If the ever-increasing restaurant options along Magnolia Avenue have you wondering How many is too many? while simultaneously patting your rumbling stomach, take note of recent entry Tina’s Cocina.
The new Mexican restaurant is housed in a, let’s say, modest shopping center along this strip, but the small spot serves up authentic, occasionally superb fare that trumps any dearth of outward aesthetic appeal.
Step inside and you’ll be met with two attractive small rooms, the front painted sunshine-y yellow, draped with a few large abstract canvases and a double dose of flat-screens, and the back housing an open kitchen, menu boards and order-at-the-counter service.
The menu at owner Juan Solis’ breakfast-lunch-dinner spot spans the requisite huevos rancheros and chilaquiles to fish tacos, pollo ranchero, picadillo and fideo. The one thing all the dishes have in common is that they are recipes from his mother, Tina, who spurred Solis’ interest in owning a restaurant after years of working in the business.
In fact, for nearly 40 years, three generations of the Solis family owned a push-cart taco stand in Guanajuato, Mexico. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the tacos, tortas, tostadas, burritos and quesadillas here are first-rate.
Order any of them with your choice of meat, whether that’s barbacoa, carnitas, desebrada (brisket), chicken or chorizo. The quesadilla ($5.99) is straight up no-frills — four wedges of flour tortilla grilled and piled with melted cheese, flavorful pork carnitas and slices of tomato. The latter seemed an unusual inclusion, but it came together. The sour cream packet atop the dish did nothing for its presentation, but no matter: I fell in love with Tina’s sweet and piquant green and red sauces. Indeed, my plate looked like Christmas had already arrived.
The cup of pozole ($3.99) was enough to start the lunch on a promising note. The velvety green-hued broth was studded with dark-meat shredded chicken, chunky nubs of hominy and shredded lettuce. Topped with thinly sliced radish and perhaps a touch too much dried oregano, the almost-stew was incredibly spicy, even for a chile-head like me. But I rather liked the clear-your-sinuses level it approached, because you could still appreciate the soup’s delicate mix of textures (crispy lettuce and creamy hominy) and overall savory appeal. The crunchy tostada served on the side nicely complemented the broth — especially when a few pieces were left swimming in the bowl a while.
My dining partner’s tortilla soup ($3.99), too, proved fortifying on a recent cold afternoon. If featured generous pieces of white-meat chicken, potato, carrots, cilantro and tortilla strips. Lightly topped with shredded white cheese, it was not the decadent, veritable fondue soup found at many other establishments but a lighter take on the traditional preparation.
The chicken burrito ($5.49) rivaled the size of any of those bricks you can find at chain joints, but here the refried beans stole the show, providing a rich base for an abundant amount of chopped grilled chicken, and shredded lettuce, tomato and onions.
The desebrada taco ($1.99) was the sole disappointment of our enjoyable lunch. While we appreciated the double layer of soft corn tortillas, the brisket was dry; a bit more tomato sauce would have improved this simply adorned (cilantro, onion and lettuce) street taco.
Solis, part-owner of the popular neighborhood bar The Usual, has paid his dues in the biz, and then some. It’s about time his family’s beloved recipes came home to roost. And we can think of no better place for that to happen than at Tina’s.