High Tech Happy Hour tonight at Macho Nacho

This has been a long week for me, so I’m glad to see that High Tech Happy Hour, the traveling after-work party sponsored by Texas Instruments’ gay employees group, is close by. It’s a Macho Nacho on Cedar Springs in the old Hunky’s space tonight starting at 5:30 p.m. I reviewed it here, and cannot say enough good things about the skinny queso. Get it with a beer — or better, some tequila. Save one for me — I may stop by if I don’t crash earlier.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Say cheese!

Macho Nacho turns apps into entrees, with queso the star

EVEN PILES | They layer the cheese on thick at Macho Nacho for the short stack, above, though the namesake dish isn’t for the calorie-conscious: It weighs about 8 lbs. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

……………………….

OVERALL RATING: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Macho Nacho, 4000 Cedar Springs Road. Open daily at 11 a.m.
Macho-Nacho.com.
Reimagined Tex-Mex with a cheeky retro vibe and kick-ass queso.

Food: 2.5 stars
Atmosphere: 2.5 stars
Service: 2.5 stars
Price: Inexpensive to moderate

………………………..

If you name your restaurant after one piece of food, you’d better be prepared to do it well and have people judge you by it. The Black-eyed Pea can’t take black-eyed peas off its menu; Chipotle had better damn well have roasted jalapenos every time I come in — and good ones, at that.

So if you’re gonna call your joint Macho Nacho, you’re saying two things: First, we do nachos well. Second, and they can kick your ass, cowboy.

To a foodie, that’s more than a promise —that’s a dare. Bring it on, pendejo.

The fact is, I’ve never actually ordered the signature macho nachos here, a party platter-sized combo of tortillas, cheese and the remnants of a raucous cinch de mayo fiesta: pork, brisket, beef, grilled onions and more. For a single diner, or even two on a date, maybe that is macho (if you consider clogging your arteries “macho”). But the other nachos available? Those are more manageable. And pretty good … if you can get yourself in the right mindset.

One problem is that, while some of these nachos are entrée sized, the concept of nachos themselves conjures up an appetizer — something the comes before. We’ve all ordered the app-portion of quesadillas and made do with them as our main course (or, occasionally, gone to the dark side, making flan and sopapillas the entrée). But actually shoehorning them in as the main dish feels both indulgent and unsatisfying, like using the chapter menu on a DVD to fast-forward to the good parts.

Of course, there’s no reason you have to make nachos the meal; there’s enough else on the menu that you can treat this upscale yet reasonably priced diner with Tex-Mex familiarity.

I was taken aback when my waiter suggested complimentary chips and salsa after I’d ordered the short stack of nachos ($5 at lunch — a great deal), but I said yes anyway. You’d think that the snack chip and the tortillas in the nachos would be the same, yet ours were different. With the salsa (a bland, chunky style), the chips were dusted with chili seasoning, arriving thick-cut and long; as part of the nachos, they were triangular and thinner, though still sturdy.

That’s nothing to take for granted: Nachos — good ones, at least — are harder to get right than you might imagine. The chips have to be engineered to withstand the weight of melted cheese and salsa, not to mention any protein you add on like grilled chicken or, in this case, brisket. But you don’t want heavy pita-like crusts, either — a tortilla needs to be firm but pliant, like a new boyfriend. Macho Nacho’s style held up, never becoming soggy and limp (a sad ending to a good beginning), but hearty, with juicy brisket as the capper.

There are non-nacho items, too, some of which soar. We ordered the “skinny” queso ($6.95), but fattened it up some by adding “muscle” (a dollop of ground beef). So, the beef probably counteracts the fit benefits of the skinny, but what’s not to like about chucks of meat bobbing around in a sea of melted milk fat? It’s like a reunion of cow parts with flavor.

Only the skinny version (60 calories per quarter-cup) has less cheese than the regular version, though you’d be hard-pressed to  notice. It’s creamy and gooey, though the body comes from a cauliflower purée, detectable only if you concentrate on parsing the slight vegetal aroma from the other ingredients.

Similar kudos are warranted for the guacamole, made obviously fresh with big chunks of avocado — like much guacamole, pretty tame on the palate.

Torta is a catch-all phrase for a panoply of sandwiches, though I was disappointed that the one I ordered did not come pressed a la cubana, but on a fluffy, torpedo-shaped hoagie roll. The fajita torta ($7.95), though ordered without onions came with. The beef, while moist, lacked finesse, as if it had been overcooked and reconstituted, and the “spicy” mayo was not, in fact, spicy, though it was improved by dipping in the skinny queso. (That dish goes with anything; I may pour it on corn flakes, just to try it out.)

The street tacos (again, two for $5 at lunch) were hit-and-miss. The chicken was acceptable, like the fajita meat in the torta, but did not pop; the pulled barbecue pork was significantly better, infused with hard-spice aromatics (cinnamon, mace) that kept it interesting. The small corn tortillas were wrinkled and firm but not hard, though no garnishes (salsas, cremas) were offered — they arrived pretty much as-is.

The décor is oddly soothing and slightly elegant — quite a departure from the rough-and-tumble burger dive look of Hunky’s that used to occupy the space. (The move across the street classed up Hunky’s as well.) Macho Nacho looks like a high-end Tijuana cantina moved into a middle-class living room in the 1970s. If I sound like I’m making fun, I’m not — at least no more than the designer, who imbued the space with a sense of humor and whimsy: Dance music echoes off the dark-stained beadboard paneling and retro clocks with go-go leather seats and funky, dia-de-los-muerte colors on the signature “moustache” painting behind the bar. Maybe that’s the real “macho” part of Macho Nacho: A bandito whose affection for Tex-Mex grows not just hair on his chest, but his upper lip, too. If that’s the results of eating here, I can only add, “Ole!”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 16, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens