Mexican dining a notch above the rest

When a Mexican restaurant pours nearly $1 million into its interior (a rare occurrence in this city, and even more so in Hunter’s Creek), you know the owners aren’t out to open your average taqueria. But after growing tired of entertaining business associates at “second-class Mexican restaurants,” owner Miguel Juarez and business partner Gerardo Salazar deemed it necessary to pour mucho pesos into Los Generales in order to lend it an air of higher-class authenticity.

In fact it took artisans in Michoacán six months to carve the beautiful wooden tables and chairs, which fit right into the restaurant’s rustic revolutionary theme, a paean to Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata. Walls are festooned with an assortment of knickknacks (sombreros, horseshoes, framed photographs of Mexican movie stars), but the effect never crosses the tacky line. It’s not upscale or first-class, but it is a distinct notch above other Mexican joints in town, and chefs Jose Luis Flores and Walter Acosta (both of whom cooked for the governor of Nuevo León as well as ex-President Vicente Fox), show a refreshing lightness of touch in their kitchen creations.

First off, the complimentary chips, dusted with chili powder and served with one roasted and one wickedly peppery salsa (both served warm), are absolutely habit-forming. You never want to fill up on chips, but it’s hard to stop at just one. A delicious caldo tlalpeño ($6.99) marries the basics – celery, carrots, rice, shredded chicken and a touch of chipotle – into a messy, though a tad salty, delight. A sliced avocado half serves to balance the flavors. I ordered gorditas con guacamole ($6.99), but got cascos de papa ($7.99) instead. The bacon- and mushroom-filled potato skins layered with cheese bordered on insipid, but the side of guac, heady with lime and cilantro, injected life into the starter.

Corn tortillas are expertly prepared on the premises and make the tacos ($9.99) a must. Moist marinated pork, mild chorizo, grilled chicken and beef burst out of the soggy-proof shells, and a squeeze of lime serves to enhance the freshness. The “burrito 30-30” ($11.99), a reference to the rifle used by Mexican revolutionaries, is also worth a shot. Seasoned chunks of steak share space with onions, red and green bell peppers and melted Mexican cheese, sided with rice, pico de gallo and refried beans. Smother it with peppery salsa and you’ll open fire.

Other properly executed renditions include chilaquiles con pollo ($9.99), cut-up fried tortilla and strips of chicken reddened with tangy ranchero sauce, and the deep-fried comfort of the un-Mexican chimichanga ($10.99) which doesn’t suffer from that glommy texture. The heat underpins the chili-cocoa balance of the mole poblano ($10.99) poured over a succulent chicken breast, while the fajita sampler ($14.99), with chicken, shrimp and steak, offers enough savory sizzle for two.

Quantity supersedes quality in the heavily marbled and oil-glazed Los Generales Cowboy ($25.95), a flavorful 20-ounce bone-in porterhouse far too unctuous to endorse. Furthermore, the hot plate keeps the temperature of the steak and veggies elevated, necessitating a longer-than-average wait before the food cools to an edible temperature.

Holding up the sweet end of the bargain is arroz con leche ($4.99), studded with raisins, powdered with cinnamon and served slightly warm. Avoiding typical slip-ups, the pudding was not overly sweet and the rice didn’t degrade to mush.

There’s no doubt Juarez and Salazar have a good thing going – let’s hope their menu maintains current levels of authenticity, innovation and “Mexi”-free labeling. Who knows, the trend could catch and start a revolution in this city.

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