With the early Spring weather we've had lately, we thought we'd shake off some cabin fever and enjoy a meal outside. There are several restaurants in The Woodlands with patio seating, and we thought we'd take advantage of this perfect opportunity. If you've been around Waterway Avenue, you know that regardless of the weather, it seems that the street between Yucatan Taco Stand and Waterway Square is usually a virtual wind tunnel. But since there was almost no wind on this beautiful afternoon, there was only the slightest of breezes out on the patio of Yucatan Taco Stand.
I keep hearing about this enormous pile of nachos that Yucatan serves. I previously lived in the Midwest for a number of years, and every "Mexican" restaurant I'd ever dined at up there served nachos this same way. Imagine my surprise when I moved to Texas and found out that in Tex-Mex restaurants, nachos are almost always a flat serving of 6 - 12, thick corn tortillas, spread with refried beans and topped with carefully placed fresh toppings. So I was really looking forward to trying Yucatan's Nachos with Tequila Lime Chicken ($8.95) (which, incidentally, have no tequila at all).
As you can see in the picture, it really is a huge pile of tortilla chips, which were layered with melted Chihuahua cheese, chili con queso, roasted garlic aioli sauce, queso fresco, lettuce, tomato, red onion, cilantro, purple cabbage, sour cream, guacamole and jalapenos. Okay, I understand now why if it's not what you're used to, trying to dive into this big a pile can be overwhelming. But for me, anyway, I love the lighter, crispier chips, which would never stand up to the spreading, smothering, piling and lifting that the chips in most other restaurants are required to perform. This was an impressive presentation, if not maybe slightly overdone (lettuce, purple cabbage and cilantro on nachos? really?). Size and presentation aside - how were they?
Well... here's the thing: Even taking into account we were outside, everything in the pile was already pretty much cold on arrival. That was extremely disappointing. I expected the melted Chihuahua cheese, chili con queso, tequila lime chicken and possibly even the queso fresco to have been warm, hot even. But the cheeses were only mildly warm (not even body temperature), and the chicken was actually chilled. Not only that, but it was shredded, like pulled chicken for enchiladas or something rather than the more Tex-Mex style of bite size chunks of meat. And the chicken being chilled likely concealed whatever seasoning there should have been that made it "tequila lime;" the chicken was really very bland. Because of the way the plate appears to be assembled - in layers, with the different ingredients evenly scattered among the chips - it was also disappointing to find a couple of chips tucked in under the top layer that had literally caught fire, possibly as they were kept warm. We know that these chips are generally fried in hot oil so any flame there would be unlikely. We brought this to the attention of the manager on duty, and he assured us it should have been caught by the kitchen and not been served. But I think the oddest thing about the nachos was the guacamole. There was a flavor in it I couldn't put my finger on, but I was pretty sure it tasted like eggs - like there were hard-boiled eggs in the guacamole! Surely there aren't; I didn't see any, and who would make it that way, anyway? But there was definitely something off about the guacamole. Bottom line - the nachos just didn't impress me.
We'd heard murmurings about Yucatan charging for chips and salsa, a pre-meal snack that's usually free in many Mexican and Tex-Mex restaurants, and sure enough it was listed on the menu as $2.60. But when I ordered the Brazilian Steak Chimichurri ($14.00), our cashier informed me that chips and salsa are complimentary with meals from the "Yucatan Favorites" menu. Turns out though that we wouldn't have missed anything had I not ordered from the Favorites menu. The chips were nice and crisp (the same as those used for the Nachos), but the salsa that came with them was not spicy at all. In fact, it was pretty bland; no one flavor stood out, not even the tomatoes. The salsa has a lot of texture and you can see the cilantro, and whatever else they add to to the mixture, but even with all that even there was no flavor to be found. The chips have a light dusting of what is likely paprika but even that does nothing to the flavor of the chips. The salsa seemed to have one good use, adding some moisture to balance to against the (dry) chips. There is a tall bottle of red sauce on every table at Yucatan, and that's some pretty spicy stuff - we'd put it in the same category as Tabasco Sauce. But it wouldn't have added anything to the salsa except the heat factor, so we only had a few chips and salsa while awaiting our entrees at Yucatan Taco Stand.
The Brazilian Steak Chimichurri is a marinated Angus skirt steak served with grilled vegetables (mine were zucchini, yellow squash, red bell pepper and asparagus), chipotle mashed potatoes and chimichurri sauce. The steak was good, evenly cooked, juicy and flavorful; tender enough to cut with my butter knife. The sauteed peppers were still slightly crisp, the squash was a bit soft, as was the zucchini but all were pleasantly flavored and added a nice accent to the steak. The asparagus was likely only there for decoration as it really added nothing to the overall taste of the meal. The extra chimichurri sauce wasn't really needed for my steak as the meat had enough added during the cooking process. The mashed potatoes were by far the spiciest of anything I ate that day at Yucatan or otherwise. I've eaten several dishes seasoned with chipotle peppers, however, none of them tasted like this. To me, chipotle-seasoned dishes have a smoky, mild- to medium-heat with a mild but earthy spiciness. When my dining companion sampled the potatoes, she said she couldn't detect any chipotle pepper, either. In fact, to her the potatoes tasted as though they had been seasoned with something like crab boil, which is usually a blend of mustard seed, coriander seed, cayenne pepper, bay leaves, dill and allspice - but not chipotle (smoked jalapenos). The potatoes themselves did have a good potato flavor but, I could do without the cayenne pepper.
The Wrap Up
Despite what some might think based on the name, Yucatan Taco Stand & Tequila Bar isn't a Mexican restaurant, strictly speaking. So even though they serve a number of dishes that can typically be found in a Mexican or even a Tex-Mex restaurant, it's not entirely fair to try to compare them to those establishments. Yucatan also offers a number of dishes prepared in the manner of several Central and South American/Latin countries. And the menu is pretty extensive - nearly 100 items, not counting desserts, kids meals and a few appetizers. Because we only sampled the two dishes, we can't really give a definitive answer one way or the other as to whether we'd recommend it, but, we will likely return to sample other dishes at this Waterway Patio Restaurant.
In addition to the menu being pretty unique among other restaurants in The Woodlands, the general "flow" of the restaurant may take some getting used to. In the time we sat on the patio, we observed a number of patrons walking right past the entrance as they were focused on the sign that was hung closer to what is actually the exit door. Yucatan is also a restaurant where you order at the inside counter and are given a number for a food runner to bring your meal(s) to the table similar to Berryhill Baja Grill and Whataburger. This means if you want refills on your soft beverages you need to return to the fountain inside the store, near the front counter, or for the adult beverages, to the bar from either inside or out. Since opening last fall, Yucatan has already made some changes to the interior, frosting the glass doors to the refrigerators at the entrance and adding the menu to them, making it easier to make your selections before you reach the counter. We like that they left some glass un-frosted making it easy to see the unique 'tequila on tap' system.
We also didn't have a chance to sample from among the 75+ tequilas or specialty mixed drinks, and Yucatan offers Happy Hour specials Sunday - Thursday and musical entertainment many Friday nights, making it a popular nightlife destination. Suffice it to say we'll have to give them another try. Have you tried Yucatan yet? Leave your comments below and tell us what you think!
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