If you're looking for something a little different, you'd be remiss for not taking Patio's Latin Cuisine into consideration. Patio's opened the first week of March in the new shopping center at the corner of Woodlands Parkway and FM 2978 called The Colonnade of The Woodlands. When you enter the restaurant, one of the first things you may notice is there is nothing about the place that screams "Mexican Restaurant!" Instead of loud colors, busy murals, serapes, sombreros and blasting mariachi music; the clean, white interior is quietly accented with tastefully placed greenery and softly playing Latin jazz and bossa nova tunes. The hostess will walk you either through the dining room or past the open-concept kitchen to your table, where the next big difference will remind you this isn't your ordinary Tex-Mex restaurant.
Our server, Fernando (from El Salvador), greeted us proffering a small plate containing carrot sticks and celery stalks, along with a small bowl of what he referred to as Bruschetta Dressing. He explained the lack of (somewhat expected) chips and salsa. For one, Patio's isn't Tex-Mex and for another - frankly, carrots and celery are just better for you. We agreed. The bruschetta dressing was definitely different. It was a little spicy, certainly tomato-based, but also creamy and light at the same time. Certainly not like any Italian bruschetta we'd ever experienced. We found ourselves wanting more when we'd finished off the crudités, but also wanting to save room for our coming meals.
Along with the crudités, Fernando asked if we would like to try one of Patio's signature fresh margaritas. He had one on the rocks, which is made with fresh squeezed lime juice, agave nectar and top shelf tequila ($9.95). I opted for a frozen house margarita ($4.95), which was extremely well made, the icy consistency almost creamy and just the right amount of sweetness and tartness - both were definitely not heavy on the sweet 'n sour mix.
Even though I knew going in this was going to be different than say going to Chuy's or Rico's, I was still a little nervous when it came to ordering something that I might not be familiar with. Thankfully, that's not really a problem at Patio's. The menu isn't overwhelmingly large, but there are a good number of both dishes just about anyone would recognize, and those that are certainly more exotic that one might be used to seeing on the menu. I decided on the Pollo Ranchero Enchiladas ($10), which ordinarily come with rice and either black beans or ranchero bean soup. I figured I could step at least a little outside my 'comfort zone' and replaced the beans with plantains.
As you can see, my dish contained three very generously stuffed chicken enchiladas - and these were quite a bit different than any I'd sampled around here lately. The chicken was moist and tender, and had a nice smoky flavor to it. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but I believe I tasted Adobo as well as Chipotle chilies in the sauce. There was just enough Queso Asadero to give it some cheesiness, but the plate wasn't swimming with oils from the cheese as is so often seen in Tex-Mex variety enchilada plates. The rice was good; again, different from Tex-Mex or Spanish rice, but fluffy, flavorful and tender; not hardened from being fried and not soupy either. The other pleasant surprise for me was the plantains. These had been sautéd until lightly browned and somewhat softened, and their mild sweetness was a wonderful contrast to the smoky-spicy flavor of the enchiladas.
While she may have stuck with a dish she thought she'd recognize, I was intrigued by the offering of King Ranch Lasagna ($15) - because really, who could resist trying a dish with an Italian surname in a Latin restaurant? Little did I know what I ordered would be nothing like I assumed it would be when I received it. King Ranch Lasagna is described on Patio's menu as a Mexican comfort food - though truth be told, it would be far more accurate to describe this dish as "True Tex-Mex," even if you don't see it on the menu at most Tex-Mex restaurants. It's made with layers of tortillas, shredded cheese, and a creamy chicken filling, and is generally known as a south-Texas, Mexican-American, taste-of-home casserole (see? Practically the definition of "Tex-Mex"). Mom made what she called King Ranch Chicken Casserole that I enjoyed as a kid but this was much better ( please don't tell her I said so). It was thick and creamy with just the right amount of flavor and spice; I wouldn't change a thing. I would even go so far as to say that it could stand alone as a great entree without the chicken, it was that good. I am so tempted as to think that I would order it again the next time I go but, I want to try other things as well. I had a bite of her Chicken Enchiladas and I want more of that as well.
Everything about our meal at Patio's Latin Cuisine was a pleasant surprise. The clean and inviting decor, the quiet music, the fabulously made margaritas and the incredibly tasty dishes - all at a very reasonable price - made for a great evening out. It seemed to us that Patio's managed to do everything that Yucatan Taco Stand promised it would but didn't, making Patio's a great alternative to routine Tex-Mex or Mexican restaurants in The Woodlands. Their location in The Colonnade of The Woodlands may not be ideal for those that live in and around Town Center, but we assure you it's worth the drive. Though you might find that once the residents of Sterling Ridge and Indian Springs realize what's in their own back yard, getting a table on a Friday or Saturday night could require a little patience.
Patio's Latin Cuisine offers a Kids Eat Free deal on Tuesday nights, and Wednesday is Ladies Night with Yelba's Band in the house for live music entertainment. Stop by and give Patio's a shot. You'll be glad you did... and whether you are - or aren't - be sure to let us know in the comments below. Interestingly enough, even with their great food, Patio's Latin Cuisine subsequently closed.
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