One of the first things you will likely notice when entering La Cantina Mexican Grill in The Woodlands is the overall appeal of the restaurant. They have definitely put some consideration into the design and aesthetics of the space. This is one of the nicest restaurant interiors in The Woodlands and certainly the best in the Mexican restaurant category. Most of the Tex-Mex restaurants in the area have a taco stand on the beach atmosphere, where La Cantina features a classy interior with an undertone of Mexican flare.
Chips and salsa are usually one of the first things brought to the table at Mexican restaurants; typically with two dipping sauces, a red and a green. In many cases, both of these complimentary sauces are nothing more than just moisture to contrast against some dry tortilla chips. A few Tex-Mex restaurants have actually put some thought into these appetizer-like offerings and are making them differently. La Cantina Mexican Grill in The Woodlands for example, offers three sauces, red, green and a yellow pineapple salsa, all served chilled. The first, a red sauce had a smoked tomato flavor, the second, green sauce was more like a spicy green-pea flavor and we found neither were very appealing. The third sauce was by far the most interesting, a sweet and fruity blend of pineapple, jalapeños, and a few spices. Herrera's Mexican Restaurant initially included a bowl of pickled carrots and jalapeños along with some chili con queso with the chips and salsa before scaling back to only including them at lunch. Our favorite red sauce is the chunky, still-warm from the stove version at Julio's Mexican Grill in Magnolia; and in our opinion, the best green sauce can be found at Chuy's Mexican Restaurant.
For all the time, effort, and thought that obviously went into completely redoing the interior after the location was vacated by Rico's Mexican Grill, it was a little harder to spot signs of such effort in the training of the staff. Though our server was adequate, I noted several deficiencies as we sat in the dining room. There was a server who struggled to walk at more than a snail's pace when he was carrying a small tray with two bowls of soup, and another time with just two beverages. Though the dining room was never more than half occupied during our time there, several tables were left unclean after being cleared. Toward the end of our meal, I noted our server assisting another who was preparing table-side guacamole; and though the other server wore gloves, ours went from bringing food to a table to the register to helping the other server to retrieving our to go box then back to helping the other server, all without stopping to wash her hands or don gloves.
As for my meal, there were some interesting selections on the menu, intriguing enough that I made note of them for a return trip in the future. For this review, I chose the Las Flautas plate, and as I had my choice of tortillas according to the menu, ordered one each flour and corn. Though the menu also specified they were served "with sour cream and queso fresco," you can see from the photo there was little in the way of anything to moisten up the rather dry and mildly seasoned flautas. The one made with a corn tortilla was difficult to finish for the chewiness of the shell, and the one made with a flour tortilla was, in a word, dull. Based on the proliferation of corn in the sides, I initially thought the dishes would lean toward a more Baja-Mexican flare, however, the rice was simply average, and the "Smoky Chipotle Red Potatoes" nothing special. It's not that I necessarily had any specific problem with anything I ate - it was just that everything I ate tasted like something I could have had before.
As I noted during our dinner conversation, it just felt like La Cantina Mexican Grill is trying too hard to be a chain restaurant, where diners can expect to have the exact same flavor profile with the exact same dishes served the exact same way no matter where in the country one might dine. In fact, I was surprised to find La Cantina only has four locations, as it really reminded me of more "industrialized" restaurants such as Chevys, Chi-Chi's, On the Border, or Rio Bravo Cantina, or even fast-casual options Chipotle or Qdoba. Again, not to say that this is a negative trait per se, just that it leaves little room for a more customized, homemade feel and flavor.
The La Cantina Chicken Fajitas for one ($14.99) included grilled chicken, grilled shrimp, and bacon served with cheese, rice, beans, and home made tortillas is enough food for two. Granted there is also and abundance of grilled onions and a sprinkling of green pepper slices; this generous serving will satisfy even the largest of appetites. The overall plate was fresh tasting, tender and juicy but could stand to have a bit more from the spice rack. Less than half of the area Mexican restaurants offer home made corn tortillas; La Cantina is one of the few that does. Upon opening the serving container, the top tortilla was larger than most but was thin and little dry from having sat on the grill too long, and the second was broken and smaller than the first. These other two tortillas were quickly replaced with fresh ones that were all much better than the first. After having eaten what was now my third fajita taco, our server came to check on us and I asked for some additional tortillas. As she turned to leave, she spun back around to say that there would be an additional cost for more tortillas and did I mind paying more for them? My initial response was sure, no problem but, wait... I understand the concept of restaurant food cost but when you bring out a serving of fajitas that couldn't possibly all be eaten with three tortillas it doesn't seem right to expect diners to pay for more of them. If the internal cost of three tortillas is a problem, just cut back on the amount of beef, chicken or shrimp; problem solved. I would also like to include that another diner approached our table during the conversation with our server to say that she could cancel their order for extra tortillas because they had simply misplaced the first serving of them. During our chat about the huge serving of fajitas, an order of fajitas for two passed nearby, and it was huge.
