetizer and not the bowl ($6.50) as our meal.

It wasn’t a tricked-out version. Instead, it played it straight, its combination of onions, pulled chicken, garlic and cumin tasting of spice, salt and heartiness.

Other appetizers included empanadas filled with Oaxaca cheese, table-side guacamole and a cool rendition of fried green tomatoes ($5.99), a quintet of sliced tomatoes, deep fried, then drizzled with a house-made honey mustard sauce. They were artfully presented, one resting on the other.

For an entree, our peppy server steered us away from the enchiladas and tortas for the restaurant’s signature dish, molcajete ($26). When it arrived, we realized why it’s the restaurant’s pride and joy: A large, stone molcajete bowl held a bounty of food made for sharing — strips of beef and chicken fajita meat, a half-dozen shrimp, a mound of roasted pork, grilled onions and sausage and jalapeños, and boiled cactus.

All the meats were draped on the side of the bowl, like a jacket flung on a chair, and still sizzling.

The dish comes with a complimentary show. Causing much neck-craning from other diners, it took three people to deliver it — one to carry it out, one to clear the table to make room and one to present, with the caveat that the stone bowl is incredibly hot and will be so for the duration of the meal, which it was; my stepson applauded.

The main dish was accompanied by small ones. Refried beans, Spanish rice, flour tortillas, pico de gallo, sour cream and guacamole all came on the side; it was enough food for three or four people.

Of the meats, the pork tenderloin was especially good, moist and fall-apart tender, with an earthy flavor that came from sitting in the juices of the julienned cactus, whose strands reached from one side of the bowl to the other. Steak fajita strips had a nice crust and peppery flavor. Sausage was juicy and smoky and shrimp were plump and tasted pleasantly of garlic and spices.

The only meat that disappointed was the chicken, whose strips were so thin, they burned themselves onto the bowl.

Dessert came in the form of a large piece of house-made flan ($4.50), surrounded by chocolate syrup and topped with sliced almonds and drizzles of cajeta sauce. Thankfully, it wasn’t as sweet as it looked.

The restaurant comes from Reynaldo Huerta, who owns a string of Mexican restaurants throughout the state, from Houston to Amarillo. This is first place in North Texas.

A second location is already planned for Haltom City, in the old Oscar’s Mexican Food space on Denton Highway; hopefully, it’ll be like this one, enjoyable morning, noon and night.

El Tejas Mexican Restaurant

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