When everyone at the table falls hopelessly in love with the appetizer, you know the rest of the meal is just going to be smooth sailing. That's what happened the other night when we invited some friends to join us at El Chaparro on FM 1488 in Magnolia.
Though we'd dined at El Chaparro on at least two other occasions before, we'd never written up the experience. But as The Woodlands continues to grow and expand to its outer reaches to the north and west, this far corner has steadily become more popular - we've heard the area lovingly referred to as "Mag-Wood." Our friends had never been to El Chaparro, as they, like us, live in "the front" of The Woodlands. After our dinner, however, they vowed to return. But I'm getting ahead of myself...
As our guest is a self-proclaimed tequila expert, we let her offer her input in determining our drink orders, and in our first round we had a custom top shelf margarita (Tres Generaciones Añejo, Grand Marnier with fresh lime juice, frozen), and a Cadillac (1800 Tequila Reposado, Grand Marnier and fresh lime juice on the rocks), while only I ordered a second, and opted for an Azul 'Rita on the rocks. All three of these were delicious margaritas, poured generously, served quickly and not altogether expensive.
Miss Jenny Says: Our wonderful waitress Maria arrived promptly to take our drink order. We ignored the hanging beer specials, glanced down at the menu, and instantly knew that Margaritas were a must! It’s hard to miss the list of tequilas and "custom order" margaritas that adorn the front page of the dinner menu, but good luck if you plan on changing up the set ingredients. Like always, I like to try a restaurant’s Skinny Margarita, but was politely denied when asking for "no agave nectar" so I could replace it with Splenda. However, I did at least get my choice of salt or no salt on the rim. I decided to embrace their original mix - just a few calories more and exactly how they intended - and I’m very glad I did.
The Skinny margarita (Don Julio silver tequila, Cointreau, organic agave nectar and fresh lime juice) was light, refreshing, and tastes oh-so-good - you won’t realize (until about halfway through) that they don’t skimp on the tequila! I say well done El Chaparro - that’s one of the best Skinny Margaritas I’ve had in awhile.
So why not sample another?
My second order - naturally another margarita - was a drink that perked my interest and one I regularly make at home, the Jalapeño Margarita. After just one taste, I was impressed. Their Jalapeño Margarita has everything you crave in a 'rita, yet it incorporates the flavor and slight spiciness of a jalapeño. Not too spicy, just right. I would highly recommend the Jalapeño Margarita to any curious customer.
Jenny's husband had a house frozen margarita - because someone had to. ;-) As it turned out, the house margarita was so satisfying, he ordered another for the second round. As Jenny said, the bartenders are all quite generous at El Chaparro, even on the house margaritas - which in most Tex Mex restaurants are typically all mix and little liquor.
To start, you are served crispy tortilla chips with a perfectly-spiced tomato salsa and cool green mystery sauce (tomatillo? chile? does it really matter?). As we already mentioned, the appetizers were love at first bite. We actually ordered two - one that everyone should be familiar with, a small chile con queso ($4.49), at least, I think we had a small and a stuffed avocado. Regardless, the queso was more than enough for the four of us, and came with a handful of flour tortilla chips. The bowl of queso, the chips and trio of sauces served as the perfect snack with the margaritas. I think we could all agree that El Chaparro hit a home run with their stuffed avocado ($5.99): lightly battered and crispy on the outside, creamy and buttery on the inside - and not at all greasy. It was stuffed with queso blanco and fajita beef, and even those of us which aren't especially fans of avocado agreed this was easily an appetizer we would happily order it again and again.
She Said: I like to get a combo platter, because it lets me try a variety of dishes without having to eat too much of any one thing. Though after enjoying my few bites of that stuffed avocado, I toyed with the idea of ordering the stuffed avocado platter just to have another whole one all to myself. Resisting temptation, I selected the Centenario Combo ($11.99), which included one crispy beef taco (with tomato, lettuce and cheese), one cheese enchilada and three ounces of fajita (chicken or beef, I went with chicken), served with pico de gallo. Once again surpassing all expectations of a 'typical' Tex-Mex restaurant, my cheese enchilada was flavorful, tender and not at all greasy, which kept my taco from becoming a soggy mess as is so often the case in other restaurants. The taco meat was a ground beef, mildly seasoned and tasty. And though I barely had room for it at this point, I did manage to get in a bite or two of my chicken fajitas, which were melt-in-your-mouth tender, perfectly marinated and grilled. I would only offer a word of caution against the pico de gallo, as it is beautifully fresh and contains (sometimes) large pieces of jalapeño along with its seeds and I found myself reaching for my water glass a few times to combat the heat.
