Dallas transplant serves up Tex Mex fare with a casually sophisticated flair
Mico Rodriguez of Dallas must have wondered, from time to time, why it meant so much to him to import his Mi Cocina Tex-Mex restaurant concept to Houston. It wasn’t as though we were dying here without any Tex-Mex, with the hundreds or even thousands of taquerias perched on almost every street corner, not to mention all those trucks and vans that deliver lunchtime tacos to construction sites like some salsa-crazed version of the ice-cream man.
We have plenty of entry-level Tex-Mex already in this town, not to mention at least two chains with major-league track records – the Pappas family’s Pappasito’s and the now-Serranos-owned Mama Ninfa’s. Heck, locals still treat grungy Ninfa’s on Navigation as a pilgrimage point equal to Santiago de Compostella, years after the beloved Mama Ninfa sold all her restaurants lock, stock and skirt steak and then passed away.
Surely, Rodriguez was aware of this, right along with the fact that Houston is home to the “Master of All Multiunits,” Tilman Fertitta, whose only foray into this cuisine thus far has been the acquisition of Cadillac Bar. To hear Rodriguez talk about Mi Cocina, Tex-Mex (also known simply as Mexican food) is the hottest brand going. He has success stories in Dallas and Fort Worth, not to mention Kansas City and now Houston – Houston twice, in fact, with openings in Tony Vallone’s former Grotto location at Woodway and Voss, and then in the finally-on-fire eatery location of The Woodlands.
What Mi Cocina brings to the table is, well, everything we expect plus some. Very little reinventing of the wheel goes on in “my kitchen” (that’s what the name means), giving way to a slow and deliberate perfecting of Tex-Mex dishes already shown to be crowd pleasers. Since Rodriguez grew up in his family’s Tex-Mex restaurant in Dallas and later launched Mi Cocina with a single 12-table location, he can be expected to make quick work of tacos, enchiladas, quesadillas and the like, not to mention the frozen margaritas that were actually invented in Dallas. The place is set apart from most other similar concepts by its insistence on style. It’s not for nothing (and not just a matter of location, location, location) that the typical Mi Cocina parking lot is full of BMWs, Lexuses and Acuras or that the crowd inside reflects a who’s who of the local social scene. The décor is modern enough barely to feel Mexican, which of course is what most restaurants in the real place called Mexico strive for. And the music is a hipper version of what we expect, the perfect accompaniment to a lunch and dinner daily serving of meet, eat and greet.
There are many wonderful dishes on this menu. Some best bets include appetizers like the flautitas de pollo with guacamole and crema and the sopa de tortilla, the tacos Habana from the specials list and the wonderful Bistec Tampiquena – cross-regioned with a mole sauce allegedly from Oaxaca. Hey, if Mexican food made it all over Texas, it surely is allowed to make it all over Mexico.
Beyond these and the oh-so-lovable Tex-Mex favorites, Mi Cocina does all the right things right for a future of solid business. It has an affordable lunch menu. It has a kids’ menu. It makes terrific margaritas, with a higher (and more traditional) percentage of tequila than has become the norm. Houstonians should welcome Mi Cocina of Dallas with open minds and open mouths. H
5401 Woodway Dr