Tex-Mex favorites take an elegant turn (with a kick) at Uptown’s Mr. Mesero
You know the rule about trying to fit a round peg in a square hole? Well, the principle also applies to tortilla chips.
When you first arrive at Mr. Mesero, the so-called “American-Mexican” (but really Tex-Mex) bistro in a tony but challenging upper-Uptown stretch of McKinney Avenue, you wonder if you’ve been dropped into a college psych experiment: The waiter rushes out to you a narrow tray on which are layered big, round tortilla chips; at one end, a pewter bowl of ruby salsa. Only the bowl is square. And smaller than the diameter of chips.
I’ve never taken the time to observe how other diners deal with this conundrum, but I imagine we all would look like lab rats navigating a maze — breaking chips in half, or (gracious!) double-dipping or just spooning the salsa on top like we were dining with the queen.
This is all you need to know, though: It’s worth the effort.
The chips are thick, and the red salsa tasty and sweetish; you can also order off-menu a spicy green version, just Serranos and cilantro, which I recommend. Both are good, though the latter goes especially well with the queso Mesero ($8) — white cheddar and Chihuahua cheeses and poblanos with onion and spinach added for a verdant, hearty appearance. It’s an exquisite rendition of the usually Velveeta-colored goo with red chunks of tomato bobbing in it. This is queso for connoisseurs. (The at-table service of it is an elegant flourish as well.)
Mr. Mesero is, itself, something of a round chip in a square bowl. It occupies a space which has been a challenge from before it was La Cubanita, and since its last incarnation as Burger Girl, a campy breasteraunt with dull burgers and straight-guy attitude. It’s smallish but in a charming way, with complimentary valet-only parking in a neighborhood that boasts everything from Abacus to Chipotle. Finding your voice takes work.
But it has done so, and quite well. The Mr. of the name is Mico Mesero, one of the founders of M Group restaurants, which opened Mi Cocina and Taco Diner, and his new eponymous version has both the slickness of those popular hangs and a more personal touch (refer back to tableside queso). The enchiladas are hand rolled and garnished with a sweet tomatillo salsa, not drowned, flat discs of cheesy masa. Mind you, I love that style too, but these are more like Mexican manicotti: sweet, bright and fresh. The chicken, well seasoned, was slightly dry on one visit, but the tomatillo masked that shortcoming, as did the chewy cilantro rice.
Just as persuasive: The margaritas. The specialty micorita ($9) is a burro kick to the brain — get it on the rocks, thick crystals of salt on the rim the way El Dio intended; it’s clear and refreshing, at least until you try to stand. Their el santo (also $9) — served frozen meltdown style with a splash of sangria on top — deserves a taste, but the micorita is the star here.
Something special was absent from the pescado tacos ($7) — a missing it factor that made them sing like a mariachi on caffeine. Still, the crunch on the deep-fried white fish reminded me of a good pub-style fish and chips, but without the vinegar. On the other hand, the barbacoa brisket tacos ($8) give Mia’s a run for the money: rich, fatty and beautifully smoked … but, alas, not finished with cheese or an avocado slice, which would have made them damn near perfect.
Desserts ($6) are worth saving room for. The cinco leches cake is impossibly fluffy, with a rich caramel flavor the farther down you go, as the edges of the cake absorb cream like Oprah at a dairy. The chocolate flan is unusual: A rich but airy cake topped with a medallion of caramel-and-nut-covered flan. Honestly, it’s almost too much. But only almost.
There are some “American” dishes on the menu (burgers, a shrimp salad), but frankly, I’ve never even thought about ordering them. Mr. Mesero is where a friend from Monterrey asks to go when we get a bite out. If a Mexican and a Texan can easily agree on a restaurant, you don’t mess with it.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 5, 2012.