by Andrew Chalk
Down on lower Oak Lawn Avenue, where an eclectic mix of shops, bars, professional associations and other small businesses dot the street, there is a new kid in town. Before you yawn when I tell you that it is a Tex-Mex restaurant, let me agree, up front, that any new Tex-Mex has the onus squarely on itself to justify its existence in a town already stuffed to the gills with this food genre. Campuzano acquitted itself well at a recent media event. Since opening last August it has acquired a regular clientele at both lunch and dinner by delivering Tex-Mex favorites and dishes that go just a little beyond the regular rotation in a consistent, well-prepared manner.
It helps that’s there is a thriving bar (with obligatory television screen) that is stocked with about a dozen brands of tequila ranging from familiar names to premium. The west-facing patio has misters to keep the environment comfortable even on the hottest of Dallas summer days. If you want to dine outdoors, but away from Oak Lawn traffic, head to the back of the long room that bisects the old house that is Campuzano to the enclosed rear patio. Dining inside, there are a combination of booths and tables in a lively atmosphere where Decibel Meter measured about 87dB when the restaurant was about half full.
The Oak Lawn outpost is the fourth location for Campuzano which is already in Cedar Hill, Midlothian and Waxahachie. It is owner, Brian Harding’s, first move into the big city so to speak.
The menu is large, containing the full Tex-Mex playbook of tacos, nachos, fajitas, chimichangas, quesadillas, soups and salads. However, Campuzano goes a little beyond the routine to include a few distinctively non Tex-Mex dishes. Mexican Guiso ($15), a beef stew enriched by tomatoes and spiced up with jalapeño chilies, is such an example. Likewise, the Carne Asada ($15) is beef tenderloin with seasoning, chilies, and Monterey Jack cheese. In an ironic twist, the latter cheese is spelled ‘Monterrey’, like the name of the Mexican city.
From the boat of three complementary salsa’s (diablo — hot, rojo — medium, and guacamole — cool) that greeted us on arrival, to the $3 special Memorial day margaritas in red, white and blue, to the free Wi-Fi, the free phone/tablet chargers and the free sun block for front patio dwellers, Campuzano abounds with clever touches. It is as though the studied service perspective of a Rosewood hotel had been brought to bear on budget dining. Sure, they won’t offer to polish your shoes or press your jacket while you dine, but the triad of salsas makes the pre-main course snacking a cut above the usual experience. You get hot tortillas as well, so spread some of the diablo salsa on them and fold them up. It won’t be the first time that the devil has got a bad wrap.
We started with mixed nachos ($8-$18) which came out plump and luscious with chicken, beef and shrimp. The nacho chips are large enough that a couple can split each one. The Shrimp Campuzano ($18) consisted of tiger-sized shrimp semi-submerged under diablo sauce that was as hot as it had been in the salsa. This dish, like a lot of dishes here, came with some guacamole as one of the ingredients. The owners have sussed on that this, and sour cream, are the lubricants that make the primary flavors of Tex-Mex cooking move. They have also read the Dallas playbook on serving sizes — they are massive.
Desserts are indulgent as appears to be de rigueur at Tex-Mex restaurants. Banana Burritos ($5) wrap a banana in a thin pastry, deep fry it and accompany it with ice cream, syrup and whipped cream. Cinnamon Sopapillas ($4) and classically served with honey.
This Campuzano may be the first in the big city but I don’t think it will be last. For fun reasonably-priced food and a good bar scene these folks have the formula just about right.
Complimentary sunblock for front patio patrons