La Cabana Mexican Grill

Chronicle Food writer Wes Marshall explains why, even in an area as rich with wonderful Mexican restaurants as Central Texas, La Cabana Grill merits a trip.

La Cabana Mexican Grill

21103 Hwy. 71 W., 264-0292

Monday-Thursday, 11am-9pm;

Friday-Sunday, 11am-10pm

Mostly known by residents of outer Spicewood, La Cabana Mexican Grill is recently drawing some crowds from the big city. It's a pretty place, very traditional in a Northern Mexico style. When we went in on the Sunday afternoon after SXSW, the place was jammed. Owner Alejo Gonzales had a big smile on his face. He hustled to each table, making sure all the customers had a drink and something to eat while they waited for the understandably rushed waitstaff to take their orders. It wasn't always this way.

When La Cabana first opened, 14 months ago, it was strictly a traditional Norteño place. Grilled meats were the main items, but most folks who stopped in wanted enchiladas and burritos. So, though their heart is still in Coahuila, they've decided to accommodate the Tex-Mex brigade. The food is still more Mex than Tex, though -- like their superb Queso Flameado ($6.95). It's rich and so thick you have to cut it before slathering it on a homemade flour tortilla. Their Queso en Salsa ($3.95, small; $6.95, large) is made from Monterey Jack cheese (instead of the normal Sysco canned queso) and is also served with the homemade flour tortillas. The Sinconizadas ($3.25) are stuffed with delicious chicken and mushrooms -- crispy on the outside from grilling, yet moist and tender on the inside.

You can tell that their Tex-Mex gets similar attention. One of the first giveaways is the delicious fresh-made salsa and chips when you sit down. As a nice touch, the salsa is served just barely warm, which brings out its spicy and acidic flavors. Their El Burro Mexicano ($4.99) deserves its freedom from the diminutive "-ito." It's a huge flour tortilla stuffed with your choice of meat topped with queso, sour cream, and guacamole and ample enough as a meal itself. Add a side of bacon-y refried beans ($1.30) and Tex-Mex heaven is in sight.

The grilled meats are the centerpiece of the menu. The chicken fajita soft tacos ($2.50) feature wonderfully seasoned and juicy meat. For big-eating steak lovers, the Tampiqueña ($12.50) includes a tender 6 oz. sirloin smothered in peppers along with two cheese enchiladas, a crispy taco, guacamole, rice, beans, and salad. They also serve various cuts of grilled beef, pork, or chicken with a molcajete-style salsa ($7.25-$12.50) and assorted fajitas ($8.75-$19). Locals favor the fish and garlic ($10.75), a concoction of breaded fish filets over rice topped with fresh chopped garlic and butter. That's what I'll be trying next time.

Complaints? Well, the service was slow, but never to the point of frustration. Let's call it "relaxed." And the place was totally full. Plus, I wish they had margaritas (but they do have an excellent selection of beers). Other than that, I'd have to say that, even in an area as rich with wonderful Mexican restaurants as Central Texas, La Cabana Grill merits a trip.

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