Opened late last year in Dallas' Uptown area, Mr. Mesero comes from Michael "Mico" Rodriguez, the famed Dallas restaurateur who, 20 years ago, opened the original Mi Cocina in a strip mall on Preston Road.
Personal setbacks have kept Rodriguez out of the restaurant business since 2008. That was the year he stepped down as the CEO of M Crowd Restaurant Group, the company that turned Mi Cocina into a popular local chain and also launched Taco Diner and The Mercury.
In November, Rodriguez made his comeback, opening this small and quirky Mexican food restaurant in a converted 1930 house, most recently occupied by Burger Girl. Given the grandiosity of Mi Cocina, Mr. Mesero is not what some may expect. This is a tiny place, with just 12 tables in the main dining room -- coincidentally, the same number of tables Rodriguez started with at the original Mi Cocina. You could say Rodriguez has come full circle.
The tight-squeeze size of the restaurant is part of its charm. Everyone is crammed together -- the cooks working arm by arm in the partially open, equally cramped kitchen, the servers reaching and stepping over one another, the well-heeled patrons downing margaritas and ducking when plates fly by. Pulsing electronica music plays, forcing everyone to speak loudly. If you have any interest in people watching or what makes a restaurant tick, this tangle of music, flesh and food makes for excellent entertainment. Or you can request a table on the quiet wraparound patio, far removed from the amusing chaos of the main dining room.
Although Rodriguez could have certainly found some success in rehashing Mi Cocina's menu, he is instead taking basics, primarily enchiladas and tacos, and touching them up imaginatively; there's also a handful of American dishes, such as steaks and sandwiches.
The delivery of chips and salsa was an immediate sign that Mr. Mesero is different than typical Mexican restaurants. No big basket of chips here. Rather, exactly 10 round corn tortilla chips, perfectly lined up like toy soldiers, came with a ramekin of thin, mild red salsa. When the chips ran low, our server was quick with refills, sliding the additional chips off of a thin, narrow dish.
Even more interesting was how the terrific Queso Mesero ($8) was served. Our server meticulously spooned the first bites of the thin Chihuahua cheese sauce -- punctuated with chunks of artichokes and bright, fresh spinach -- onto two chips, as if she were showing us how to eat it. Pampering service such as this is a hallmark of Mr. Mesero. The name translates to "Mr. Waiter," and Rodriguez himself isn't above taking orders and running dishes.
Also for an appetizer, we tried, and loved, the restaurant's rendition of tortilla soup, Pollo y Tomatillo ($6). It came filled with tender strands of chicken and what the restaurant calls "Mesero slaw": cabbage, corn, cilantro and chunks of radish. A green tomatillo base gave it a chunky, stewlike texture. Crowned with a dozen tiny, crisp tortilla strips, it had a nice, sweet, citrusy flavor, not what you'd normally expect out of tortilla soup.
Our entrees were excellent. The chilorio pork enchilada dinner ($9) came with a pair of enchiladas generously filled with tiny cubes of pork, so tender they melted in our mouths. The pork came wrapped in nicely prepared corn tortillas, soft with crisp edges. Poured over the enchiladas was a smoky red chile sauce, so spicy, it was difficult to eat. But it was also addicting. On the side came pleasant green rice.
The Tacos Chef Gallegos ($17.97), one of the restaurant's most popular dishes, consisted of a pair of open-faced tacos piled with beef tenderloin, shredded Monterey cheese, sliced avocados and mushrooms, and grilled onions. The meat was fork-tender and cooked as requested, a perfect medium-rare. There was, however, a bit too much cheese, and the flour tortillas were chewy and flavorless, tasting store-bought. The tacos came with two hallmarks of Mi Cocina: a wonderful red rice and chunky, flavorful refried beans.
Other taco fillings included brisket, carnitas, barbacoa, shrimp and roasted achiote chicken. You can order tacos a la carte or as part of combo dishes. Sides include four kinds of rice, three kinds of beans and plates of peppers.
For dessert, we tried the "cinco" leches cake ($6), a moist, decadently rich slice of white cake that our server said was made with five kinds of milk.
Dining at Mr. Mesero does have its challenges. On a weekend night, expect a wait. (The restaurant doesn't accept reservations.) But there is nowhere to wait, except at the bar, but the bar has no stools, so you wind up standing up and in everyone's way. Also, closing time is iffy. On weekdays, the restaurant closes at 10 p.m. but on weekends, it closes "late," meaning when it gets slow. If you're going late, call before you go.