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Review: El Gabacho in Arlington

El Gabacho 2408 W. Abram St. Arlington 817-276-8160 http://elgabachogrill.blogspot.com

Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday

Posted 8:35am on Wednesday, May. 02, 2012

Despite being a native Spanish speaker, I’d never heard the phrase “el gabacho.” I’ve been told it’s synonymous with “gringo,” a word I am familiar with, thanks to my blue eyes.

It also happens to be one of John Wayne’s many monikers — at least to the people across the border it was.

Of course, I didn’t know all that until visiting El Gabacho in Arlington. My taco-driven priorities were so set on acquiring food that I nearly missed all the famous Wayne paraphernalia covering the walls.

(Coincidently, my office is decked out in Wayne posters and photos, along with a coffee mug quoting the famous movie cowboy.)

But all that is just a bonus at El Gabacho. It’s the margaritas that really bring in the crowds — award-winning ones, according to plaques on the wall. And for most of you, I could end the story right there. You can’t underestimate the power of a great margarita in North Texas.

But for the rest of us, we still like an enchilada or two.

The menu has everything you’d expect from Tex-Mex: enchiladas, quesadillas, tacos, nachos, other stuff covered in queso, and so on. (A new, more seafood-inspired menu is in the works.)

The Tex-Mex tour ($18.99) is the best place to start: an almost ridiculous sombrero-size platter of quesadillas, flautas, stuffed peppers, and tacos (four of each), served with guacamole and queso under a blanket of lettuce and cheese.

The shredded chicken was a tasty marvel in the flautas: substantial and juicy, wrapped in a crispy tortilla. But in the tacos, the chicken was grilled and dry, and neither the quesadillas nor stuffed peppers stood up to the refined quality of the flautas. (They can be ordered as an entree). Remedy the situation with lots of guacamole and creamy queso.

A few sips of your margarita will help, too. And let me confirm that the margaritas are indeed strong.

The fajita enchilada dish ($10.99) marries two of my favorite foods: fajita meat and enchiladas, covered in ranchera sauce. It’s sort of a novel idea, but the fajita meat does little to enhance the enchiladas, which stand well on their own. The tortillas have a branlike flavor, which gives them a taste reminiscent of the enchiladas I’ve had in Monterrey.

We scored with both the skillet flameado ($8.99) and tortilla soup ($3.99); they’re appetizers, but filling. The meat in the skillet was tender (chicken and beef), sauteed in garlic-butter and covered with melted Monterey Jack cheese, bell peppers, and onions. The tortilla soup was slightly salty, but chunks of squash, avocado and crispy tortilla strips were enough to redeem the flavorful soup.

Whatever you have for your main course, save room for El Gabacho’s ice cream nachos ($6.75), an improvised dessert that owner David Gouea originally created for his niece. Chips, made in-house, are extra crispy, light, sprinkled with cinnamon, and covered in ice cream, chocolate syrup, and strawberries.

After margaritas and ice cream nachos, you won’t be sure whether to feel pangs of guilt or waves of utter joy. Personally, this gringo got some serious joy.

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