Quesa re-imagines the quesadilla … but is that a good thing?
Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the deep-fried quesadilla!
Yeah, I don’t get it, either.
This is the thing: Most foods are defined by their preparation. Pastas are all water, egg and flour. Roll it into tubes, it’s penne; roll it into thicker tubes, it’s ziti; thicker still and filled? Manicotti. So what do you call a quesadilla — traditionally two flour tortillas sandwiching cheese, beans and possibly meat, then grilled in butter or lard, flipped at the mid-point — that is instead made with corn tortillas, folded into crescents and immersed in boiling oil? Not a quesadilla, if you ask me — more like Fair food. (It’s not just me — actual Mexicans confirmed my suspicions.) They’d call that a samosa in India or an empanada in the Spanish-speaking Americas (by which I include Texas).
And yet, when I ordered a trio of quesadillas ($7.60; $2.60 each) at Quesa, the new quirky taqueria (’dillaria?) along Cedar Springs, that’s exactly how they came out: Crunchy, golden brown, piping hot corn pockets. In short, nothing like I expected.
“These are quesadillas?” I asked my waiter incredulously. “Yes, that’s how they come, unless you ask for them grilled,” he informed me. “That’s our specialty.”
Far be it from me to question a specialty.
Perhaps I shouldn’t get so hung up on what they call them anyway. After all, the restaurant itself isn’t named Quesadilla; if they can play fast-and-loose with the name, why not the recipe? Though I will maintain with my last breath that I was eating empanadas, the fillings were spicy-good. The picadillo (potatoes with ground beef) and chili were appropriately warming during this cold winter weather. They hit the spot for a quick lunch. The barbacoa, while tender, was bland.
Since they do offer grilled versions, I made sure to specify that on a subsequent visit … and it still arrived deep-fried. I sent it back — there’s experimentation, and then there’s getting what you order. The replacement ’dilla was exactly what I wanted … and what I expected.
The finishing touch on any Tex-Mex dish, though, is the salsa, which puzzlingly arrived in tiny demitasse cups, as if G.I. Joe was running a tea party out of a chuckwagon. The shape made it difficult to pour or spoon out the salsas — roja and verde varieties, as well as reliable ol’ sour cream — but not too hard. Ultimately I (awkwardly) got all I needed.
There are about eight ’dillas at Quesa, and half as many more selections on the all-day taco menu ($2.40 each, $7 for three), which repeats the barbacoa and picadillo, plus chicken tinga, chicken alambre (chorizo and peppers) and pork carnitas, but the ones I liked the most were the gringa (al pastor on a flour tortilla) and the slaw-slathered fish taco (where deep-frying is welcome).
On our first visit, the chips (possibly made with blue corn, but blackish) were slightly stale, and the guacamole, while fine, didn’t set us on fire with passion. Ditto the margaritas — good enough, but not gourmet. I didn’t re-order either on the next visit.
The menu boasts the best-ever tres leches, and while I usually cast a jaundiced eye at such hyperbole, I will say this: The super-moist slab of cake, with its hints of vanilla and coconut, delivered a delightful post-prandial sweetness.
The food is reasonably priced and it fills a niche on The Strip. Actually, perhaps the best part of Quesa is how it understands its market. Among the items are a “hangover helper” (a shot of broth) and a late-night menu that serves tacos ’til 3 a.m. Quesadillas aren’t available then, though. Best not to confuse customers with the munchies.
Quesa, 3900 Cedar Springs Road.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 6, 2015.