Tex Mex is one of those cuisines that attracts a lot of debate whenever your SarasotaFoodies offer our opinions of a restaurant’s flavor profile. Like barbeque, a person’s opinion on what makes a good Tex Mex restaurant pretty much depends on where they originally discovered Tex Mex, and how authentic that first experience was to the “Tex Mex” genre.
If you first discovered Tex Mex at a Taco Bell, for example, your standards for delicious Tex Mex won’t be anywhere near as high as someone who first enjoyed it in San Antonio, Texas, (like I did.) And just because you may have first tasted Tex Mex at a privately owned restaurant in Toronto, (like Mart,) doesn’t mean it wasn’t authentic. It all depends upon who owned the restaurant, who heads the kitchen and ultimately that person’s culinary upbringing. Call it one of America’s favorite comfort foods, Tex Mex cuisine, similar to Italian, is typically the food Abuela used to make. (That’s Spanish for grandma!)
Plaza Mexico Bar and Grill is new to Sarasota, although they have locations in Venice and Port Charlotte, as well as North Carolina. The Sarasota store moved into the old Stonewood Grill on Stickney Point Road, just west of US 41, in the fall of 2017. I was curious how they’d handle the reimaging, and while not blown away, I was impressed. and Without changing the overall “footprint” of the building, it’s hard to remember what Stonewood used to look like.
From the flooring to the light fixtures, the artwork, and chairs, Plaza Mexico offers that south of the border flair that you expect from a Tex Mex restaurant without being kitschy. Did cactus inspire that clever light fixture? You know it!
My Tex Mex expectations start with the quality of the chips and salsa. Are the chips warm and crunchy? Check! Is the salsa thick and gooey, or light and fresh? At Plaza Mexico, the salsa is on the more light and fresh side . . . homemade, fresh and tangy, with just the right amount of cilantro! We asked for a refill on both . . . (When will we ever learn!)
For his entree, Mart ordered the Camarones Cancun, a heaping platter of seasoned grilled shrimp, mushrooms and onions covered in melted cheese. Served with rice and a fresh guacamole salad, the portion was large enough that he saved some for lunch the next day. Whether the two servings of chips and salsa we ate had anything to do with that remains a closely guarded secret. Suffice it to say that the shrimp in the Camarones Cancun was quite tasty, and . . . if I dare say so, still full of flavor reheated the next day!
I wanted to try several items on the menu, so I choose a combo dish called Three Amigos. Let me say, straight up, I didn’t know my entree would be large enough to feed an entire plaza in Mexico! Honestly, the plate took up half the table!
That said, my Three Amigos offered an array of Tex Mex favorites. Starting with carnitas (pork) cooked in a salsa verde (green sauce) the tender chunks of pork were well seasoned with a tangy flavor. The second “amigo” on the dish was a stuffed Chile Relleno, a large poblano pepper filled with ground picadillo styled beef and smothered in cheese. The last of the amigo trio was a skirt steak cooked in a delicious red sauce, similar to what you get with enchiladas. Keeping those three amigos company was a serving of fluffy rice, creamy refried beans and a side of hot flour tortillas. That’s a lot of amigos on a plate! Take out box #2! (And it was HEAVY!)
They have a number of features we didn’t try, like the table side Molcahete or their steaming fajitas. In fact, their menu is so large, we’d have to eat there every day of the year to try them all . . . at least it looks that way!
A couple weeks later I met two girlfriends there for a margarita and light bites. During that visit, I had a combo with a single enchilada, rice, and refried beans. Happily, the quality was consistent with our previous visit, the enchilada covered with a layer of melted cheese, the rice fragrant (and not sticky) and the refried beans creamy smooth. Did I mention the Cucumber Margarita? Yea . . . there are 10 (!) signature margaritas worth a try, as well as a “Make Your Own Margarita” section on the bar menu. Suffice it to say, we girls had a good time!
As they say in plazas, all through Texas and Mexico, “Me Casa es Su Casa.” In this case, I’m changing it up a bit to: “Plaza Mexico Restaurant and Bar . . . Su Casa es Me Casa!” Just so you know!