Dining review: What's in a name? If it's Cristina's, plenty

Cristina's Fine Mexican Restaurant

159 Boulevard 26, No. 25

North Richland Hills

817-520-9900

https://cristinasmex.com/

Hours: 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Friday-

Saturday


Posted 11:53pm on Thursday, Mar. 07, 2013

Cristina's swooped in to take over this space in North Richland Hills that was once home to the glossy Anejo's House of Tequila. We'd be lying if we didn't confess to a little nostalgia over that restaurant's demise. Its more ambitious rendition of Mexican food, with notes from South America, was a welcome departure from the usual combination plates.

Anejo's lasted barely two years before filing for bankruptcy in early 2012. What could Cristina's achieve that Anejo's could not?

How about this: dinner for two, with two entrees, a generous sampler platter appetizer, plus a beer and a signature margarita, for under $45. Cristina's delivers on value, and that's appreciated in this suburban neighborhood. At dinner on a Sunday, which can be a sleepy time, the restaurant was close to full.

Service was quick and efficient, with complimentary chips and a mild, chunky salsa served shortly after we were seated. The layout of the restaurant hasn't changed, with the loose L-shaped dining room encircling a bar. But the decor has been notched down to match the lower prices. That included some attractive lights over the hostess stand that changed colors, and some not-so-attractive vinyl table coverings; cheaper than maintaining the wooden tables, one presumes.

The Fiesta sampler ($6.99) was a lot of bang for the buck, comprising four mini-appetizers plus queso and guacamole. Our favorites were the crisp chicken flautitas and tamales filled with chicken and green chile. The corn masa shell was nice and moist; the inside contained shredded chicken, with tart-sweet green molé spooned over the top.

Quesadilla wedges came overstuffed. They held melted cheese with tender fajita chicken cut roughly into cubes. It was so much chicken that pieces kept dropping out. They could've gotten away with half the amount and still had a likable quesadilla. Grilled beef fajita nachos -- large crisp chips topped with a smear of refried beans -- also seemed overburdened with chunks of chewy fajita beef and melted American cheese.

Guacamole can be made tableside ($8.25) to your specification. Queso ($7.79) was a meal in itself, with ground beef, guacamole, sour cream and jalapeños mixed into the yellow melted cheese. Fajitas are the big seller, and can be ordered with meat, chicken, shrimp or veggies, ranging in price from $9.99 to $15.99.

Their other signature was the chile relleno, which you can get filled with ground beef ($10.99), fajita meat ($11.85) or brisket ($10.49). The poblano was lightly battered, then drowned in melted American cheese -- not a terrible thing, but we might not have ordered a side of queso knowing what a cheese bounty we'd have on the chile relleno plate. Rice had a spicy tomato sauce with bits of corn; the refried beans were rich and smoky.

One of the new options includes tacos that you can get with a variety of fillings. The tortilla shells were a little crispy, as if they'd been fried. But the accompanying side of borracho beans was very good, with diced tomato and chopped onion.

This marks the 12th branch of Cristina's, an offshoot of Angelina's in Flower Mound; Angelina is Cristina's mother.

We might have tried a dessert, from traditional flan ($4.99) and sopaipillas ($3.39) to the more American-style apple pie ($5.49), but we were plenty full already -- another reminder of why Cristina's is such a hot ticket.

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