To say that Texans love their Tex-Mex is an understatement. This regional staple is simply a part of Texan culture and life, which makes Dallas visitors very lucky! What many people do not know is that Tex-Mex is distinctly different than Mexican cuisine. In Tex-Mex, meat and starches (such as tortillas) are king, and while you'll find menu items of the same names - tacos, quesadillas and enchiladas - Tex-Mex has different ingredients than traditional Mexican food. For example, Tex-Mex tacos are comprised of hard shell corn tortillas or soft flour tortillas, seasoned ground beef, lettuce, tomatoes and cheddar cheese, while Mexican tacos are made of soft corn tortillas, a featured meat and garnished with chopped onions, cilantro and lime juice.
Some of the most well-known Tex-Mex items include brisket tacos, nachos, frozen margarita and fajitas, and you'll also find the Tex-Mex versions of flautas and chile rellenos. In fact, the first frozen margarita machine in the world was born in Dallas, at Mariano's Hacienda. Tex-Mex comes in many styles in Dallas - from the "fancier" places like Luna De Noche Gourmet Grill to the hole in the walls like Ojeda's. Dallas also has several original Tex-Mex spots that classify as "Dallas Tex Mex," like Manny's Uptown Tex-Mex Restaurant and Mia's Tex-Mex. You'll find these places - and any of the restaurants on our list - to be fantastic options for Tex-Mex cuisine.
Tried and true Mexican dishes keep Mi Cocina ("My Kitchen") hopping! There are no surprises at this restaurant -- everything is consistent and dependable. The service there is fast and the chips and salsa keep coming. Patrons love crispy tacos with shrimp, and margaritas can really take the edge off, especially the Mambo Taxi! Expect the atmosphere to be lively, loud, and fun. The decor is modern and comfortable, so it's a great place to spend your lunch hour. Lunch specials offered daily from 11am-4pm start at $8.95 a plate, and they include enchilada plates, quesadillas, salads, tacos and chalupas. (214-265-7704)
Pappasito's Cantina is known for serving huge platters of Tex-Mex cuisine. While the place may be a bit loud for some, meals are delicious and more than filling. Diners start off their meals with delicious homemade salsa and some of the best tortilla chips in Texas. The lively cantina's culinary creations range from mouthwatering shrimp enchiladas and Baja fish tacos to chicken flautas and quail with an ancho-honey glaze. Thanks to its versatility (and its potent margaritas), the place is popular with locals and tourists. As a result, it tends to get crowded at the close of the work day. ((817) 795-3535)
Fajitas and tacos abound at Mia's, making for satisfying meals. Family-run and -operated, Mia's sports casual, fun ambiance and affordable prices. Specialties include spinach enchiladas, brisket tacos in a rich gravy, shredded chicken chimichangas, and carne asada. Combination dinners and lunch specials up the ante on heartiness and value and start out with delicious spicy salsa and chips. Extras include savory rellenos (stuffed chili peppers) and friendly service. Frequented by everyone from locals to celebrities. Mia's is located in a little house on Lemmon Ave, so it's convenient to Downtown and Uptown visitors. The restaurant has traditional Mexican decor, so casual dress is fine. (214-526-1020)
Ojeda's Mexican Restaurant
Dependable Mexican and Southwestern dishes are the hallmark of this local institution, established more than 35 years ago. How has it thrived in the fickle Dallas restaurant scene for so long? Adherence to simple, delicious preparations and friendly customer service have a lot to do with it. Start with a flavorful plate of nachos, and then choose from a wealth of south-of-the-border favorites. Enchiladas, chicken mole, flautas, tacos, and chalupas can be had in an endless variety of combinations -- dig in! Ojeda's is one of Dallas' favorite lunch spots, and you can even order Tex-Mex breakfast staples, such as chorizo and eggs, during the day. (214-528-8383)
Pepe's & Mito's Mexican Cafe
A casual, colorful dining room and shaded patio draw lunch and dinner crowds to this popular restaurant. In fact, it won Dallas' Best Tex Mex Restaurant award in 2012. The extensive Tex-Mex menu offers steak in a smoky chipotle wine sauce, along with quesadillas, pork tamales, sizzling fajitas, and Mexican specialties like pollo al mojo de ajo (a garlic-tinged chicken breast. The consistent menu mainstays include its tacos, margaritas and tamales. Lunch specials are a hit with locals, as is the weekend brunch, where breakfast tacos are served with a smile. A kids' menu makes Pepe's & Mito's a great choice for families. (214-741-1901)
Matt's Rancho Martinez Mexican Restaurant
Located in the popular Lakewood neighborhood, Matt's Rancho Martinez gets packed regularly, so arrive early to get a table. The menu does a great job of combining cowboy or gringo touches with Mexican style; Matt's specialties include chicken fried steak and signature Bob Armstrong dip (a delicious mix of queso, ground beef, sour cream and guacamole). In addition, Matt's chiles rellenos and flautas are Dallas legends. This wonderful spot is great for families, so feel free to bring the kiddos along on your date night. Finish off your feast with an order of their handmade sopapillas, which taste great with butter and honey. (214-823-5517)
Manny's Uptown Tex-Mex Restaurant
Located in the busy Uptown neighborhood, Manny's Uptown Tex-Mex Restaurant delivers great Tex-Mex in a lively atmosphere. Set in a house, Manny's makes diners feel as if they're visiting their favorite Mexican aunt in Dallas. The dining room(s) are quaint and intimate. But if you're looking for a more exciting scene, ask to dine on the patio. This beautiful open space is where live music is heard and it's the perfect place to be during pleasant Texas weather. Some of the most popular items there are the sunset fajitas - a mix of beef, chicken and shrimp, fish tacos and chile rellenos. If you're in the mood for brunch, Manny's is the best place in town for Tex-Mex as well. ((214) 252-1616)
Located in Lake Highlands, Mariano's Hacienda is one of the best Tex-Mex restaurants in Big D. The decor is kitsch at its finest - the bar is covered by a traditional palapa roof, and there's a pinata room, a ranch room (complete with stuffed deer heads) and a beach room. The food there speaks for itself - Mariano's Hacienda definitely has the best steak fajitas in town. While it has an extensive menu with all kinds of offerings, such as tilapia and enchiladas - if you eat meat - go for the steak fajitas. You won't be disappointed - we promise! And did we mention the frozen margaritas? Mariano's actually invented the frozen margarita machine that is now housed in the Smithsonian. ((214) 691-3888)
About Denise Brandenberg
Born and raised in Dallas, Denise Brandenberg has been a self-proclaimed “Dallas Ambassador” for out-of-town friends and colleagues for years.
Denise started her career as an advertising agency copywriter, recruiter, and manager of online forums for an international meeting planning association. She ventured off on her own a few years ago, to start an adventurous career as a freelance writer and marketing consultant. Denise’s other work can be found at Global Road Warrior, USA Today, Chron.com, The Motley Fool, LovetoKnow, The Meeting Professional, and several other online publications.
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