Years after Chipotle, Freebirds, Fuzzy’s, Rosa’s, Qdoba and Taco Cabana have blanketed the area like dip on a chip, Fort Worth’s appetite for fast-casual Mexican food has yet to relent.
Case in point: Costa Vida Fresh Mexican Grill, the latest fast-casual Tex-Mex chain to hit North Texas, is drawing big crowds to its newest location. When the place is packed, you’re looking at a 30-minute wait.
Opened last year in Alliance Town Center in north Fort Worth, it’s the second DFW location of this Utah-based chain; the first opened in 2007 in Colleyville.
Costa Vida takes a different approach than most Tex-Mex chains, eschewing a large menu for one that’s small and focused. As you crawl through the line, you only have a half-dozen options: tacos, burritos, nachos, quesadillas, salads and a handful of plates served with rice and beans.
Also setting itself apart from the usual chain, the restaurant claims to make everything in-house, and little that we ate led us to believe otherwise.
Corn and flour, large and small, tortillas are the restaurant’s calling card. They’re made throughout the day, as you watch, then stuffed, folded or wrapped around variations of chicken, steak, fish and pork.
A good bet are the raspberry chipotle chicken tacos ($7.49). A pair of warm, soft flour tortillas came filled with diced, grilled chicken; fresh, leafy lettuce; crunchy pico; and shredded Cheddar. The chicken was doused in a terrific sauce that offered both a sugar rush and a heat flash.
Enchiladas ($6.99) caught off us guard, mainly because we didn’t know flour tortillas would be used instead of corn; they were too thick to cut with a fork. There was also an abundance of melted cheese, inside and out, so much so that we couldn’t taste the pork filling.
We had better luck with the pork on the chile verde plate ($6.29). Soft chunks of it were plunged into a pool of enjoyably spicy tomatillo sauce and topped with a sprinkling of cotija cheese.
Plates come with rice and choice of beans. We preferred the spicy and firm black beans over the clumpy refrieds. Light cilantro-lime rice was a welcome reprieve from the standard Mexican rice.
For an appetizer, guacamole ($3.99) was thick and chunky, protruding with diced tomatoes and onions. But we noticed a few brown edges; it might have been sitting out too long. Accompanying corn tortilla chips were lightly salted, crisp and not greasy.
Desserts consisted of tres leches, key lime pie and caramel flan ($3.29 each). We tried and loved the latter, chilled in a small aluminum pie tin, then served bottom-up, blotted with whipped cream.
Decor is easy on the eyes — cheery and colorful, like a Fuzzy’s without the double entendres.