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.
Cisco's Baja Grill Magnolia is not short for 'Tex-Mex'. El menú en Cisco Baja Grill es corto when compared to several area Tex-Mex restaurants and the plate options vary. The fajitas for example, arrive with a layer of a marinade type sauce which, like the red gravy sauce that covers everything in northern US Mexican restaurants, tends to mask the flavor of the meat. The chicken was moist and tender with a great appearance, but all I could taste was the marinade...
Most -exican / Tex-Mex restaurants don't bother with making corn tortillas and simply buy those commercially processed, thin products requiring two or more layers when creating a taco that might not fall apart before you can eat it. And to their credit, Cisco's does make their own corn tortillas, yet the small diameter and course ingredients create a rather tender product that still breaks apart while being handled so keep your napkin handy.
Though we arrived at what was the beginning of the dinner rush, I myself hadn't worked up a full appetite yet, and opted for a small plate for the evening. I ordered the Smoky Chipotle Enchiladas and skipped adding any meat to them, savoring the high-quality jack cheese that was inside. Cisco's smoked Chipotle sauce had a nice, smoky flavor to it; spicy, but not overly-so, yet certainly not bland. The accompanying Spanish rice and refried beans were both good; nothing to write home about, but definitely not canned or pre-processed. I admired the fresh, quality flavors and textures of everything I tried; no waxy, oily cheeses or wilted and limp vegetables.
We also both decided to start our meal with a "hand shaken, Mason Jar margarita" made with fresh lime juice and natural agave. The 'Mason Jar Margarita" is a step up from the standard house well marg, which are made with gold tequila. And though the drinks were refreshing with a generous splash of silver tequila, neither of us felt they warranted the $9 price tag.
The (inside) dining room at Cisco's Baja Grill is a cozy space with a nice size bar and enough room between the tables for the food delivery carts, (yes, they use carts rather than serving trays to deliver the food) to easily move between the tables and guests. The outside patio is not covered but does offer large umbrellas over each table and room for a solo guitar player providing some live entertainment. The primarily glass wall between the dining room and the (raised) patio seating area tends to make the entire space seem larger and less confining.
This location, a sister store of Cisco's Salsa Company in Tomball, will likely do well with area residents, especially those who might be recent transplants from California. Cisco's Baja Grill is just different enough to stand out among the other seven Mexican and Tex-Mex restaurants (not counting Taco Bell[!]) all within two miles of its location. And though the portions are slightly smaller and the prices slightly higher, it's clear Cisco's makes up for it in offering top quality ingredients to their patrons. We'll be back.
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32823 FM 2978 Magnolia, Texas, TX 77354 832 521-5789