Snuffer’s vs. Snuffers: From burgers to Tex-Mex

493217679Our Food Issue is still on the stands, but here’s some news since we went to press last week. And it concerns a Dallas icon and the new efforts of its former proprietors.

Snuffer’s on Lower Greenville was an institution for decades, venerated for its loaded cheese fries and decadent hamburgers. Then a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing early last year turned the restaurant, the name, and the other branches over to Firebird Restaurant Group, the same company that owns El Fenix and Meso Maya. The site of the original restaurant was bulldozed, and Firebird opened a new Snuffer’s on the same spot earlier four months ago.

But Pat Snuffer isn’t out of the restaurant game — though it appears the family may be downplaying the cheese fries. Pat and his son Mike Snuffer just announced plans to open Pat & Mike’s, a new restaurant concept at 18101 Preston Road in Far North Dallas (home of the now-closed Battuto Italian Kitchen, which I enjoyed), later this fall. And while they will have hamburgers on the menu, that won’t be the focus. “The last thing this town needs is another burger joint,” Pat said in a release. While there will be a few burgers available, the focus of the new place will be hand-crafted pizzas and Tex-Mex, as well as a full-service tequila program. And it will be open late, for those after-hours munchies.

 

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

My post-Pride lunch with Mike Rawlings

1186736_10201881308536307_1584127030_nI was at a luncheon today, celebrating the 95th anniversary of the original El Fenix restaurant, a staple of Tex-Mex here in Dallas. Also at the luncheon was Mayor Mike Rawlings, who sat at my table during lunch. One of my colleagues noted that the mayor appeared to have lost weight. A while later, the mayor and I got to chatting.

“How was the gay Pride parade yesterday?” he asked me with a smile. “I was out of town so I missed it.”

It was a lot of fun, I told him.

“When I came back, I saw there was some kind of controversy?”

“Yes, about a dress code; people didn’t react well to it.”

“Well, how were people dressed?” he asked. “Did anyone show up naked?”

“Not naked,” I said. “Though some were … well ….” I reached into my pocket, pulled out my iPhone and showed him one of the photos I took (pictured here). “That’s about as racy as it got.”

“Well, that’s nothing unusual,” Mayor Rawlings said. “And that’s just what I look like with my clothes off.”

He was joking. I think. But he has lost weight. Despite his failure to stand up for marriage equality, it’s always nice when a politician looks at pictures of men in Speedos and doesn’t recoil in horror.

Oh, and El Fenix — 95 frickin’ years. Pretty awesome.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Top 10 tables

North Texas’ best new restaurants of 2011 provided a lesson in substance over style

MEXICAN, REINVENTED  |  The Mayan calendar may end in 2012, but that’s no reason not to enjoy the cuisine from MesoMaya, the top table of 2011.

MEXICAN, REINVENTED | The Mayan calendar may end in 2012, but that’s no reason not to enjoy the cuisine from MesoMaya, the top table of 2011.

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

2011 was the year great dining found a way to avoid being fine dining.

There are all kinds of restaurants for all tastes and pocketbooks. Truth is, fancy usually takes you further because when you evaluate an overall dining experience, atmosphere and service come into play; standing in line to eat a burger out of a napkin while standing at a counter costs some points.

Or rather, it used to.

It’s probably a combination of things — the economy, the rise of the food truck, an emphasis on the taste of food above the flash of atmosphere — that led to an emphasis of substance over style in 2011. In 2010, we happily tagged Nosh as our top eatery: Elegant and pretty, but also an easy, sociable dining experience. Still, back then, there were slim pickin’s overall: I went with a Top 5 instead of 10, because that’s all that felt warranted.

Not so this year. At least 17 restos were legitimately in play as I was whittling it down to a Top 10, and several more — Campo, Chesterfield, Texas Spice, Oak — opened too late in the season for me to give full shrift. They’ll be up for consideration next time.

Some others almost made the list. Il Cane Rosso gave Deep Ellum another great, authentic eatery — this time, a Neapolitan pizzeria that’s no fuss, all must-have. Meddlesome Moth has some strong points (terrific hummus, the best dessert — chess pie — in town) but couldn’t consistently impress me.

Oddly, many of the restaurants that impressed me most had quirky things in common that helped define them as the anti-fine-dining Class of ’11: Brushed concrete floors (at least three of them), prosaic strip-mall locations (most of them), TV celebrichefs-done-good (Nos. 7 and 8).

