While Colleyville does not lack for restaurants, its quota of Tex-Mex spots has remained criminally low. Does that explain why Matts Rancho Martinez has enjoyed such robust crowds since its opening in early May in the same center as a coming-soon Whole Foods Market?
It doesnt hurt, but most of the credit goes to Matts. This Dallas-based mini-chain has it down, with exemplary food and service. Dinner on a recent Saturday night was superb, even despite the big crowd and hectic pace. Whether it was a couple on a date or a big, rambunctious group, diners were dispatched with efficiency, from the opening chips and salsa to the closing red-and-white-striped peppermint.
Matts was founded in 1985 by restaurateur and Austin transplants Estella and Matt Martinez Jr., who opened the original branch in the heart of Dallas quaint Lakewood. The restaurants combination of Tex-Mex with smoked meats and signature chicken-fried steak set it apart from other Tex-Mex chains and earned Martinez many an accolade, including a nod from Julia Child.
After Chef Matt died in 2009, his son Matt Martinez III took over and has carried on the tradition, with branches in Garland and Cedar Hill as well as Colleyville; a fifth will open in Roanoke this summer.
Thats small potatoes compared with some of the bigger Tex-Mex chains, and Matts seemed to find the perfect balance of personal touch and chain polish. The front of the house operated with ironed-crease crispness, with dropped chips swept up discreetly and requests for no straws heeded carefully.
Complimentary chips were gargantuan, yet ultra-crisp. They came with a deviously small ramekin of salsa that may well force you to order the signature Bob Armstrong dip ($6.50, large $8.50), a loaded rendition of queso fortified with guacamole and satisfying, spicy ground beef. If you really like it Bob-style, order the Matts fries ($7) skin-on french fries topped with chili con queso.
Combination plates are priced $10-$12 and include tacos, burritos, tamales and enchiladas. Theres also a category of house favorites, some of which are quite unique, such as frog legs ($16) and grilled zucchini ($12) topped with choice of beef, chicken or cheese.
But its hard to resist the two trademark offerings at Matts. One is the chile relleno ($13), a large Anaheim pepper with a light, eggy shell, filled with your choice of beef, chicken or cheese, plus rice and creamy refried beans.
The pepper itself was a pleasure, with its tender texture and mild heat. But what made the dish stand out was the puckery tomatillo sauce and the generous sprinkling of raisins and chopped pecans, a gourmet touch.
And its silly not to get Matts chicken-fried steak, available in four versions, from the basic country-style ($11.50) with french fries and Texas toast, all the way up to a Bob ($13.50) with chili con queso.
Even if youre not a CFS fan, its hard to argue with the rendition served here: A beef cutlet, pan-fried, not deep-fried, came sheathed in a thin crust. It was just about tender enough to cut with a fork, and the flavor was savory with a peppery spice, offset by a lush blanket of cream gravy.
Desserts included Tex-Mex standards such as flan ($6) and sopapillas ($2) but the pick were the green apple empanadas ($6). They came three to an order, with a cup of vanilla ice cream and sliced strawberries. Sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, the pastries were small but plump, filled until chubby with finely diced apple. The filling had a nubby texture and tart flavor that let you know in no uncertain terms that these empanadas were made by hand using fresh apples. We split an order and highly recommend that you get an order of your own.
The menu has other options you might not expect, with a selection of seafood dishes such as salmon and grilled tilapia. Consider it the lingering legacy of Matt Jr.s culinary prowess and a reminder that Matts as a Tex-Mex restaurant is all that and more.