For west-side diners, Mariposa's Latin Kitchen could not have opened in a better spot -- right in the middle of the Locke Blocke strip mall in west Fort Worth. This charming little counter-service restaurant is a welcome respite from the infestation of chains that continues to gobble up Camp Bowie Boulevard.
Mariposa's is an extension of mother-daughter team Irma Gamez and Crystal Padilla's long-running catering business, Irma's Kitchen. As caterers, they were best known for tamales, so naturally they are Mariposa's signature item.
The menu is tiny, with only two other entrees: taco and enchiladas -- served a la carte or with rice and beans -- along with ceviche, salads and a handful of desserts (the place is also open for breakfast Saturdays). The restaurant's narrow focus gives cook Irma plenty of breathing room to craft Latin-inspired dishes that are a cut above Fort Worth's Mexican food norm.
Take the chicken enchilada dinner ($8.95). At first glance, the pair of enchiladas looked like traditional chicken enchiladas, bathed in a white sauce and topped with a small pile of pico. First bite in, a variety of flavors unfolded: a bit of sweetness in the sauce, a touch of heat in the cubed chicken. Cinnamon did the trick in the sauce, and curry gave the chicken a welcome kick. The corn tortillas aren't house-made, but they were soft and sturdy.
For dinner sides, you choose between traditional Mexican rice and refried beans or the Cuban white rice. We preferred the latter, punctuated with firm black beans. The Mexican rice was a little mushy, and the refried beans were a bit too rich.
As with the tacos and enchiladas, tamales come in four variations: beef, pork, chicken and cheese. At $4.25 a piece, they're not cheap, but they are as long as enchiladas and plump as chiles rellenos; one will fill you up.
A roasted chicken tamale came in a pool of green poblano sauce and was topped with melted Monterey cheese and diced red peppers. The shredded chicken had a hearty flavor and was nicely accented by the poblano sauce, which was spicy but not too hot.
Tacos come in two sizes: regular and street taco-size. A regular steak fajita taco ($3.75) came with a generous portion of grilled flank steak, cooked medium with plenty of pink inside, along with sauteed bell peppers and onions. Wrapped in a warm flour tortilla, the meat was outstanding, tender with a nice smoky flavor. Crystal says the fajita and chicken meat are smoked at their home, over hickory.
We also loved the ceviche ($8.95), a mound of diced tilapia, shrimp, cabbage, pineapple, mango and avocado served with a half-dozen crisp tostones, and the fiesta salad ($5.95), a colorful and flavorful pile of romaine lettuce, black beans, sweet corn and yellow and red bell peppers, tossed in sweet cilantro-lime dressing.
The menu says there is a charge for chips and salsa, but they are complimentary. The corn tortilla chips were average but came alive when dipped in the chunky, peppery red salsa.
Desserts consisted of housemade pralines, cupcakes and cookies in the shapes of peppers and butterflies. Ask for the mini sopapillas ($3.50 for five). Made with yeast, they are fluffier than typical sopapillas.
Mariposa's is small, with only nine tables, but still feels spacious, thanks to floor-to-ceiling windows and splashy, festive colors. Two-top tables are made from palettes and repurposed iron table bases. Four-tops are Indonesian, old world-style. Cool lighting: Track lights dangle from beams the family salvaged from a 100-year-old Fort Worth home. There's a lot to like in this tiny spot.