Getting Wild (Salsa) in the ‘Burbs of Dallas
In the phalanx of sophisticated Mexican restaurants in Dallas, Wild Salsa has established its place with its popular downtown destination. Along with El Bolero, Komali, Mesa, and Mesomaya it showcases the breadth of Mexican culinary culture and the fact that attention to provenance of ingredients is as important here as in Euro-centric cooking.
They just opened a second location, and in a confirmed suburb at that (the Shops at Fairview between McKinney and Allen). Would Wild Salsa’s sophisticated style work in a demographic of more families with young children and fewer food experimenters? Based on a recent visit as part of a media event, the answer is a resounding ‘yes’. At 6:30pm there were few empty tables and the bar stools were as occupied with singles and couples as were the tables with families. A trip through the menu revealed why.
The ubiquitous salsa and chips came as a trio of homemade flavors (much like Urban Taco’s), alongside much better than average homemade chips ($5). The salsa verde, tomatillo embellished with avocado, and the red pepper chimichurri, are particularly flavorful.
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The taqueria tacos section of the menu offers a selection of familiar but well executed examples (most $3). Al pastor, chicken tinga, lengua, and beef barbacoa among them. But also arrachera steak where wood-grilled steak is accompanied by onions, cilantro, and molcajete salsa. Chipotle shrimp, which is pretty much self explanatory as shrimp slathered with what you might describe as Mexico’s most famous flavor, a little pepper jack cheese, and ubiquitous cilantro. These are decidedly more custom and culminate in the braised lamb shank tacos for two ($24).
For mains you could go to fajitas, or to the intriguingly named section of the menu platos fuertes. There lie some crowd-pleasing proteins, all dressed up in Mexican clothes. For example, chicken milanesa ($18) is a chicken milanese piqued with smoked guajillo sauce and paired with lively poblano mashed potatoes. Gulf redfish a la plancha ($20) takes the Texas staple, rubs it in spice and serves it with shrimp taquitos. pork calabacitas ($18) is slow-roasted pork shoulder with a selection of Mexican sides (Mexican squash, fresh corn and chilies) and Lamb shank barbacoa ($24) braises the protein in Modelo accompanied by roasted vegetables .and black bean stew. It a glorious synthesis of home-cooked flavors but one created with more than a nod to Mexican influence.
An inventiveness pervades the menu, be it soups and salads (sopas and ensaladas), sandwiches (tortas) or or tamales, enchiladas, and quesadillas. Quiz the staff and they can also cite the origins of many of the ingredients. The exactitude extends beyond the menu, to the highly designed space (the people flow, surfaces, and lighting, in particular) that is likely to be a prototype for additional Wild Salsa locations. Adult beverages have been thought through insofar as the selection of margaritas (six) and other custom cocktails (six) go. Try the avocado margarita for a mouthful of the avant-garde. The wine list is limited and mainly forgettable, with the exception of the impressive Juan Gil Monastrell from Spain’s emerging Jumilla wine region. Drinks are an even better value in happy hour.
Brunch is popular on weekends.
Plans are afoot for further expansion. Initially in the North Texas area but maybe then beyond. Parent company (DRG Concepts) CEO Nafees Alam says he is still tweaking this site at the moment and that has consumed all his team’s time. He is a believer in company ownership rather than franchising. Based on my experience at this location and the original in downtown Dallas, Wild Salsa is a model that works and may find that imitators are its biggest threat as it expands.
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