Also, by and large, the restaurants that stood out also tended to group around themes: Sophisticated Tex-Mex, Eastern fusion, classy retro-joints and ravenously good tacos. I’m gonna keep with those trends as well, so here are the Top Tables of 2011. (Look for reviews of some of them in the coming weeks.)

The Top 3 —Mexivention: MesoMaya, Mesa, Komali

Never tell a German how to drink beer, a New Yorker how to eat pizza or a Texan how to do anything.

But especially don’t tell him about Tex-Mex. (Or tacos, though that’ll come later.)

We Texans know what we like when it comes to Southwestern-style cuisine, and Dallasites are especially arrogant about it. After all, we claim Stephan Pyles and Dean Fearing and Avner Samuel, who basically invented it for gourmet palates.

But even we can be surprised. The menu at MesoMaya Comida y Copas has a lot of familiar elements (posole, enchiladas, tacos), but this isn’t Tex-Mex: It’s central Mexican cuisine, resplendent with Mayan influence — Latin-Mesoamerican fusion par example. (1190 Preston Road, MesoMaya.com)

If MesoMaya is fiercely flavorful peasant food, then Mesa in Oak Cliff and Komali in Uptown are its sophisticated cousins. Komali, the companion restaurant to Mex-born chef Abraham Salum’s eponymous eatery, exudes an easy polish with soft features that don’t distract from the modern, urban-Mexican dishes, full of moles and wonderful salsas. (4152 Cole Ave., KomaliRestaurant.com)
Mesa, south of the Trinity, is less slick-looking that Komali (the exterior looks like a wig shop) but the food boasts soaring flavors from the Veracruzana region, with deft technique. And both have bar programs worthy of a cocktail hour. (118 W. Jefferson Ave., MesaDallas.com)

4 through 6 — Eastern artistry: Baboush, Malai Kitchen, Pho Colonial (Downtown)
Whether you’re talking the Far East or the Middle East, exotic cuisine gained a foothold in Dallas. Baboush claims the closest inspiration — a North African-influenced restaurant that brings a touch of the Mediterranean to the West Village. Forward flavors dominate even though the lush, genie-in-a-bottle atmosphere has its appeal. (3636 McKinney Ave., BaboushDallas.com)

Go to the Far East for two inventive restos. Across the street from Baboush is Malai Kitchen, one of the few eateries on this year’s list that takes décor seriously, but not as seriously as its food (especially its curries and a fantastic brunch). (3699 McKinney Ave., MalaiKitchen. com). Downtown’s Pho Colonial (there’s another in Far North Dallas) takes counter-service that should feel like Vietnamese comfort food and turns it into haute cuisine with expertly cooked meats, big portions and a wallop on the tongue. (164 N. Ervay St., PhoColonial.com)

7 and 8 — Traditional Fine-Dine: Private | Social, Marquee Grill
Two Dallas chefs who gained national fame as fan favorites on Top Chef — Tiffany Derry and Tre Wilcox — ventured out on their own with favorable results. Derry’s Private | Social, with its seafood-heavy menu, interesting concept and sparkly interior, has the edge over Wilcox’s old-school eclectic New American cuisine at Marquee Grill, but both harken to event restaurants that were common before the New Casual took over. 3232 McKinney Ave., PrivateSocial.com; 32 Highland Park Village, MarqueeGrill.com)

9 and 10 — Street Food Goes Big: Taco Ocho, Good 2 Go Tacos
Food anthropologists 100 years from now will probably note a straight line from waist girth, the legitimization of food trucks and the indulgent taco stand in 2011. As gourmet taquerias proliferated, these two — Taco Ocho, a slick, likeable, well-lit suburban place and the woman-owned Good 2 Go Tacos, a glorified lunch counter in East Dallas — made the most significant impact on us, forever and finally making the Old El Paso paradigm on thing of the past. (930 E. Campbell Road, Richardson, TacoOcho.com; 1146 Peavy Road, Good2GoTaco.com)
For a review of Good to Go Tacos, see sidebar on Page 21.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 6, 2012.

