You think you’ve got their number? Makeover aside, Gloria’s food stays true
ARNOLD WAYNE JONES | Life+Style Editor firstname.lastname@example.org
OVERALL RATING 3.5 Stars
Gloria’s, 3223 Lemmon Ave. 214-303-1166. Open daily from 11 a.m.–10 p.m. (11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays).
A comforting mix of reliable Tex-Mex dishes and unique Salvadoran cuisine, the success of this Oak Cliff institution and expansion into yuppie haven hasn’t diminished the simple, satisfying, well-priced food.
Overall: 3.5 stars
Food: 3.5 stars
Atmosphere: 3 stars
Service: 3 stars
I can still recall the first time I ate at a Gloria’s. It was at the original one on Davis Street, a diner-y looking box that was crowded with regulars and had typical Oak Cliff charm, i.e., fast service, no fuss and tasty, unpretentious grub. I probably ate the Super Special, a sampler of pupusa, tamal, yucca, plantain and a few other items, which cost $8. I came out to a co-worker that day, the first time I’d come out to anyone other than a guy I was hitting on. It’s been a favorite ever since.
It became even more of a favorite when the restaurant began to expand — first to Lemmon Avenue, across from Uncle Julio’s. That brushed concrete L-shaped space had (has) a smallish bar/waiting area, a patio and an acre of simple floorspace. Then one opened a few blocks from my house on Greenville Avenue. Again, cavernous but quaint, with a bigger bar area and roomier patio.
And all along, the food remained consistently, wonderfully the same.
A few years back, they tweaked the menu. Just a bit, but noticeably. You could tell the difference between some dishes depending on which locale you went to.
Then about a year ago, the Greenville Avenue locale underwent a makeover: An even bigger bar. Moody lighting. More TVs (a sad, inevitable reality of many restaurants, even fine dining ones). In style, you can hardly recognize it from where I ate that first coming-out meal. (The Super Special also costs $11 now — but is still a bargain.)
Now, the latest location — the company’s 13th — arrives, and the transition from neighborhood eatery to yuppie destination is complete. The deco urinals flush themselves. The hand dryers are Dyson-automatic-blown-air-thingies (I couldn’t even swear they had a toilet in the original all those years ago). The bar is humongous, with many hi-def TVs and elegant lacquered chairs and French doors that open onto an even more impressive patio.
All of which means everything we liked about Gloria’s is gone, right? Not at all.
As with Susan Boyle, a bit of lipstick and a fashion consult has altered the look but not the soul of the place. The seating is nicer, the finish-out more polished. But Gloria’s is still Gloria’s. At the new location, on Cole Avenue near east-bound Lemmon, service remains quick and friendly. (I spent more time looking over the newly designed menu, trying to decide what to order, than it took for the kitchen to send it out.) And the food is still the food.
I fairly judge most Tex-Mex restaurants by the quality of the complimentary chips-and-dip that accompany the menus, and Gloria’s has always stood above most. There are always two: The traditional tomato-based salsa, and a black bean puree that is so addictive, I’ve always just assumed its laced with black tar heroin. The chips are good, too — crisp and salty and sturdy enough to withstand a voracious scoop or two.
The redone menu card is another example of form over substance: It’s harder to find the old favorites, but they taste the same. The cuisine includes familiar Tex-Mex dishes, but among the best are the Salvadoran specialties. Pupusas (especially plain ol’ cheese ones) are still one of my favorite comfort foods: little pockets of grilled, filled tortilla goodness served, always, with a laconic tuft of slaw. Simple, delicious, satisfying. Likewise, the carne asada — grilled skirt steak served in a slab — is a meat-lover’s dream of hearty food.
The chocolate flan is another enduring highlight: Brown as a kid at the beach, sloshing lightly in a shallow pool of caramel.
Gloria’s version of a chile relleno is not as heavily breaded in a cocoon flour, but served, for want of a better term, open-faced, with bits of well-done steak swathed in cheese and spilling out. It’s a spicy concoction. Blander is the red sauce on one of their chicken enchiladas; the cheese enchilada, or one dressed with sour cream or salsa verde, is better. Their version of guacamole isn’t among the tops in town, either.
As with many Tex-Mex restaurants, combination plates abound. (Combo No. 2’s spinach quesadillas, beef enchilada and especially crisp chicken tostada hits the spot while watching a game and tossing back a margarita. On the other hand, there’s not much a la carte ordering — if you want a single enchilada or taco, you have to ask, and you should specify between refried, black or borracho beans with the platters. No recommendation there — all are good.
In fact, that could be the motto across Gloria’s: Old, new, yuppie or barrio, it’s still like home.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 12, 2010.