When we first moved to Arlington, many years ago, there was a Harrigan's along Interstate 20 in the southwest part of the city. When the Harrigan's bailed, it was replaced by a series of upscale restaurants (I seem to remember a steakhouse and at least two high-end Italian restaurants). We tried each one and generally liked them -- I had hanger steak for the first time at one of the incarnations -- but they never lasted long.
I assumed it was something about the location that was the problem. If you're heading west on I-20, you have to make a U-turn to reach the location. Plus, there are no other high-end restaurants in the immediate area.
Now, a restaurant with a Mexican menu is trying to make a go of it in this location. And perhaps that shift in cuisine will do the trick. Texans do love their enchiladas and refrieds. Plus, the price points are lower at Don Mario's than they were at any of the previous efforts.
The atmosphere still has that dark-wood, black-and-white-tiled-floor elegance. A large wine-storage case holds center court. The large bar is elegantly lit. The restaurant has its "steakhouse" bones, but it's a style of high-end decor that's a bit dated.
The menu is familiar if you've eaten at a Chuy's or an El Chico.
We started with the Willy's nachos -- seasoned ground beef, beans, cheese, jalapeños, sour cream and guacamole -- which were half-price ($4.25) because it was happy hour. The nachos were attractively presented except for the sphere of guacamole on top, which had darkened through exposure to air.
A cup of roasted poblano corn soup ($4.49) was served so hot (we're talking temperature, not Scoville units) that we had to wait a bit before we could safely spoon it into our mouths. The peppers were diced very fine, though there were lots of them. A generous garnish of cheese that had melted on top into long strings made for some tricky spoon work. We liked the creaminess of this mild soup.
I am always looking for new things on a menu, and was intrigued by the grilled enchiladas ($8.49). I was expecting a cross between an enchilada and a panini, but my expectations were too high. "Grilled" just meant the chicken inside had been grilled.
We were pleased to be offered a choice of five sauces to top our enchiladas. We went with New Mexico green chile sauce, which provided the Scoville kind of heat that had been missing from our meal up to that point. The enchiladas were accompanied by rice and beans in portions that would have been sufficient for three people.
The bourbon and Jack-topped sirloin steak ($14.59) was served on a bed of grilled onions, with a thick, sweet sauce for dipping. The steak was a bit tough, not completely surprising with sirloin. It was accompanied by three medium-size shrimp and a large serving of grilled vegetables that were heavily seasoned. I liked the seasoning, though others might find it too much.
You should know: Don Mario's has long happy hours (2-7 p.m. daily) with significant savings on libations and appetizers.