Sstepping into chef Felipe Armenta’s new restaurant can be an eye-opener for Fort Worth foodies. Maria’s Mexican Kitchen just opened at 1712 S. University Drive. Spoiler alert: it looks nothing like its predecessor, the rustic Hoffbrau Steak & Grill House.
Armenta’s love letter to her late mother Maria is a beauty. The prolific chef (who created Tavern, Press Café, Cork & Pig Tavern, Pacific Table and Towne Grill at Alliance), grew up under her tutelage at the family-run Armenta cafe in San Angelo. And his mother’s famous mole recipe takes center stage at this new restaurant. Mom’s braised rib dish, which Armenta fondly remembers from many family vacations, is also featured.
The facade of the new Fort Worth restaurant is reminiscent of a whitewashed Spanish mission. On the right side is a shaded and tranquil patio with its own water feature and plenty of eye-catching tiles.
Armenta tells PaperCity Fort Worth he wanted to translate some of the colorful and quiet San Miguel de Allende in Mexico to his new restaurant. If this is an accurate representation, I book my flights now.
The results of the complete overhaul of Maria’s Mexican Kitchen, done with the designer eye of Kellye Raughton, owner and lead designer of Maven on Camp Bowie, are truly astounding. Getting guests to pay their check and leave could now become the real trick.
The ceilings sparkle with high-gloss lacquer. The herringbone and black terrazzo floor makes a dramatic statement. The flowers playfully mix with geometric prints and touches of chartreuse, pink and bold artwork. I rarely take “pot photos” but I couldn’t help myself. Indulge yourself and discover the very high-end design of the toilet.
Armenta’s classic one-page menu is laid out like its other restaurants, with clever appetizers and inspired salads. (Arrementa salads are some of the best main course salads you can find.) As always, there’s a specialty of the day, or in this case the Specialtes De La Noche – like steamed halibut, or a chili sizzling relleno.
My friend dipped in an ahi tuna salad. The interesting mix of diced mango and avocado was mixed with macadamia nuts, green olives, goat cheese, minced red onions and jalapeño in an almond butter and mango vinaigrette. The perfectly seared tuna has been sliced into thick slices and fanned around the greens, making for a hearty meal. It was a vacation by the sea on a plate.
On my first visit to Maria’s Mexican Kitchen, I ordered the equivalent of a tasting tray to sample as many flavors as possible. The very colorful enchiladas arrived as a Mexican flag of three enchiladas (your choice of chicken or short ribs) draped in three of Maria’s famous sauces: poblano, mole and sour cream. Each more creamy and silky than the other.
And yes, the mole is something special with lots of cocoa and a chewy charred ancho pepper flavor. It was accompanied by buttered rice and black beans.
I will be back soon to try the fajitas famosas with the fam.
Maria’s Mexican food drinks
The horseshoe-shaped bar, brimming with greenery and flowers above, serves a variety of wines, beers, and specialty cocktails such as the classic Armenta Margarita, which can be found at many of the chef’s restaurants. The novelty of Maria is a nod to TCU, which is located just up the street. The Horned Frog contains Herradura Blanco and Chambord liqueur, lightened by a hint of ginger beer and lime.
There’s also The Colonial, named after the restaurant’s other neighbor next door. It stays in the same color scheme as the famous golf course and restaurant with vodka and green chartreuse, ginger beer and lime.
Brunch is served on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. This menu includes classics such as huevos rancheros as well as decadent items. Including the new Pan Frances – an oven-baked butter brioche topped with cinnamon and sugar, topped with vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of dulce de leche sauce. This dish takes to heart the motto “eat dessert first”.
To sum up, the creative and authentic family menu is only part of the draw at Maria’s Mexican Kitchen. If you can get a reservation (always a hot commodity with Fort Worth d’Armenta restaurant being so new), the beauty of the space inside and out will make you want to linger.
As you would on a coastal vacation.