El Ranchito Cafe & Club – Dallas, Texas

In the Mexican neighborhoods of west Dallas, adventurous “gringo” diners who grew up on Tex-Mex cuisine have apparently discovered the wonderful cuisine of Old Mexico. On the night we visited, this was evidenced by the lively and decidedly “white” crowd enjoying their meals almost as much as the generations of Mexican-American patrons craving (and receiving) authentic tastes of home.

Since moving to the United States from Monterrey Mexico, entrepreneur and owner Laura Sanchez has carved a niche in the Dallas Mexican food arena and has done so by not deviating from her roots. Authenticity resonates in the cuisine as it does in the corridos belted out by the Mariachis.

El Ranchito’s salsa packs a punch unlike the tomato and cilantro laden red stuff served in most Tex-Mex restaurants. The horchata is wonderfully sweet with just the right amount of cinnamon. An appetizer called choriqueso (known in New Mexico as queso fundido) combined asadero cheese and chorizo set aflame and was served with flour tortillas. It was the best of its kind I’ve ever had.

The restaurant’s specialty is Cabrito or baby goat, a $21 plus treat served on a grill. Although somewhat bony, Cabrito is a very tender and savory meat with a taste all its own. You’d be well advised to share an order of Cabrito as it’s more than enough for one person.

Kim and my sister Dolores who introduced us to this Mexican treasure, shared an order of Parillada, a mixed grill of beef, chicken, sausage and ribs. It was exquisite.

The menu includes several mariscos (seafood) entrees which we hope to try during a future visit.

El Ranchito Cafe & Club
610 West Jefferson
Dallas, TX

LATEST VISIT: 30 May 2004
COST: $$
BEST BET: Cabrito, Parillada, Horchata, Choriqueso

Kincaid’s Hamburgers – Fort Worth, Texas

Local, statewide, national and international acclaim for Kincaid’s Hamburgers places this former grocery and market in stratospherically elite company as one of, if not THE best hamburger restaurants in the world. In 2003, Michael and Jane Stern, America’s preeminent dining Americana authorities proclaimed Kincaid’s one of America’s top ten burgers. A book called The Perfect Hamburger, replete with effusive testimony by long-time patrons, was published in 1999. Call it blasphemy if you will, but I believe perfection can be improved. Add New Mexico green chile and you would have the very best hamburger I’ve ever had.

Even without green chile, Kincaid’s does serve a phenomenal burger, each one containing a half pound of 76 to 80 percent lean chuck roast along with ultra-fresh ingredients. Hold the pickles, hold the lettuce if you’d like. Each burger is made to order and each is crafted to burger perfection. By not mashing the meat down with spatulas, the burger builders ensure you get a juicy, tasty treat you want to savor even though you might be tempted to inhale it so you can order another one.

The store’s motto is “where friends meet to eat” and while you might start off not knowing any of the other diners, by meal’s end, you will. That’s because your dining experience takes place in close proximity to other patrons. Whether you’re seated or claim some standing room only shelf space, you’re invariably drawn into neighborly discourse with other Kincaid pilgrims. The topic at hand is generally a recollection of the epiphany experienced by the diner upon savoring their very first Kincaid’s burger.

Kincaid’s is slightly off the beaten path and as such, is definitely an intended destination. The dozens of cars clamoring for a parking space aren’t there by accident. This is hamburger Mecca and boy are we ever grateful we finally made it and can claim to have partaken of a nearly perfect burger.

Kincaid’s Hamburgers
4901 Camp Bowie Boulevard
Fort Worth, TX

LATEST VISIT: 29 May 2004
COST: $$
BEST BET: Cheeseburger

Celebration – Dallas, Texas

To adventurous restaurant patrons, the term “foodie” is often used with derision to connote someone who won’t eat somewhere unless Zagat’s has proclaimed it fork worthy. In theory foodies won’t boldly go where Zagat’s (or in the absence thereof, the local fishwrap) hasn’t gone before.

Chowhounds, on the other hand, are (at least by definition) adventure eaters who blaze new trails and traverse the deepest, darkest regions under America’s spacious skies for undiscovered treasures. Sometimes the twain does meet and there’s consensus among foodies and chowhounds about a restaurant which both can agree is something special.

Such is the case with Celebration which for 30 years has prepared good home cooked meals fresh daily. The restaurant’s walls are adorned with recognition from Zagat’s, but there are also people’s choice awards, recognition from the Food Network as one of the top ten home cooking restaurants in the country and even a 1996 Gourmet magazine article by Michael and Jane Stern touting it as a place for cheap eats in Dallas.

In 2009, Southern Living magazine named Celebration one of the South’s best diners.  “Long-time residents come to this laid-back eatery for “the city’s tastiest pot roast.”  “Other classic Southern dishes include “spiced-just-right meatloaf and homemade mashed potatoes.”

Wood paneled walls ornamented with geometrically designed Native American rugs and evocative black and white photographs celebrating Texas help make Celebration a gracious yet homey dining establishment in which the high-brow and working class mingle comfortably. The menu features classic home cooking–all the comfort foods with which many Americans grew up: pot roast, fried chicken, meat loaf and much more. Best of all, you can have seconds on both entrees and the accompanying vegetables (which alternate daily).

Unfortunately, fried chicken isn’t on the menu every night and wasn’t on the night of our inaugural visit. Chicken fried chicken, while good in its own right, is usually a poor substitute for fried chicken, a true American standard. Not so at Celebration. A lightly-breaded chicken cutlet served with white gravy, the chicken fried chicken entree was indeed something special and even though I rue the fact chicken wasn’t on the menu, this “first runner-up” was delicious in its own right.

Vegetables of the day include mashed potatoes and green beans almandine, both of which were quite good. For dessert, the coconut cream pie is good enough to keep Gilligan and his castaway mates on the island.

4503 West Lovers Lane
Dallas, TX

LATEST VISIT: 28 May 2004
COST: $$$
BEST BET: Chicken Fried Chicken, Seafood Gumbo