One of the year's biggest local restaurant trends has been authentic Mexican, with half a dozen openings around Dallas-Fort Worth. You can go posh at Komali in Dallas, trendy at Hacienda san Miguel on West Seventh Street in Fort Worth or glossy at Alma on Dallas' Henderson Avenue.
Or you can go heartfelt and handmade at Mesa, a sweet little spot on Jefferson Boulevard near Dallas' Bishop Arts District. You hear a lot about mom-and-pop places, but Mesa is the real deal, with husband-and-wife Raul and Olga Reyes in the kitchen and their beautiful daughter, Jaretzy, running the front of the house.
You can feel the family touch not just in the friendly service but also on the menu, with many recipes devised by Olga. The food is derived from the Reyes' native Veracruz, incorporating elements simple and sophisticated. Everything is made from scratch.
House-made corn tortillas are worth the trip alone. Mesa makes them from ground corn, more elaborate and time-consuming than the masa mix used by most restaurants that make them in-house. Mesa's tortilla was thicker, with a pleasing nubby texture, and because it was fresh, it was more pliable and resilient than its competitors.
Mesa makes the most of these special tortillas by featuring them in a couple of dishes you don't find elsewhere. Enmoladas ($8.25) consisted of three tortillas dipped in molé, folded into triangles and sprinkled with crumbled cheese -- almost like a crepe.
Picadas Veracruz ($6.75) was a trio of tarts -- like sopes -- with salsa, onion and crumbled cheese on thick chewy platforms of masa; they came with three dipping salsas, made in-house: molé, green tomatillo and red tomato. Empanadas ($7.75) filled with cheese had a sweetness that made them deeply satisfying; their masa pastry shell contained mashed plantains, a cunning addition.
Entrees felt homey, almost comforting, but with flashes of heat thanks to the skilled use of chiles. True to Veracruz cuisine, there were seafood dishes such as camarones enchipotlados ($16.50) -- the classic shrimp in chipotle sauce -- whose chile heat kept your mouth warm after dinner was over. Seafood stew ($16.50) was equally spicy, its broth red from chile, with whole blue crab, shrimp and toothsome little masa dumplings.
One of the signature dishes is duck leg in molé sauce ($18.75), featuring Olga's molé -- a deep, dark rendition, with a velvety texture and a flavor as complex as cabernet. Restaurants always pair molé with chicken, so the duck leg, with its meltingly tender texture, was a welcome variation. Chicken did appear in a stew ($14.50) with buttery-soft plantains, layered with nuances of flavor thanks to its combination of olives and capers with cinnamon and clove.
The major weakness on the menu was desserts, such as a rather spare rice pudding ($5). End your evening instead with house-made horchata ($8), laced with rum, coconut and vanilla, as you admire the rough-hewn planks of wood on the wall or the grid of tiny cacti. Oak Cliff restaurateur Chris Zielke (Smoke, Bolsa) lent a hand to the Reyeses during the restaurant's conception, and you can feel his influence in the decor. Mesa is no ordinary mom-and-pop.
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