by John Stuchly
For a restaurant with over 50 years of history to try and reinvent itself is a daunting task, but that is what Jorge’s Tex-Mex Cafe is attempting. Located at One Arts Plaza in the heart of downtown Dallas, a desire to cater to the arts crowd is natural. To better serve a clientele interested in a nouveau take on the traditional Tex-Mex fare, owner Michele Mireles has encouraged her staff to create new dishes and drinks that reflect a 21st century sensibility, while still remaining true to their roots. So come along on a tasting journey 50 years in the making.
The Jorge’s family of restaurants were founded in 1957 in west Texas, and have since spread to five locations in as many cities. Although family run, each owner creates their own vision for their restaurants, with the promise of maintaining the quality and traditions upon which the brand is built. Thus, the evening began with an introduction to Jorge’s traditional menu, with a series of dishes nicely displayed in all their grandeur. Here were the cornerstones of Tex-Mex cuisine. Sour cream chicken enchiladas, chile relleno, chicken flautas, beef tacos, and the ubiquitous queso and salsa. An explanation of the dishes was accompanied by a traditional frozen margarita, which was quite tasty.
As we moved to a private room to sample the dishes, a margarita on the rocks was served. Even better than the frozen, it had a stronger citrus flavor, both from the lime in the glass, along with the lemon juice used in its creation. If you are a fan of margaritas on the rocks, I recommend it.
The dishes above were all sampled and ranged from, at a minimum, good representations of the styles of dishes, to gold standards. For me, the standout was the sour cream chicken enchilada. The meat, which undergoes two separate cooking processes, melts in your mouth and has a superb flavor. It is a dish I use as my benchmark when trying new Mexican restaurants, and Jorge’s does not disappoint.
The chile relleno is also excellent, though not for the faint of heart as it delivers quite a spicy kick. As for the salsa and queso, both are quite good. The salsa is made fresh daily and though its initial flavor is subtler than many salsas, it provides a bit of heat on the finish. The queso is refreshingly simple, eschewing the recent tendencies to add various peppers and other ingredients to change things up. This one is smooth, rich, and creamy. Sometimes simple is better.
After completing this initial round of fare which harked back to the restaurant’s roots, the first new innovation was introduced. Called simply the La Otra Rita, this “other” is like no other. The drink is served on the rocks, and has a wonderful orange flavor, with a spicy pepper finish. The alcohol bite is understated in this drink, which I consider a plus. If you are not a traditionalist, this is the drink to try during a visit to Jorge’s.
Along with the La Otra, we were introduced to the new menu items, which included two salmon dishes (ceviche and tacos), ribeye tacos, guajillo brisket enchiladas, huevos montados, and lechuga wraps. These creations by head chef Esteban, who has recently returned to the Jorge’s family after a stint at Go Fish, provide a modern spin on the traditional dishes.
Upon seeing the menu, I was greatly anticipating the ribeye tacos. However, the brisket enchilada ended up as the shining star of the selections. Tender brisket topped with a fantastic guajillo chile sauce provide a perfect combination of flavor and spicy heat that found me continually going back for more after sampling the other dishes.
If you are a salmon fan, the ceviche is quite good as well, and the salmon tacos are a nice spin on the traditional white fish normally found in fish tacos. Unfortunately, the ribeye tacos fell short of expectations. These can be cooked to your preference, though the sample came out medium-well, and as a result a bit dry. If you do opt for these, I’d suggest medium-rare at most.
After this continuous cavalcade of culinary delights, we were treated to one final drink. The margarita fruit flights is a refreshing and comparatively low-cal option reminiscent of tropical resort drinks. Not a bad way to finish a meal in the Texas heat.
So, does Jorge’s manage to maintain its traditional roots while offering a wider variety of contemporary cuisine? In a word, yes. Next time you find yourself in the arts district, whether you prefer traditional or contemporary, allow Jorge’s to take you on a journey through time, right at your table.
Check out Jorges tonight for a free preview of their new cocktails and margaritas along with lush samples of their new dinner menu.