—  Michael Stephens

Ciudaddio

Abraham Salum re-introduced contemporary Mexican cuisine to Dallas with Komali

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MODERN MEX | Komali chef-owner Abraham Salum takes a sophisticated approach to Mexican cooking. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

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

Most Texans know, or think they know, what Mexican food is like. Most have it wrong.

Tex-Mex certainly owes a lot to the “Mex” side of the equation, but it’s no accident the “Tex” comes first: It’s an American interpretation of another cuisine. A good analogy might the synergy between Cajun and Creole cooking in Louisiana: They may share some basic ingredients, but one tends toward a spicy country-style profile; the other works in a smoother, sophisticated idiom.

And that’s what Komali is to Tex-Mex.

Chef-owner Abraham Salum opened Komali earlier this year next door to his eponymous sister eatery, returning to his roots South of the Border for inspiration. We haven’t really seen its like since Monica Greene shuttered her Oak Lawn resto Ciudad four years ago. Greene and chef Joanne Bondy only grudgingly added chips and salsa to the menu after customers groused that they expected the familiar munchies while sipping tequila and reading over the entrees (that’s a Tex-Mex thing). So far, Komali has resisted the allure to Texify its menu, sticking fairly authentically to recipes from regional Mexico.

Of course, that takes some getting used to. The quesadillas ($8.50) here are fried crisp and puffy, in a variety of colored tortillas. For those expecting pizza-like wedges, they come as a shock, and they are greasier than their American cousins, but that is cut by the heat of he raw tomatillo salsa and the creaminess of the excellent, chunky guacamole.

Mole is the sauce of choice on many of the items, itself a refreshing option rarely seen in Tex-Mex joints. A deeply spiced, faintly chocolatey topper, it can range from pasty to watery. The version here splits the difference:

Slightly soupy with chucks of spiciness that burst out. It accompanies both the Qaxaca-style tamale ($8.50) and the Robusto cigar-sized enchilada that accompanies that tampiquena filet ($20).

Scoop up a little to dip the filet in, one of the highlights of the menu.

Again, expectations are subverted: Rather than a thick, puck-like disc of beef, the filet at Komali snakes across the plate like a flank steak, though nearly free of fat. Minimally dressed with cracked black pepper, it’s as tender as a Shakespearean sonnet. Ask for a ramekin of spicy brown abrol salsa (or just piggyback on the mole) to bring out even more flavor.

Screen shot 2011-11-03 at 7.34.51 PMKomali does sea as well as land; when you remove the banana leaf from the salmon filet ($18), your eyes are visited with a shiny, poached square of brilliant fish that practically falls apart if you look at it too long; your nose may detect the citrusy hint of oranges. You couldn’t cook a more perfect piece of fish.

(For unbridled spiciness, best to look to the bar, where mixologist Leann Berry has crafted an array of addictive cocktails, like the namesake, bright as an hibiscus flower, and a habanero margarita that has more kick than a rodeo mule.)

Chef Salum acts as his own pastry chef, serving up chocoflan, churros (served with a demitasse of hot chocolate) and crepas con cajeta, milk-infused crepes that pull sweetness from plantains.

As with Salum next door, the atmosphere is elegant yet approachable: Painted concrete floor, fresh flowers and neutral beiges are warm without distracting from the food. Good call.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 4, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

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

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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

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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

Lightning strikes again

Tim Seelig felt blessed to lead the chorale for 20 years. But he begins a new stage of his life and career outside Texas with his post at the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | jones@dallasvoice.com

Seelig-HS_WhiteTie_Vert
PICKING UP THE BATON  | After 24 years in Dallas, Tim Seelig leaves his Texas home to take over as artistic director of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus. But as excited as he is about the move, he’ll really miss eating good Tex-Mex. (Photo courtesy Shawn Northcutt)

Timothy Seelig is all about reinvention.

He’s done it almost too many times to count. The first, of course, was when, as a married adult with children active in the church, he came out of the closet and moved to Dallas to lead the Turtle Creek Chorale. For 20 years, he helped build it into one of the preeminent men’s choruses in the world. While there he became something of a musical entrepreneur, releasing albums, commissioning new works and teaching voice at SMU.

After he stepped down from the TCC four years ago, he continued to be active in Dallas life, as director of Art for Peace & Justice at the Cathedral of Hope and serving as the founding artistic director for a new mixed vocal ensemble, Resounding Harmony.