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6777 Woodlands Pkwy, The Woodlands, Texas, TX 77382 281 419-4000
The consistent rise (and occasional fall) of Mexican Food Restaurants in and around The Woodlands is nothing new to area residents. Many of them are located less than a mile for their nearest competitor(s) and they all tend to earn enough business to stay afloat. There are as many different style of Mexican cuisine as there are regional dialects of the Spanish language in Mexico, and while all of these Spanish speaking peoples can manage to make a living in southeast Texas, not all of the various styles of Mexican food restaurants can do the same.
The varieties of restaurants from south-of-the-border to arrive here primarily include "Spanish," "Mexican," and "Tex-Mex." If you haven't noticed there are quite a few Tex Mex restaurants in The Woodlands, enough that you could eat a different Mexican restaurant twice or more per month without a repeat. Mexican food in general enjoys a very large audience, especially in Southeast Texas, and the flavors of Tex-Mex tend to be more popular than authentic Mexican, as shown by the failure of several authentic Mexican restaurants which attempted to make a go of it in The Woodlands.
The term 'Baja' actually means short, but only when referring to a feminine short person. "Bajo" is the masculine form the the adjective, and is the standard form. Baja by itself is a noun meaning a drop or fall. The other Spanish word for short, corto, is for objects. Baja-Med is a fusion cuisine of Mexican cuisine, such as chicharrón and cotija cheese, with those of Mediterranean, such as olive oil, and Asian cuisine, like lemongrass. Baja-Med dishes showcase the fresh produce and seafood of Baja, California. Cisco's Baja, or California-Mexican style food is somewhere between the less-flavorful, authentic Mexican, and the generally more spicy Tex-Mex. Baja, or California Mexican could be considered as a little healthier, with an emphasis on fish, avocados and generally with more vegetables like corn and carrots. Area Mexican restaurants like Berryhill Baja, and Cisco's Baja are trying to fill the niche between authentic Mexican and Tex-Mex versions of Mexican style cuisine.
The salsa at Cisco's Magnolia is served cold and with the high water content, we find that dipped chips are better drained prior to eating. The amount of effort required to eat the chips with salsa increases with each bite as one tends to drain the water back into the salsa bowl. The salsa itself resembles the pico de gallo you can get at most Tex-Mex restaurants, and while aesthetically pleasing (it really looks good), it has a fresh, yet somewhat neutral flavor profile, and our bowl of salsa went mostly uneaten.
Like many of our readers, we've been to Market Street in The Woodlands a number of times and often stop in at one of the local eateries while we are there. Among the choices is Berryhill Baja Grill & Cantina which offers Baja-style Mexican fast food. Over the years, the food quality seemed to remain pretty consistent but our most recent visit did not meet our expectations. Berryhill is definitely not Tex-Mex and generally has a softer taste profile similar to authentic-Mexican food although the dishes are far from authentic. The staff was upbeat, prompt and friendly yet, that's not why were there. That being said, the food at Berryhill could be more exciting and maybe we would find it to be if it weren't for all of the great Tex-Mex restaurants in The Woodlands.
The constantly growing number of Mexican Style Restaurants in The Woodlands simply reinforces the popularity of Tex-Mex style food in southeast Texas. While 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 area is Patron Azteca, over in the area sometimes known as "Magwoods", an area which is very close to The Woodlands and in the ETJ of Magnolia, Texas, but not formally "in" either of them. This recent addition to our local Tex-Mex scene has claimed the space previously held by Texas Beer Garden, and has a much more comfortable interior rather than the stark, and unbalanced decor and seating it previously offered. The freshly painted walls exude bright colors and Mexican artwork and the plethora of bench seats all feature the logo of the proud, new establishment.
