Hankering for a hint of South Beach glitz? Or a bit of Bahamas breeziness or Cancun cool?
Then take a 10-minute ride due east of downtown Fort Worth to Mojitos -- the Caribbean-Central American-South Mexican restaurant-club on Haltom City's Belknap main drag.
Don't be surprised if you need to retrieve your slackened jaw upon entering the 6-week-old Mojitos. This restaurant is big -- as in 10,000 cavernous square feet big, fitting the ballroom it once was. Though it lacks windows that would bring in natural light, Mojitos' owners have smartly decked out the place in shades of soothing, seemingly sun-drenched white -- from the soaring walls and the modular furniture, to the pendant lamps hanging above the pale elliptical bar sitting on a glossy concrete floor.
That island feel is further amped up by huge, if artificial, palm trees accenting the room, and lights splashing the glow of a tropical sunset on the surrounding walls.
Navigating Mojitos' two-page menu is greatly eased by sampling one of its signature mojitos -- be it the classic one ($6.50) all freckled with mint, or those flavored with a serious dose of Southern Comfort, or a puree of fresh strawberry, mango, peach or pineapple.
A welcome Latin flair emanates from every aspect of Mojitos, starting with many of the menu items listed in Spanish -- empanadas de mariscos (seafood empanadas), coctel de camaron (shrimp cocktail) or pescado a la plancha (grilled fish). Thankfully, for those who snoozed through high school Spanish, each of those dishes has a handy English description.
Unintentionally, Mojitos has installed a definite star-system among its starters as the shrimp cocktail, ceviche and the spinach and ham empanadas all end up playing bit parts to the appetizers' George Clooney: the crispy coconut shrimp.
Which is not to say that the shrimp cocktail ($9.99), with its little baubles of shrimp bobbing on a ruddy sauce, or the lime juice-marinated, jalapeño-flecked ceviche ($10.99), or the crescent moon-shaped empanada,($6.99), with a pool of cucumber yogurt, aren't all perfectly enjoyable starters.
But they all fade in the culinary glare of the crispy coconut shrimp ($9.99), which arrives to the table coyly hiding in a banana leaf. Sporting a breading of deep-fried tassels of coconut, each shrimp is poised for dipping in a mango salsa combining cilantro, parsley and ginger. It pinballs sweet and spicy notes all around the mouth.
When Mojitos strays from its Caribbean dishes, it veers into some standard Mexican fare. Among its 10 Mexican offerings, including guacamole and quesadillas, enchiladas and chiles rellenos, its fajita plate ($11.99-$13.99) stands out. My chicken version featured breast strips tattooed with appealing grill marks. (Other options are steak, shrimp or a steak-chicken combo.) The breast pieces are all caught in a flurry of equally tasty grilled peppers and onions. This hefty plate contains creamy refried beans, pico de gallo, saffron-tinted rice and a cooling swoosh of sour cream.
Returning to the Caribbean-Central American coast of Mojitos' menu -- with its versatile emphasis on fresh fruit, jicama, seafood and pork -- its pescado a la plancha ($8.99), or pan-seared tilapia, arrives with an appetizingly seared skin, its interior flesh wonderfully flaky. Its somewhat low-wattage taste gets a needed jump-start from a spritz of lemon and a shake or two of salt. Even more of a taste boost comes when the fish is dipped in a jalapeño-fired, pineapple-cilantro-ginger cream sauce.
Meanwhile, the pineapple pork loin ($12.99) offers three perfectly roasted pork medallions pitched like surfboards into a dune of garlic mashed potatoes. These slices are so succulent that they can easily stand alone without their somewhat underseasoned pineapple-jalapeño sauce.
Mojitos' take on the traditional ropa vieja ($10.99) manages to exceed all the modest expectations that one brings to this classic Caribbean favorite. The shredded brisket melts in your mouth and forms a tasty tangle with all manner of bell peppers and onions, in a hearty tomato sauce. This dish is executed so subtly that, somehow, one has plenty of appetite left for the crispy-starchy fried plantain sides known as tostones.
With the aesthetically appealing flan ($3.99) only a bit above taste average in comparison to most other custardy desserts around town, try instead ordering a dessertlike mojito flavored with fresh fruit. Obviously, Mojitos knows you have finished many a meal that way while on a Caribbean holiday, and it clearly wants you to adopt that permanent vacation mentality when back home in DFW.