I first went to Cuquita's in Farmers Branch a few years back, and it has always been memorable. At that time, though, I wasn't the scrutinizing shrew that I am now.
These days, my friends know better than to take a bite before I snap a photo. And is it weird when I intently stare at an onion? No, that's routine.
So I recently took my food-examining behaviors back to Cuquita's, one of the most beloved Mexican restaurants in all of DFW. Its menu happens to have some of the most authentic Mexican dishes around.
Take milanesa de res ($11.59), for example, a breaded beef cutlet that's thin, fried and a little crispy -- the Mexican equivalent of a chicken-fried steak. But unlike its American counterpart, the meat is complemented with lime instead of gravy. (There's also a chicken milanesa.)
That crispy cutlet has always been a personal favorite, just like barbacoa and caldo (Mexican stew), safe bets almost anywhere. But even the bizarre dishes at Cuquita's deserve recognition, like tacos de lengua (tongue tacos, $8.29).
The very mention of tongue tacos brings a frown to my friends' faces, but lengua has a similar flavor to barbacoa, with an added sweetness, even though it is not as tender. And like all tacos at Cuquita's, it's served on warm, soft, house-made tortillas.
Pozole ($7.59), like caldo, is another Mexican comfort staple. It doesn't have the dynamic flavor profile of caldo (beef or chicken, $7.59), but its thin, scarlet-colored broth, flavored by chile ancho (mild, dried chiles), hominy and salty pork, is expertly prepared.
Cuquita's also offers a variety of gorditas ($2.59), which are small, pitalike breads made of flour and stuffed with cheese, chicken, pork and other fillings.
The guiso de puerco (pork) gordita is full of tender chunks of meat, with a color and flavor similar to the pork in the pozole.
But if stuff like tongue tacos or brightly colored pork freak you out, Cuquita's has common favorites like crispy flautas with juicy chicken ($7.79) and chiles rellenos ($7.79), stuffed with ground beef, chicken or jack cheese.
But let's get back to the atypical and amazing: pollo en molé (chicken, $7.79) -- chicken smothered in a dark sauce. For those dabbling in Mexican cuisine, molé puts up a serious cooking challenge. It's notoriously difficult to prepare and requires well over a dozen ingredients, including various peppers, cumin, garlic and sometimes even chocolate.
It's extremely rich, robust and sometimes overpowering in big helpings. It has a lively sweetness and a spicy bite that linger at the roof of your mouth. And the chicken is easily handled with just a fork.
Skip the tongue tacos if you want. Pass on the menudo ($7.59) for all I care. But don't overlook the molé. It's a savory, true example of authentic Mexican cooking.
And don't forget to snap a photo. But even if you don't, a visit to Cuquita's is always memorable.