Look! Up in the sky!! Is it Cupid? Or is it Torchy? Either way, we're pretty sure it's love... based on the size of the crowd that had already gathered (and wrapped around the building) when we arrived for the soft opening at Torchy's Tacos in the Cochran's Crossing Shopping Center here in The Woodlands.
In this first look, we'll go easy on Torchy's Tacos. After all, Torchy's doesn't officially open until tomorrow, and having a crowd that wraps around the entire building before you even begin your soft opening service can be overwhelming for even the most seasoned restaurateur. But we enjoyed our evening and the polite conversation with David, the "Head Mixologist" we spoke with at the bar.
Trying to save enough room to sample a wide variety of tacos, we stuck with the absolute basic of chips and queso. Torchy's Green Chili Queso is delightful; none of that runny yellow "cheese" that so many "Authentic" Mexican restaurants try to pass off as queso. Torchy's queso has a thick and varied flavor to it, letting you pick up on the subtle nuances of the queso fresco, cilantro and Torchy's signature Diablo hot sauce. ($5.25)
We've been to Herrera's Mexican Kitchen and Grill twice now since it opened this past spring (2014). The Woodlands has so many Tex-Mex restaurants to choose from and very few of them stand out like this one. Starting with the usual chips and salsa, you also get a small bowl of warm queso as well as a serving of Taqueria Style Pickled Carrots, Jalapenos and Onion. Located in the space that once held the ill fated Los Arcos Mexican Kitchen on 242/College Park Drive near FM 1488 in Alden Bridge Village, Herrera's Tex Mex Restaurant is worth your time and your peso'spara comida.
The usual fare at the local Tex Mex restaurant includes starters like warm, fried tortilla chips along with a red and a green salsa. The tomato based salsa normally being spicy and sometimes served warm, and the avocado based salsa which may or may not be spicey. Herrera's serves up a warm, chunky, tomato salsa along with the afore-mentioned vegetables and a bowl of average tasting warm cheese, all complimentary. Sampled alone, all of these items rate about a seven out of ten with the higher score given because, well, it comes with queso! Combine a chip with the salsa and the veggies, or a chip with queso and veggies and your have a tasty little appetizer "At your Fingers."
We hear (fairly often) that people enjoy eating at El Bosque Mexican Restaurant in Shenandoah, along the east side of Interstate 45 north. Previously located on the west side in a smaller location, the popularity of this restaurant grew enough that a larger facility was in order and they relocated to the strip center just north of Sam's Club, in Portofino. We've eaten at both of these locations but, have yet to eat at the either of the two, sister locations in Conroe. The chips were fresh, colorful and crisp while the salsa was very boring and tasted of beef broth rather than anything close to Tex Mex. We arrived just before dinner time on a Friday afternoon and while the main dining room was busy, I don't recall it as being full. There was only one other active table in the same room when we arrived, but the entire restaurant was surprisingly full at the time of our departure
The first time that we ate at Chuy's Tex Mex in The Woodlands, we actually didn't plan on writing a review.- it was really just your average "I dunno, what do you want for dinner" kind of night, and we figure that most chain restaurants get enough publicity. But more than that, we've been curious about a little something we noticed a few months ago, so we thought we'd ask Eric, the manager that was on duty: What happened to the frogs? For a while the three -- the guitar player, saxophone player with a sombrero, and maracas player with a coconut bra -- stood on the roof of the Chuy's in The Woodlands but, had recently disappeared. According to an article on Roadside America, they were originally a sextuplet before being split into two groups and one set was subsequently sold to Chuy's Mexican Restaurants.
Yes, the title is correct. Guadalajara Hacienda The Woodlands is actually located in Shenandoah Texas; at least that's the municipality that collects taxes from them. Do you want proof of this declaration? You may wonder how it is that the restaurant can be in Shenandoah when it is clearly, physically located in a shopping center which anyone would likely consider to be in The Woodlands. Well I will tell you - when looking at a map of Shenandoah, you will find that the city of Shenandoah actually has a small strip of right-of-way land that follows alongside the feeder road and then opens up to encompass Guadalajara Hacienda. Sounds really sneaky doesn't it? Well, that's just the way the roll in Shenandoah. ;)