The Original Lorena’s Mexican Kitchen, opened last fall in far northwest Fort Worth, is a throwback to the classic Tex-Mex by which many Fort Worthians swear. Think of Fiesta on Hemphill, Pulido’s, the old Mexican Inns. There are no gourmet flourishes here, just modest, straightforward Mexican food, inexpensively priced and done well.
The “Original” isn’t a reference to the restaurant. It refers to owner Lorena Chadwell, who for 16 years ran a self-named Tex-Mex restaurant in Springtown. Two years ago, she let the place go and focused on helping her siblings at their restaurants, Miguelito’s Mexican Restaurant in Hurst and Jorge’s Mexican Restaurant in Paradise. Last year, she decided to make another solo go of it, opening this festive restaurant in the spacious building recently vacated by The Cove Bar & Grill.
Those who frequented the Springtown original will notice the menu has been edited down to just the Tex-Mex standards, including enchiladas, tacos, tostadas, fajitas and nachos.
A good starter is the queso flameado, made with your choice of chorizo, mushrooms or beef or chicken fajita meat ($8.50-$10.75). As is usually the case with this dish, it is prepared tableside, where a server douses a plate of melted Monterrey Jack cheese with about half a shot of rum (in this case, Bacardi 151), then, with a lighter, sets the cheese ablaze, further melting and softening it.
The fire goes out when your server begins to mix the alcohol into the cheese, using a fork and spoon, flipping it on the plate like a burger on a grill. As the cheese cools and hardens, it’s scooped into four flour tortillas, which are then rolled like burritos, one lying against the other.
Ours was sprinkled with chorizo, chopped into tiny portions. Not all the alcohol burned off the cheese and, paired with the chorizo, each bite was powerful — hot, boozy, spicy and quite good.
Enchiladas and puffy tacos are the restaurant’s two signature items. Lorena’s Favorite Dinner ($7.95) lets you sample both, as it comes with one each, along with rice and beans.
Lorena’s is one of the few restaurants in Fort Worth that serves puffy tacos, and the beef version was exceptional. The quickly fried, circular taco shell was brown and crisp on the edges. It had a good crunch but didn’t crumble — a sign of a fry cook with a good wrist.
We appreciated the simple flavors of its filling: diced tomatoes, shredded Monterey Jack, crisp, shredded lettuce and ground beef that was plentiful and well-seasoned, tasting of comfort and familiarity.
The single cheese enchilada was about as straightforward as you can get, gushing with melted cheddar, covered in a blanket of warm, hearty chili con carne.
Refried beans were thick and pleasingly rich, and Mexican rice was spicier than the usual — a welcome touch.
Another recommended entree is the Filete de Pescado ($13.95), a generous portion of grilled tilapia smothered in butter-garlic sauce. You could see and taste tiny pieces of garlic in the sauce, and they gave this usually lightweight fish some depth and weight. Or you can sub out the garlic sauce for ranchero sauce.
We weren’t crazy about the accompanying black beans, which we figured would be boiled but were refried, deflating their firm texture. Nor were we enamored with the cilantro rice, which tasted not of cilantro or lime but of plain ol’ white rice. On the side was a small green salad crowned with fresh, sliced avocado.
For dessert, we tried the sopapillas ($4.50) and had plenty to take home. Served 12 to an order, they were tiny, no bigger than a silver dollar, and were dusted in sugar and cinnamon. As if they weren’t sweet enough, a bottle of honey and small bowl of chocolate sauce accompanied for dipping. Kids will love them.
Part of the restaurant’s appeal is its location — right on the bank of Lake Country, in a remote, scenic area accessible only by bumping down an uneven back road. Clearly, this Original won’t be easily copied.