Blue Mesa Grill opened its sixth local branch, in Arlington’s Lincoln Square, with many things going for it: family ownership, innovative menu, glitzy margaritas, gorgeous decor. But if it did nothing else, it would be hailed as a hero merely for bringing brunch. There aren’t many brunch options in the area, and crowds have thronged the place every Sunday morning since it opened at the end of February.
If you know Blue Mesa, you know that its brunch ($18.95 per person, $6.95 for children 6-10, free age 5 and under) consists of more than the ordinary mimosas and French toast. The chain consistently wins awards for its bountiful buffet, ranging from waffles and omelets to lunchtime goods including a salad station, brisket and a crazy dessert table with a dozen items such as flan, churros and raspberry-cajeta pudding.
Owners Liz and Jim Baron opened the first Blue Mesa in Addison in 1988 after becoming enamored with Southwestern food. Although the cuisine could be found at high-end places like the Mansion on Turtle Creek, they saw that no restaurant was doing it in a casual, affordable way, and Blue Mesa was born.
With some of their trademarks, they were ahead of their time. Sweet potato chips were new when Blue Mesa debuted them as an appetizer, served with chipotle mayonnaise. No one ordered them, so the Barons threw a handful in with the complimentary tortilla chips and it became a signature item. Each branch now dedicates one employee exclusively to the task of sweet potato chips.
Adobe pie ($9.50) remains a customer favorite. A dome of firm, moist corn masa enclosing chicken, cheese and roasted peppers and topped with chipotle cream, it’s an exotic comfort item that’s hearty, too. Painted Desert soup ($5.50 bowl, $3.95) is an irresistible starter, no matter how many times you’ve had it. Two soups are ladled side-by-side in one bowl: thick, almost fudgy black bean soup next to pale, sweet creamy corn chowder. It’s fun to run your spoon from the beans to the corn for a thick-and-sweet mix with every bite.
Margaritas range from a kitschy blue frozen ($6) to pricier versions with jalapeño and cucumber ($9).
New dishes worth investigating include street tacos, available a la carte or in a platter of three ($13), with two sides. Fillings extended from staples like steak and chicken to gourmet options such as salmon and portobello mushroom.
Coriander corn-crusted chicken consisted of white meat chicken with a tangy, crunchy crust. Pulled pork had an odd barbecue sauce. But the veggie avocado, black bean and goat cheese was soft, plump and decadent.
The restaurant took over a Talbots store, executing a stunning redesign. Broad planks of wood on the floor and gnarled beams used as room dividers give the stucco-walled room a natural, rustic feel. For the first time, the design incorporates an open kitchen, which creates some excitement in the room. Blue Mesa may be a seasoned player, but there’s always room for a new twist.