- Matthew Schniper
- Make it a molcajete meat medley when next craving Mexican in Monument.
When even the rice and beans are a treat, not just a side concession, it’s clear something’s special about a place, and Don Tequila’s pork-spiked charro beans alone stand as a star. Hell, they even do a great flan.
But backing up, Don Tequila arrives via cousins Luis Armando and Roberto Moreno, with four decades of combined food service experience; add to that nearly 20 years’ kitchen work by Moreno’s cousin Ruben Moreno, the chef here (enjoying an opening assist from a visiting chef from Guadalajara). Roberto also operates the 3 Margaritas on Powers Boulevard, so suffice it to say he’s familiar with high-volume service. And there was obviously some decent seed money to decoratively fill out three retail spaces in a Monument shopping center. Including cool, modern gunslinger Día de los Muertos paintings, traditional wall panels and murals, and all the custom seating — Don Tequila gets its name on everything, including plates and drinkware — it’s an inviting, impressive spot, stocked with enough higher-end tequilas to add further legitimacy.
From mini barrels at the bar, too small and in use too much to impart much wood influence, we select Herradura and Hornitos tequilas, trying them both neat as blanco sippers and in sizable margaritas ($10.50) with fresh juices, agave syrup and Triple Sec adding punchy citrus and near-cloying sweetness. The former bears vanilla in the nose and flavor, leading off with a black pepper essence, finishing boozier, while the Hornitos’ aroma speaks more floral and herbaceous — it’s smoother, seemingly more delicate.
Our Mezquite Tacos appetizer shows off nicely pink and chewy steak slices wrapped in flour tacos with earthy Anaheim peppers; it bleeds a thin queso dip, tasting more like an American standard, which is to say easy-enjoyable. At lunch, vinegary Anaheim juice from the jar plays an interesting supporting role in a locally unique and worthwhile chile relleno plate, amply gooey, offered soft or crispy (we go with the latter, not over-battered), and topped in a meaty, relatively mild green chile. Fish tacos play it straight with Tajín-tasting seasoning dusting tilapia strips that are lightly grilled, with simple cabbage and pico relish. I could see a tangy cilantro-cream relish being a nice addition, but these are simple-pleasant.
Which, prior to the aforementioned flan dessert — dense and non-synthetic like too many out there, with ideal texture and a perfect caramel sauce — leaves us back at the impressive dish for two, the molcajete ($23.99). Presented with the lovely rice and beans and equally fine corn tortillas, the bowl’s stocked enough to provide two later reheated meals. But here, at first freshness, carne asada’s as good as I’ve had, slightly salty with singed edges. Grilled chicken’s juicy and nice with bites of poblano and pico. Peppery chorizo and green chile merge pleasantly, and splendor’s found in loading a tortilla with crumbly queso fresco and soul-stirring, chili-infused pork adobado.
I know most all of this sounds like items you’ve eaten countless times elsewhere, but again, there’s something a bit more special going on here — perhaps, as the rice and beans suggest, just a proper attention to all the little components. And that’s enough to get the neighbors whispering.