With nearly 40 Mexican Style Restaurants in The Woodlands, it can take a long time to get around to all of them. Many of them openly market themselves as "Tex-Mex," some consider their food to be "authentic Mexican," and a few could be considered Indefinido Restaurante Mexicano. One of the newest additions to The Woodlands is Los Arcos Mexican Kitchen, over in the Windvale Shopping Center in Alden Bridge. We stopped in for dinner on Saturday, around 6:00 PM. It should have been busy, we thought. Fortunately (or unfortunately?) it wasn't, and we were ushered right in, to the table of our choice.
A very polite busboy/chips & water server came by shortly to deliver the customary munchables. Despite the promising appearance in the photo below, in reality the fried tortilla chips looked saturated and tasted of old oil. Though we were later assured the chips are made fresh daily, we got the distinct impression these had been made really early in the day. The green sauce was boring; it was thin and peppery, as if it was nothing more than a green pepper puree. And the red sauce/salsa was hot, but had no real flavor; reminiscent of a tortilla soup, minus the chicken, tortillas and substance.
She Said: I like to try to get some form a variety dish whenever we try a new Tex-Mex restaurant. My thinking is should we want to return, it will give me a better idea for which part(s) of the menu I might want to revisit the next time around. That said, I ordered the Chiquito Dinner ($7.95), which included a crispy beef taco, cheese enchilada, queso puff, rice and refried beans. The best part of my meal was the taco; Though the ground beef was a bit soupy, it at least had some flavor to it. Unfortunately because of the excessive runoff of the meat, coupled with being parked in the puddle of queso beside it, the taco shell got soggy-bottomed pretty quickly. One thing I don't completely understand about many Tex-Mex restaurants is the "queso puff," it just seems like it's being served upside down. And depending on the thickness of the tortilla used to make the "puff," one either makes a huge mess breaking it up into bite-sized pieces, or a huge mess just breaking it in half, as the other half pushes half your food off your plate. Either way the broken pieces aren't really fork food, or finger food.
As it turned out, it didn't matter to me which direction this "puff" was facing or how many pieces it broke into, as the "queso" was simply unappetizing, plain Velveeta-esque cheese sauce. There was no seasoning or spice to it at all, and the two tiny bits of jalapeño seen in the image above were all that were there to add to the experience. Bland was a recurring theme in nearly every portion of our meal. The rice, though fluffy and cooked well, was dull on the palate; I actually salted mine. The refried beans were also underwhelming. Finally, the cheese enchilada, though in it's initially appearance held promise, was quite easily the least appealing cheese enchilada I've had since that one time several years back when I was somehow convinced to get dragged along to Pancho's. The cheese enchilada included in my meal at Los Arcos was little more than a brown-gravy soaked corn tortilla, topped with far more cheese than what was included inside. Seriously, I cut the enchilada down its length in an effort to find cheese inside, and came across one thin strip of it, the approximate diameter of two No. 2 pencil leads. Sadly, even the gravy could do nothing to redeem this atrocity; it was dull and lifeless.
He Said: I like to judge a Tex-Mex or Mexican restaurant by it's fajitas, so I ordered the signature Fajitas Los Arcos ($12.95), featuring chicken, beef, shrimp, and smoked sausage, over a bed of grilled onions and bell peppers. The dish normally comes with two grilled jalapeño peppers as well, however, I requested those be substituted for a little extra chicken and received quite a bit more chicken than beef. The beef was absolutely over-cooked - to the point where it was hard and rubbery. The chicken fared somewhat better, though having been sliced so thin, there were several dried and burnt ends; regardless, the majority of the chicken did have some decent flavor and most of it was not over-cooked. The sausage was moist and tender, but didn't strike me as anything special. She sampled a bite of it and concluded it was good, but because it tasted a lot like Chappell Hill sausage, not because of anything special done in-house. The grilled shrimp (2) tasted like shrimp with some spice thrown in for good measure - which is to say they weren't fishy or "iodine-y" as some shrimp tend to be; they were also of average size.
The accompanying guacamole was rather neutral in flavor, more chopped avocado than spiced up guacamole. Also disappointing were the corn tortillas; the same sad, thin, tiny retail variety, rather than some thick and hearty corn tortillas made in-house. The rice and beans were decidedly average in flavor, as she noted above; not bad, but nothing to write home about.
We let our server know about the fajita steak being cooked beyond edibility, and he offered to have a new portion of it made. When he returned a few minutes later, this new portion of steak fajita was actually cooked to near perfection, tender and juicy like the original order should have been - but still not much more flavor than the original steak fajita.
In light of the mishaps with our meal, the very attentive busboy/chips & water server offered us a dessert on the house. We hesitated, but decided we would give the sopapillas a try. He disappeared to the kitchen, only to return moments later and reveal they were "out" of sopapillas. How does a Mexican restaurant "run out" of sopapillas at 6:30 on a Saturday night - or any night for that matter? Last time I checked, they were made from flour, baking powder, salt, lard (or shortening) and milk, right? Aren't all those pretty well staples? And even if they were out of one or more of them, they're all easily found at the Randall's just up the walk. Amazing. At this point, our server was physically squirming with embarrassment, so we let him talk us into trying the churros.
We'd managed to stay long enough into the evening to get to spend a few minutes chatting with Raul, the manager, when he returned from an errand. We enlightened him to the disappointments we had with our meal, and were surprised by the responses he had for us.
First of all, as he arrived shortly after the churros did, and he let us know that our busboy/chips & water server (Alan) had prepared them incorrectly; apparently the kitchen only fries them and rolls them in the cinnamon and sugar; it's up to the server to add the cajeta sauce, whipped topping and cherries. Raul insisted on replacing them with a plate he said he would fix for us personally - but the new churros were also brought to us by Alan. We keep bringing Alan up because Manuel, the guy who took our order, we thought was our server; but he never returned to our table, and when we first asked who the manager was, we were told it was him. During our earlier conversation with Alan (before Raul arrived), he filled us in a little on his background as a server in several other established restaurants in the area. Alan was professional, and did not speak ill of any one person, other than himself for still being new, but he did point out that Los Arcos was the first kitchen he worked with that did not seem to welcome feedback from the patrons.
Speaking again with Raul a bit later, we pointed out the broken/damaged serving plates, the incorrectly prepared foods and lackluster dishes - and shared that we know that they spent a lot of money to build out the restaurant, so why does the product quality seem so low? He had no specific defense, other than to deny that anything was wrong with the food - stating he couldn't find anything wrong with the food in the kitchen (despite it having been 45 minutes after we were served). He was careful to say several times, however, that he didn't want to argue with us, either. Even when we offered to show him the pictures we had taken, he insisted there couldn't be anything wrong with the food, as he'd had no other complaints from other guests. Why does the manager say he didn't find any problems and he did not want to argue the point yet, he still persisted in not giving me the benefit of the doubt? Raul shared no excuses or apologies with us.
His proffered solution to the disaster of our meal was a sheet of coupons for use on a a future visit - a sheet offered to every patron at the cash register by the door and an offer we would clearly not be taking them up on. Even if the manager had discounted our meal or offered to cover the next one; there simply was nothing about Los Arcos to encourage us to come back. To borrow a phrase from HTownChowDown, everything about Los Arcos was exceedingly mediocre.
If you're willing to give it a try, let us know how it goes in the comments below. Either way, you tell us - is it weird that a Mexican restaurant would run out of Sopapillas, or is it just us being too hard on them?