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Katie Davis

@PopCultureCuisine

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Wednesday, March 3, 2010 @ 09:03 AM

095 Hello PCC-ers; and welcome to another week of food and fun.  This week I figured that with this crazy winter we’ve ALL been suffering though, we needed a little dose of summer fun…and what’s more summer than margaritas and Mexican? 

So, it might be starting to seem like there is no “type” of food that I don’t like.  It is true, I seem to mention each week that I “love” this or that, but there are definitely those dishes or types of cuisine that I favor more than others; and Mexican cuisine is near the top of the list (number 2 behind Italian).  Unlike a lot of restaurants where I am more apt to order a salad or pick the “healthier” option, with Mexican food I say “Go big or go home!”  This is not to say that I order the most deep fried, cheese loaded thing on the menu, but I definitely don’t shy away from the hearty Mexican standards either.  First, the common practice of never-ending baskets of free tortilla chips & salsa is a favorite of mine (take note other restaurant groups…like let’s start seeing a free basket of fries waiting for us on our next trip to the diner ;)).  Also, I really LOVE-LOVE-LOVE guacamole, and most other things you can slap into a tortilla, so I let myself enjoy them. 

The other thing I really enjoy about eating out at a Mexican restaurant is that there is something so festive and freeing about them…they invite the party!  There is always music, a friendly and lively atmo099sphere, and it always makes me want to throw on a sundress and enjoy a summer day.  Fortunately, living in the DFW area, we have no shortage of Mexican and Tex-Mex choices, ranging from the low low end (El Fenix) to the fancy high end (Mi Cocina), and we have tried our fair share of them on both ends of the spectrum.  More toward the “non-dumpy end” but not overly fancy is one of our favorites, Mariano’s Hacienda.

We first learned of Mariano’s when my parents took us to one of their spin-off restaurants (La Hacienda Ranch) during one of our trips to see them when we still lived in Chicago (mom and dad live in Plano, a suburb in North Dallas).  Then, shortly after we moved to DFW, the original ‘Mariano’s’ was featured on an episode of The Food Network’s “Rachael Ray’s Tasty Travels (Dallas),” and we saw something that told us we simply HAD to try the original.  So, what was it that we saw…what does this place have that so many of the others don’t?  It turns out something pretty significant…the FIRST Frozen Maragarita.  In fact, the original frozen margarita machine was invented by the owner and sits in the Smithsonian to this day (and leave it to my husband Adam verify that this is actually true….yay, more useless knowledge for his brain! :)).  So we figured with that type of notoriety and our love of margaritas, we had to give this place a try; and as you will clearly notice from the variety of pictures, we have been back! 

Of course, this being the foundation of the wonderful slushy tequila & lime concoction, the first thing we ordered on both of our visits was the famous frozen margarita.  They have various flavors, but we chose to stick with what they are famous for, the original.  Now I am no margarita connoisseur…(ok, yes I am ;))…., but as frozen margaritas go, these are yummy-tasty.  Simple flavor, not overly sweet, not too much tequila taste, cold, and crisp. 

Next, we dove into their house-made chips that are served with two types of salsa (standard and smoked green chile).  We happily dug into both; and although we are not typically salsa scoopers (I am more of a dipper just to add a bit a flavor), the salsa here is so good that it is scoop worthy!

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The one to the back right (picture above) is the more typical tomato based chunky salsa, however, with a nice sweetness and hint of lime throughout.  The one towards the front is a mishmash of flavors, with a distinct smokiness that runs through it.  I honestly could not tell you what all is in it, but that it is worthy of a visit to Mariano’s on its own! 

On our first visit we each ordered our own entree.  I ordered the Fajita Lites, basically all the fajita fixings mixed with a bunch of grilled veggies. 

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It was really good, and I just chose to eat what I wanted off the sizzling skillet itself.  Adam opted for the Brisket Tacos, something he has come to enjoy since we moved to Texas and typically orders at many of the Mexican joints around town.  He really enjoyed them, mentioning that they were the best he’d had to at that time; and we both agreed that we enjoyed the food and atmosphere enough to come back again.

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On our second visit just recently, it was much cooler and we wanted a little dose of warmth and “fiesta” in our lives.  We were headed to a concert that night and needed something quick!  Once again, we opted for margaritas to start, but I have to say that I don’t know if we just weren’t in the mood for boozin’ or that it was too cold out, but these were not as enjoyable as the first time.  Regardless, I am going to go with those as excuses, because I remember really liking it on the warm summer evening we went the first time…and darn it if I won’t give a margarita another chance…or two…or three…hahaha:).

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Now two things that didn’t change were the chips and salsas.  These were still excellent and were happily consumed while we decided what we wanted to eat.  This time around, we were both pretty hungry, but couldn’t really decide what we wanted, so we figured why not try one of everything!  Ok…so we didn’t literally order “everything,” but they do have a combination platter that was close and just what we wanted…”The Whole Enchilada.”  It is a huge variety platter of their most popular menu items, which gave us a great sampling to share.

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Yeah that’s right…20” of Mexican goodness for us to share!…and boy was it all-good!  I particularly liked the chicken taco on the left and the tostada with guacamole (that I ended up just simply eating the guacamole right off of :)).  Also, their refried beans are really good if you’re into that kind of thing (Adam hates them! :)).  Adam loved the four different kinds of enchiladas; and when all was said in done…we were left with something like this….

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Yeah we didn’t leave much :).  I guess we liked it, huh?  I highly recommend this dish as a great option for a couple to share.  It was a the perfect amount of food, and at $17.99, was a great deal to feed two; and of the two times we’ve been to Mariano’s, this meal was the best. 

 

Winding down, unlike other restaurants I’ve featured, we did not head out to Mariano’s Hacienda because of a signature “dish” per se, but a signature drink.  I am going to let it slide, because without seeing it in Popular Culture, we likely wouldn’t have stumbled upon this gem; and hey…what is a good meal without something to drink, eh?  As I mentioned, we liked the margarita better our first time, but I am still giving it a thumbs up, because Adam likes margaritas more than anyone I know and can be a fairly harsh critic.  He enjoyed it, which I think means it was a success :).  Taste…well as you can see from the picture above, we must of enjoyed something about their food to have come back a second time and hoovered down 20-inches of their finest fair; and that salsa I mentioned, to die for!  I would be willing to go back just for that. 

The overall theme and ambiance is pretty typical of a Mexican restaurant in this area…bright colors, wooden chairs/tables, and fun themed accents on the wall that are supposed to remind you of Latin America or a time when Mayans and Aztecs ruled the lands (what’s with that anyhow?  Did Montezuma like enchiladas?  Or did he not like them and that’s what his “revenge” is all about…making sure there on every Mexican menu you see ;)).  Additionally, however, being in Texas, all Mariano’s family restaurants have a slight cowboy theme as well, which makes it fun. 

In addition to great food, drinks, and atmosphere, their service is pretty darn snappy.  On both our visits we received excellent and prompt service; and more specifically on the 2nd visit in particular, we let our waitress know we were trying to make a show and our dinner was out to us in no time flat.  I always appreciate good service as a former waitress and I thought it particularly nice of her to accommodate us like that.  Finally, and perhaps most important for you families out there, the prices are a little more than average (unless you split the giant platter :)).  However, you can get a punch card that after 10 visits you get a free meal; and who doesn’t like that?  That alone is a great incentive to keep going back, which is besides the point, because I give Mariano’s Hacienda…. 4 Little Piggies.

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