December 2013 update: Don Mario's has moved to another location in Arlington. They are now at Randol Mill and Fielding near a Thai restaurant we used to frequent called Sukhothai. We didn't get a chance to go there this year, but maybe in 2014 we'll wander over for a revisit. You can follow their move via their Facebook page.
Last visit: December 2012
Other location: Palestine-TX
Back to the mythical RJG Restaurant week. I'm sure I'll be done reporting on it by, I dunno, 2014 or so? Maybe.
One of the official RJG grandmothers, a colorful lady who lived a full life (87 years young) and was once a Vaudeville star, was born (1902) and raised in Palestine and got hitched in Arlington in 1918 to a 35 year old dapper from Rhode Island, also a Vaudevillian star (times were 'a different then) - who I would have called grandpa... if I ever met him that is. So I guess in a way, I was destined to go to an Arlington based restaurant with a past in Palestine. Who knew?
But the real magnet for the RJG was the mere mention in a Bud Kennedy column of Don Mario's possessing a generations old recipe for New Mexico green chile! Now that's the kind of food item that is worth driving across town for. So we got the old Beverly Hillbillies jalopy loaded up, and with Mrs. RJG and her Ma' (aka Chula) in tow, we journeyed down south for some good Mexican grub.
According to what I've read, this location has just about guaranteed an immediate departure for all who think commerce will thrive here. Don Mario's didn't do much to enhance the place, sort of leaving its 1980s steakhouse appearance alone. I think it's a wise move. The decor is sort of "interesting" in that way old restaurants can be. It looks like the hybrid of 10 different places. But they have a full bar, and it's quite well stocked. In fact, the RJG was very impressed with their craft brew selection - certainly way above par for a Mexican restaurant. While on this topic, I decided to try their frozen margarita instead. Mistake. I didn't care for the mixture, and it certainly lacked potency. But that's about the only thing that went wrong on this visit. So on the next visit I will obviously imbibe in a beer. Or two.
Onto the food we go... the chips were somewhat typical restaurant tortilla chips, not really good enough to be without a salsa. They provide a standard tomato, cilantro and onion based red sauce that has a good flavor but no kick. But... ah yes, they do have a spicy one if you ask. Out comes a pretty mean looking green sauce, made from fresh chiles. It's definitely got some fire in it. And now suddenly even the red tastes splendid.
For entrees, Chula got chicken fajitas - which I'm fairly certain is the first time anyone in the RJG household has ordered such an item since my dear Dad departed this mortal coil some 10 years ago (Dad, as in son of Grandma above). Fajitas were all he would ever order at a Mexican restaurant. And beef at that, since he really liked the concept of a steak far more than Mexican food. Which lead to one of my Dad's favorite, and predictably corny, Vaudeville styled jokes (hey I sense a theme here): "There's only TWO dishes I like at a Mexican restaurant. Fajitas and.... (wait for it) my daughter-in-law! RA-ra-ra-ra-RA-ra-ra. Perhaps he was looking on from above as we dined at Don Mario's this fine day. So Chula's order was oddly timed indeed.
I cannot remember what Mrs. RJG ordered, but rest assured it had plenty of vegetables in it - with chicken. All I know is she loved it. For me, well it should be obvious by now that I was zoning in on any dish with green chile. So I ordered the grilled chicken enchiladas smothered in green. I have to say the grilled enchilada part was the real highlight. Slathered in melted white cheese (it may have been mozzarella rather than a Mexican cheese. Mrs. RJG couldn't tell, and she's native to the land!). The grilled chicken by itself was delicious, and the sizzling platter only aided and abetted the situation. The green chile itself was very flavorful, but I prefer more spice. Now it could be a situation of the season, and we all know that chiles can be spicy or mild depending. But I was hoping for a more Santa Fe experience regarding the heat level. No matter, as I will be back as many times as possible, and will find out for myself. Certainly if I'm back in this neck of the woods, I'll be dining at Don Mario's.
If you're looking for something a little different from your Mexican food, definitely consider a drive to Don Mario's. It's a far cry from your typical Tex-Mex joint.