But the change this month is big even for him. He’s moving to California to assume the baton as artistic director of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus.

“Wow,” he said just hours after inking the agreement. “I mean, the history of that chorus! Gosh.”

A month later, he’s fully packed and sharing a much smaller space in Dubose Triangle near the Castro District where his partner, Shawn Northcutt, has lived for 18 months while working a long-term contract with Apple. On Jan. 10 — his 60th birthday — he’ll lead his first rehearsal.

“It hasn’t soaked in at all,” he says. “We did not sell our loft [in Dallas] so I’ll come back a lot.”

It’s a major feather in a cap already plumed more than a peacock.

“I loved, loved my time in Dallas,” Seelig gushes. “At the end of my 20 years at the chorale, I felt if I never did anything more significant, I would have lived a life more gratifying that most. It was a life that was full. If I’d had the money, I could have rocked on a rocking chair. But to start back over is icing on the cake and an opportunity not many people get.”

“I could speak about Tim’s legacy, his accomplishments, his infectious personality or his energy,” says Jonathan Palant, who took over from Seelig as artistic director of the chorale.  “It was under Tim’s baton that our mission changed to include the four pillars against which the Turtle Creek Chorale measures everything today: to entertain, educate, unite and uplift. We wish him all the best!”
Seelig steps into a chorus with a storied history.

“In the GALA Choruses network, they are the grandfather,” he says. “In June of 1981, they were two years old and decided to take a national tour to spread the gospel of gays singing. It was a legendary tour — they went to Dallas, Minneapolis, Bismarck and planted the seeds of all these choruses. Many looked to SFGMC for their motivation 30 years ago.” The tour was even detailed in Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City.

With such a legacy, “anytime [the artistic director position] has come open, everybody considers it,” Seelig says. So last August, when the SFGMC announced that Kathleen McGuire (who led the group for 10 years) would be stepping down, Seelig jumped.

It was a bit of déjà vu for Seelig, who had considered the post a decade earlier, “but it was the year we were commissioning Sing for the Cure, and I couldn’t step away. But this time was different. I had to think long and hard, but it was a door I could not not walk through.” He was selected as one of the three finalists and got the job last month, just days before Resounding Harmony’s final concert of the season.

Still, leaving Dallas —  Seelig has lived only in Texas and comparatively brief stints in Europe and Oklahoma — was not an easy decision for him.

“I love my life in Dallas and Shawn has had a fabulous career. Life is happy and Resounding Harmony is one of the most fun things I’ve ever done in my life.” His son and parents, who are elderly, are also local. But he knew it was the right move. His daughter lives in San Francisco; she had Seelig’s first grandchild prematurely, just days after Thanksgiving.

“The biggest factor of all was the birth of my granddaughter, Clara,” he says. “They’ve already picked out names for me and Shawn: Honey and Bubbles. I’m Bubbles. The fact I had conducted that chorus for four months a year-and-a-half ago gave me a real taste for the city, too, though living there will be different.

But I could see myself there.”

Still, there’s a lot he will miss.

“Leaving Resounding Harmony is really, really hard — they are doing just wonderfully. The board members are staying, I think they’ll do a wonderful job,” he says. “It was hard to leave SMU and my students and leave the cathedral as well. I was really enjoying working with Jo — I am a big Jo Hudson fan. But I’m not the kind who looks back. There’s no time for that. SFGMC is like jumping on a moving bullet train. Getting up to speed is incredible.

“And I can tell that fairly first hand, I will miss chicken fried steak and good Tex-Mex. And I’m gonna miss a lot of the musicmaking from the wonderful music community that Dallas has provided. It ‘s wonderful place to be gay and be a musician. Also, Dallas is wide open — if you can dream it up and raise the money, you can do it. I’m gonna miss that.”

There are also things that make him apprehensive about going to a new city — like, his bigger-than-life personality and cheeky turn-of-phrase.

“So far, they find my Texana adorable — they think it’s real cute, like saying y’all. I just hope that’s not gonna wear off,” he says.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 17, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Hope & Gloria’s

You think you’ve got their number? Makeover aside, Gloria’s food stays true

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

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Gloria’s iconic Super Special
SUPER AND SPECIAL | Gloria’s iconic Super Special is a tasty sampler of Salvadoran cuisine.

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

Price: Moderate

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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.

Until.

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.

—  Michael Stephens