Cafe Reviewed: Wednesday, February 6, 2003
El Ricardo’s\r\nSalmon Rosado $7.95\r\nTlalpeño soup cup $2.25\r\nPoblano enchilada dinner $6.95\r\nGourmet (tenderloin) tamales dinner $8.95
Totalizing Tamale Spot

Even if El Ricardo’s food isn’t always excellent, the essence of the restaurant is.


El Ricardo’s Mexican and Mediterranean

3980 Boat Club Rd, Ste. E106, FW. 817-237-5242. Mon-Thu 11am-9pm, Fri-Sat 11am-11pm (bar open till 2am). Sun 11am-8pm. Lunch buffet: Mon-Fri 11am-2:30pm. Sunday brunch buffet: 12pm-3pm. All major credit cards accepted.

f you eat out, you know there is more to a restaurant meal than food. Ambiance, cost, comfort, service, and a good dining companion are all important factors. I visited El Ricardo’s with a girlfriend and we had a blast. Our server, Casey, was delightful, and we supped in a comfortable booth in a sparkling clean restaurant. I liked only a couple of items, yet, oddly enough, I would recommend this restaurant without reservation.

El Ricardo’s serves comfortably compromised, inoffensive Mexican food. You won’t find menudo, fried squash blossoms, nopal (cactus leaves), or huitlacoche (corn fungus). You will find tenderloin tamales that rival Reata’s famous ones, a killer poblano cream sauce, and delightful pizza-like quesadillas.

Owner Ricardo Barreda admits that he tailored the food to appeal to an American palate. “I grabbed a little Taco Bell, a little Italian, and a little Kentucky Fried Chicken and came up with these dishes,” he said. “The quesadilla is the same as pizza. It has the same ingredients, but the presentation is different.” Barreda said food at his restaurant will taste familiar — but different. “Because,” he said, “it has unique aspects.”

The gourmet tamales were large, the size of two or three ordinary tamales. Light cornmeal (or masa) dough surrounded a filling of ground beef tenderloin. They came with refried beans, tomatillo salsa, and pico de gallo. The salsas all tasted freshly made, and the refried beans were so good that my guest and I begged for the recipe. (Unfortunately, it’s easier for a nun to get arrested than to pry a recipe from El Ricardo.) The beans had a weightless quality. They were flavored with a hint of achiote (a spice blend of ground dried chiles that is as distinctive — and difficult to describe — as the Indian spice garam masala). I suspect the secret is his use of dried beans that must be boiled before they’re mashed, rather than canned beans. These were fluffy, like mashed potatoes.

The beauty shot, the rainmaker, the star of our little dinner show was the poblano enchilada platter. I was reluctant to choose between chicken and beef so I ordered a combo plate. One chicken, one beef, and one cheese enchilada came with a sauce that made our eyebrows shoot up with joy. The enchiladas swam in a verdant green ocean of creamy, poblano pepper sauce of charred poblanos and fresh spinach that was lightly (and I mean lightly) flavored with cream. The sauce tasted like someone added the concentrated green pepper flavor of poblano to the season of spring. The result was fresh and creamy.

The soups were less satisfying. The two on the menu, despite wildly different descriptions, tasted the same. The tortilla soup (which is, according to the menu, “traditional Mexican soup made Mexico City style”) had a tomato, chipotle, and chicken base and was pumped up with tortilla strips, avocado, and shredded chicken. The Tlalpeño soup was described as “shredded chicken, vegetables, avocado in ‘chipotle sauce.’ A bit spicy,” but it didn’t deliver on the promise of heat. It was hearty and tasted like an unsweetened tomato soup, flavored with the smoky, almost chocolaty flavor of chipotle. (In an interview a few days after my visit, Barreda admitted that the soups are almost identical and based on a variety found in the town of Tlalpan, south of Mexico City, in a region between by Oaxaca and Acapulco.) Only chicken, according to Barreda (and contrary to the menu), makes the Tlalpeño soup any different from tortilla soup. My two cents: The menu or the wait staff should explain the similarities.

The one item I actively disliked was the Salmon Rosado. Words like musty and moldy came to mind when I tried the thin slices of lox doused in Worcestershire sauce, olive oil, and lime juice and topped with diced jalapeños, capers, and green onion. The taste reminded me of mothballs. Barreda explained that he wanted to create a dish for people who don’t like smoked salmon. To this, I reply, “People! If you don’t like smoked salmon, don’t order it.”

El Ricardo is supposedly a Mexican and Mediterranean restaurant, although the only item that resembles Mediterranean cuisine is shish kebob. The rest of the menu is solidly Mexican with enchiladas and many other dishes designed by Maria Paz, Barreda’s mamacita. Paz owned four restaurants in Mexico City, and she still checks up on her son periodically.

The host for our visit was Barreda’s partner, Rachel Schnitzer. If she recommends a certain dish, heed her advice. The items we flipped over were more than likely the result of her suggestions.

One impediment to a joyful meal may be El Ricardo’s unfortunate location. The restaurant is virtually impossible to see from the street. But if you drive past it, try again. Ricardo’s little restaurant is worth a U-turn or two.

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