How many Tex-Mex Restaurants do we need in The Woodlands? We would settle for 3 or 4 that offers great food and excellent service, spaced out around The Woodlands. What we have is some three dozen Tex-Mex locations throughout the area - most of them in competition not including Rico's five area locations. We've visited several of these local Mexican food establishments but have only evaluated a few.
Chips & Salsa
Places like Freebirds Burritos and Chipotle Mexican Grill are low on our 'need to review' list as they aren't full service. This brings us to Pallotta's Mexican Grill on Rayford Road in Spring. Pallotta's has been in business at this location since at least 2009 - possibly longer. Why has this store been able to survive for so long when other area restaurants have failed in less time? Our guess is location, location, location (choices are limited in that area); because the food, and our particular server were about average at best.
One thing about eating Tex-Mex you is that you can pretty much expect complimentary Chips & Salsa to arrive at your table within the first few minutes, usually before you even see your server. The chips are almost always the same no matter where you go, generally crisp and warm with plenty more at your disposal. The salsa however can vary tremendously and frequently does from one restaurant to the next. Red salsa may be more popular than green salsa and is typically hot and spicy while the green is usually cool and mild.
The chips and salsa at Pallotta's Mexican Grill - while the chips were warm and fresh tasting, the red salsa was thin and mildly spicy and green salsa was jalapeño hot; quite the opposite of what we normally expect or receive. Which Woodlands Tex-Mex Restaurant do you think serves the best salsa?
Sizzling Chicken Fajitas
He Said: The regular chicken fajitas ($14.99) were quite simply plain and boring, exactly what you might expect based on the name. The barely seasoned meat came served on a bed of onions with a large pile of rice that bore a hint of yellow. Missing from the plate was the sizzle and steam which normally accompanies such a plate, as was the flavor. The chicken was moist and tender but had just the slightest amount of seasoning. So slight in fact that these fajitas would most likely be more enjoyed by someone who is 'spice-phobic.' The corn tortillas were of the commercial variety, small and thin - and the guacamole and pico de gallo were about average as well. Why is it that so many Tex-Mex restaurants don't feel the need to make corn tortillas by hand and instead serve those low quality processed corn facsimiles? Yes, I could have ordered a fajita plate with a sauce, mushrooms, or some other mixture but isn't the taste of the meat the most important part?
Los Compadres Combo
She Said: I hadn't been to Pallotta's Mexican Grill in several years; long enough to forget what (if any) favorite dishes I may have had. I opted for a combo, hoping to get a little taste of everything. I got a "little taste" alright. As in, there was very little taste to my Los Compadres combo ($10.49). It's not that anything tasted bad - it's just that nothing really tasted all that whiz-bang fantastic, you know? My combo came with a cheese enchilada, chicken taco al carbon, refried beans, rice and a dab of pico de gallo and guacamole. The chicken, though tender and juicy, was just as his original fajitas were - bland and unexciting. Rolling the chicken in the large flour tortilla with some of the pico and guac, as well as nabbing a bit of his sour cream, seemed to help out immensely. I wanted to add some of the green sauce for flavor, but it truly was more jalapeño than anything else.
Chicken Enchilada Plate
He Said: I gave up on the chicken fajitas only a couple of bites in and replaced them with the Chicken Enchilada Plate ($8.49), which was a bit underwhelming. A bit of a surprise was the dish came served with white cilantro rice as the menu only says that the plate is served "with rice," so the general assumption might be Spanish or Mexican rice.
Personally, I thought the cilantro flavored rice would be more appropriate on an Italian food plate, not that cilantro is typically Italian. Maybe it's a more authentic item rather than Tex-Mex as the rice dish isn't spicy at all. Having tried the fajita chicken for comparison, I think the shredded chicken had a bit more flavor but unfortunately it was also much drier. I've had other chicken enchiladas where the ranchero or other sauce was both inside and on top of the enchiladas making for a better mingling of the flavors as well as adding moisture. The refried beans were as good as I have had anywhere but they were just beans.
The Bottom Line
There is a large demand for Tex-Mex in The Woodlands and 40-plus restaurants are all trying to fill it. This is obviously the reason that so many different purveyors can coexist and survive. Not everyone who lives in The Woodlands area also works in The Woodlands, and many of us have to commute some 200 miles or more per week back and forth to work. With the convenience of having so many nearby restaurants we're sure many just go to the nearest location so long as the basics are covered - decent food and decent service are frequently the minimum requirements.
Pallotta's Mexican Grill seems to be one of those whose survival comes not from the food or the service, but from the convenience of their location and the lack of immediate-area competition. The restaurant is located in a major shopping center near several large communities including Imperial Oaks, Legends Ranch, Fox Run and Spring Trails, thereby providing ample traffic. And as the expression goes, "well, there is that."
Think we got it wrong? Or did we hit the nail on the head? Let us know in the comments below. And remember, you don't have to take our word for it - give them a try for yourself and decide!
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Pallotta's Mexican Grill
2211 Rayford Road, Suite 119
Spring, TX 77386