Last visit: June 2013
A few years ago, I wrote about the RJG's history with Herrera's, especially the Carrollton, Maple Avenue, and Oak Lawn locations. The Carrollton location closed, and it appears the venerable family of Tex-Mex restaurateurs pooled their money for a much nicer location in the trendy multi-use Mockingbird Station area (Central Expressway and Mockingbird). My original intention was to revisit the Oak Lawn location, but since Mrs. RJG and I needed to run over to Kuby's to buy a pile of their awesome sausages (especially Italian - both hot and mild) for the next few months, the new location was much more convenient. So let's give it a try shall we?
For those expecting a dingy cafe, with plastic tablecloths, black vinyl booths with stuffing coming out, and a worn out menu with a sleepy Mexican guy wanting his menudo, then you're in for a surprise. So what exactly does an old school institution do to draw in a more well-heeled clientele? For starters, you reverse your name from the breakfast sounding Herrera's Cafe to the tres hip modern sounding Cafe Herrera. Then you actually furnish the restaurant with all nicely done, hand carved dark wood pieces and interior. The menu's look and feel is now like those steakhouse places - and it weighs a ton. And you no longer mess with the gauche 99 cents ending on each entree. Then you add a full bar including frozen cocktails (the original Herrera's didn't even mess with margarita's for years and years). And finally you up the price by a few bucks so that you can pay the rent to feed the nouveau riche who actually have money to pay the extra cost. Kind of like taking drugs to make music to take drugs to (thank you Spacemen 3 for that concept).
Now we get to the key component: Does Herrera's ditch what made them famous, and try to impress with only Mexico City interior or fusion dishes? Or do they just put lipstick on the same old Tex-Mex slop (wonderful slop I might add) that they've been serving forever. The answer is both. And that's exactly the answer it needs to be. One arm reaching forward, while the other is reaching back to their loyal audience. We stuck to the Tex-Mex basics to validate, and I'm glad to say everything is up to the Herrera's standard. The chips and salsa experience was slightly different. The chips themselves were extra thick, and very tasty - better than the original. The salsa was different too - not quite as blazing as the original, but hot enough, and very good. I do miss the jar (or jug) of salsa on the table and the plastic bowl to pour it into, but we're upscale now remember? And yes, perhaps the biggest concern we had: Do the meals still come with a free bowl of "bean and bacon" soup? Yes, indeedy! And they didn't even bother to call them Ranchero Beans or Charro Beans. Nope - just Bean Soup. Right on. And it's still the gold standard for such an item. Mrs. RJG had the chile Relleno with ground beef and a side of rice. The ranchero sauce was excellent as was the relleno and beef. I went old school and had a cheese enchilada and two beef tacos. I've always like the ground beef tacos at Herrera's. Their thick and mushy ground beef has a great flavor. And the chili sauce on top of the cheese enchilada is as good as ever. I didn't imbibe this time, as we had a lot of errands to run. But I do hope to try the frozen margarita next time. And maybe even a fancy chicken dish. We'll evolve together.
Herrera's is yet another great American success story. From a small pueblo hut on Maple Avenue over 40 years ago, to a fancy restaurant in a new shopping district across the freeway from SMU. Heady stuff.
Given the new concept, I'll keep this a separate entity from the Herrera's Cafe entry.