UPDATE: La Choza Mexican Grill, the hole-in-the-wall Santa Fe-style cafe near Azle, is moving closer. It will move by May to a new location at 7001 Confederate Park Road, next door to LightCatcher Winery & Bistro in Fort Worth. For now, La Choza continues at 11210 S. Farm Road 730 near Azle. New items include enchiladas on blue corn tortillas and a spicy Mexican chocolate cheesecake.
Despite Fort Worth's seemingly insatiable appetite for variations of Mexican food, from food-truck tacos to high-end huitlacoche, Santa Fe-style Mexican dishes have yet to establish a stronghold here. Local restaurants offering this "New Mexican" cuisine, characterized by heavy use of red and green chile peppers, are few and far between.
Only a handful exist, and C. Anthony Aguillon is responsible for opening two of them: Santa Fe Cafe, called Anthony's Place when it opened nine years ago in north Fort Worth, and La Choza Mexican Grill in Azle. Aguillon's ex-wife runs Santa Fe Cafe, which we reviewed in March; he runs La Choza, which celebrated its fifth anniversary this year.
La Choza is a longer drive, down some winding, scenic back roads, and the ramshackle building is slightly off-putting. But this tiny place is charmingly festive and comfortable inside, and the food is of good quality, made from fresh ingredients, including chiles that Aguillon says come from New Mexico.
Aguillon grew up in Chimayo, N.M., and spent years as a chef in and around the Santa Fe area; he was also an executive chef at Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino's restaurant in Miami. Many of Aguillon's dishes pay homage to New Mexican cuisine, like stacked enchiladas and a Hatch green chile cheeseburger. But there's Tex-Mex, too, along with interesting specials such as habanero mango shrimp and chicken ($14.99), and Sunday brunch with huevos rancheros.
Hallmarks of New Mexican menus, red and green chile stews, were offered as appetizers ($6.99). Large cups of each stew, distinguishable immediately by their vibrant red and green colors, came filled with chile pepper pieces, ground meat and whole pinto beans. Debates have raged for years over which is better, but it's really a matter of preference: the green stew had a spicy and bright flavor, while the red stew had a smokier taste and produced more heat; both were excellent.
The chiles came together on the flat enchilada plate ($7.49), served "Christmas"-style, a term for the red and green chiles used in the same dish. Flat enchiladas were like a sandwich: a soft corn tortilla was laid flat, topped with ground beef and a mix of cheddar and jack cheese, then topped with another tortilla -- hence the dish's surname, "stacked enchiladas." Red and green sauces encircled the enchiladas, and on top was a fried egg.
When mixed, the two sauces worked well together, creating a complex, satisfying flavor. Tortillas, although not made in-house, were likable, with a chewy texture. It was a little disappointing that the tortillas weren't blue corn, which are traditionally used for this dish.
On the side came refried beans that had an odd taste, as if they'd been overcooked, and light, mild Spanish rice.
Our favorite dish was the naked chile relleno ($10.99). An unbreaded, or "naked," roasted poblano pepper was stuffed with a mixture of tender cubes of grilled chicken, firm black beans, corn, sliced, cooked onions, jack cheese and white wine. Below it was a bed of rice and spicy, red ranchera sauce. On top was a trio of fresh avocado slices and crispy corn tortilla strips. It was a beautiful presentation of a somewhat tired dish, and full of familiar, comforting flavors.
For dessert, we tried the sopaipillas ($5.99), served three to an order. They were supposed to be puffy but ours were flat, with crisp, browned edges and pleasingly chewy centers. They were streaked with caramel sauce and honey, as rich as they were pretty.