He Said: You guys know I nearly always go for fajitas at a Mexican restaurant, and tonight was no exception - though I did go for something slightly different and get a combo of beef, chicken and shrimp. My particular dish was the Fajitas Gratinadas for one ($14.99) with sautéed mushrooms, bell peppers and onions, all mixed with melted Monterrey Jack cheese; of course this included a small bowl of guacamolé, cheese, and pico, plus the obligatory rice and beans as well. In short, these were easily some of the best fajitas I have had in quite some time. The past few times that I have chosen beef fajitas for example, I have been completely disappointed by being served thin (sometimes burned) slivers of over-cook meat and rarely order them anymore. The dinner crowd at El Chapparo on this particular Wednesday night was giving off a very positive vibe (or maybe it was just the margarita, I can't be sure) but I decided to go for it and I am glad that I did. The beef strips were large, moist and full of flavor. The shrimp was fresh and had a fantastic zest and spiciness, & the chicken was tender and delicious. The only thing I can say that is less than positive about the meal is the commercially made corn tortillas that are served at El Chaparo. Many Tex-Mex restaurants serve them, and the only restaurant to make them fresh the comes to mind is Lupé Tortilla - which incidentally is the biggest attraction to me to eat there.
And that stuffed Avocado - I can't express enough how awesomely good this thing is! I don't know that I would have ever ordered myself (it was Miss Jenny's idea) but I am so glad that I tried it and I will definitely eat it in the future at my new favorite Tex-Mex restaurant in The Woodlands. Okay, so it's not actually in The Woodlands, it is better than any other TexMex we've had in the area.
Jenny Said: Choosing an entree from the extensive dinner menu was difficult - so many dishes and mouthwatering descriptions! But, thankfully Maria (our server) helped me narrow down my selection and suggested the Shrimp Combo ($16.99), including two each of four types of shrimp: Ixtapa (garlic butter), Diablo (spicy garlic lemon), Acapulco (breaded, ranchero sauce and cheese), and Bravo (bacon wrapped and stuffed). With not much of a wait time, my order came out sizzling and was presented beautifully on a dark wooden platter. The shrimp tasted even better than the description and were fresh, succulent and cooked to perfection. My husband selected the Delicioso Combo ($10.99). He says, "I loved everything about El Chaparro - the atmosphere, the drinks, but most of all the food. The "Delicioso" lived up to its name. It was absolutely delicious! The taco al carbon was made with a large flour tortilla and stuffed with tender, juicy beef fajita meat - and not fatty at all. The chicken flauta was crispy, stuffed with perfectly cooked chicken, and served with better-than-Tex-Mex refried beans, rave-worthy rice, fresh guacamole, sour cream, and pico de gallo." Between the appetizers, the drinks, and helping me finish off my meal, he wasn't able to make much progress on his own plate. Still, he kept on about how everything was simply awesome, at one point even saying he felt like he was "at Papasito's" - his long-standing favorite Tex-Mex destination. He also assured us the leftovers he took with him to the office the next day were nearly as good as they were that night at the restaurant.
Though we were fast approaching closing time, no one on the staff felt the need to make mention of it, or even make it apparent we might be holding them up. In fact, Maria seemed genuinely pleased to offer us dessert and take her time carefully packing away our leftovers for the trip home. We decided to share a plate of sopapillas ($3.99 for six). El Chaparro's homemade, light pastries are rolled in powdered cinnamon and sugar, for an all-over flavoring as opposed to only a dusting on one side. And these were fresh and warm, cheerfully topped with whipped cream and a cherry, despite the late hour. It was almost enough for us to forgive the Sysco-packeted honey... :-) Really, though, the only down-side was Jenny could not partake in a taste since she sensitive to gluten, but she said those hot flaky pockets drizzled with honey looked amazing! We assured her they lived up to their looks. She says next time (and there will be a next time), and when she has more room, she’ll have to try the flan topped with homemade caramel sauce and whipped cream.
If you've ever been to El Chaparro, we're sure we've brought you no surprises here (unless, like us, you'd never before tried the stuffed avocado). But if you haven't been to El Chaparro - what on earth are you waiting for? Get yourself on over there for some fantastic Tex-Mex. As Jenny put it, "the margaritas were magical, dinner was divine, and service was superb. I’m not sure that I can say the cuisine is not Tex-Mex, but the food was fresh, flavorful, and fabulous. I highly recommend that you grab a few friends, jump in the car, and drive just a little further to El Chaparro. I look forward to many more visits, taking my friends and family, and trying many more dishes and drinks on their delicious menu."
We couldn't have said it any better ourselves! And even if you don't want to take our word for it, we think you'll be pleasantly surprised at the amount of high ratings and positive reviews El Chaparro has also received at Yelp and Urban Spoon (link below).What is your favorite TexMex in The Woodlands? Have you been to El Chaparro? What's your favorite margarita or dish there? Tell us in the comments below.
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Our guest contributor for this review was Jenny Kelly of iloveflavor.com. Jenny loves to cook in costume, share recipes, and make you smile. She endeavors to post new videos each Tuesday and Friday of fun and flavorful recipes - when she's not having her attention hijacked by Bella and Sabrina, her adorable four-legged friends.