Tuesday , 20 March 2018

Chow Hound: Experience True Texas Ambience at La Hacienda Ranch

By Jason Gatsby, TSB Contributor

In the mid 90’s, La Hacienda Ranch was bustling restaurant that resembled a log cabin. It sat in solitude along side the isolated section of North Preston Road in Frisco. In the desolate darkness, the restaurant’s boisterous and over-the-top signage could be seen for miles.

Fast forward to 2013, and the lonely restaurant still stands, but is much more difficult to spot as it sits surrounded by numerous other restaurants and businesses.

The North Texas population explosion has cultivated the building of homes and commercial real estate across the previously vast prairies that most of us call our home. The once lonesome restaurant that served as an oasis on Preston Road remains in the exact location, but the log cabin is now surrounded by an influx of competing restaurants and a constant flow of traffic. The once more noticeable sign that that is synonymous with La Hacienda Ranch remains visible from a distance, and over the years the restaurant has established itself as a landmark. For some 20-plus years, La Hacienda has adapted to its ever changing surroundings, while maintaining the Texas nostalgia. Despite stiff competition in recent years, it continues to flourish in Frisco. The distinctive horse and rider sign is a constant reminder of simpler times, when two things were certain at La Hacienda Ranch: a frozen Margarita and good times with family and friends.

Despite La Hacienda’s expansion across the region, we original McKinneyites and citizens of Frisco perceive La Hacienda Ranch as a hometown staple that is part of our culture. The rusty concession rides remain on the patio. Numerous animals cover the walls. And, of course, a massive stuffed bear greets you at the door. Aesthetics are at the forefront of La Hacienda, and will forever play a major role in its continued success. Tortillas are made in plain view and lovely hostesses greet patrons with Texas size smiles touting cowboy hats. It’s dinner and a show.

Despite a massive dining room, be wary of long waits on the weekends. Prepare yourself for a flamboyant dining room overrun by rambunctious diners and their children partaking in wholesome fun. (Numb your senses with their refreshing cocktails, but at $11 a piece for handcrafted drinks, don’t go too crazy).

La Hacienda is no longer limited to us natives, but it has become a haven for tourists to consume sizzling fajitas, homemade tortillas, and of course frozen margaritas.

That being said, if you are of age, consumption of alcohol is practically mandatory at La Hacienda. I think it’s written in fine print at the bottom of the menu. Without the addition of tequila, the ambience wouldn’t be as exciting, and the food wouldn’t taste nearly as good, except for the roasted salsa. 

Owner and restaurateur Mariano Martinez pioneered La Hacienda’s concept with his claim to fame. Martinez revolutionized the restaurant industry forever in 1971, with the invention of the first commercial frozen margarita machine. 

With so many frozen options available — tequila sunrise, jalapeno midori, and sangria swirl — deciding on a frozen drink is almost impossible. Fortunately for us, La Hacienda made it easy for us with a tasting flight. All three options served in miniature glasses for your binge drinking pleasure. If you’re a purest, get the “Papa’s” on the rocks. Fresh muddled limes, Herradura Silver, Grand Marnier and organic agave nectar make for a naturally sweet, yet not too sour margarita. The “Fire and Ice” incudes muddled jalapenos and King’s ginger liquor for an extra kick of flavor. It can also give an extra kick of heartburn to boot, so please consume with caution.

You know the old saying, “Don’t fill up on chips and salsa.” Forget that at La Hacienda. The salsa is appetizingly roasted, it’s not overwhelmed with spicy peppers, and the additional sweetness makes for one delicious smokey salsa. For this, I say, “Hoard all of the salsa to yourself, and smother it over your fajitas later.”

After perusing the menu, I realized that La Hacienda accommodates the “diet conscious” diner. Lite options are available, including a skinny margarita and fajitas with grilled vegetables. The vegetables will be bland, but think of how many calories you’re saving.

Tableside guacamole is always a highlight and a great way to start your meal, and if it’s not seasoned to your liking, then ask for a few limes or a pinch of salt, but avoid the queso. The cheese is too indicative of Velveeta or inexpensive stadium nachos. No thank you.

While the menu consists of all the Tex-Mex favorites, and massive steaks for the cowboy in you, the fajitas are the most popular amongst diners. Sizzling plates of vegetables and meat leave the kitchen every few minutes, leaving a trail of tantalizing smoke in their wake. The smell emanating from the blazing steak (or chicken, and shrimp) that has been cooked over a blend of mesquite and pecan wood logs changed my entrée decision immediately. The fajitas were moist and full of flavor, easily exceeding my expectations.

Brisket tacos are a designated favorite on the menu. Four homemade white corn tortillas filled with slow roasted brisket, served with rice and beans. Despite being juicy and tender, the brisket lacked depth in flavor. A ramekin of beef jus accompanied the taco, but wasn’t enough to reconstitute the bland meat. The Mexican rice followed suit, and didn’t amount to much. Little flavor and overcooked starch was a disappointment.

The “Bandido” consists of an immense platter of pork tamales with chili, cheese enchilada, a soft cheese taco, refried beans, and rice. The tamales were decadent, smothered in chili, but after eating the two tamales I could barely manage to consume anything else. This dish is best shared, but the soft cheese taco serves no purpose. A tortilla stuffed with cheese was an excessive addition to the plate.

La Hacienda’s “Sweet Endings” are listed on the first page of the menu next to the appetizers. Despite the extremeley large entrees, I was determined to partake in the “Hot Apple Pie.” What I thought was just another hot tray of fajitas passing by turned out to be my dessert. “Served sizzling,” the hot apple pie arrives table side where the waiter pours a brandy butter sauce over the rich chocolate pie and homemade cinnamon ice cream. My physician wont be too fnd of me after he realizes I ate the entire dessert by myself. “But doctor, it’s like crack. I’m physically dependent on La Hacienda’s hot apple pie.”

When you pull into the parking lot at La Hacendia, let your sprits perk up, you’re in for a good time. Dine with those closest to you and embrace the surroundings that give the restaurant that good ole Texas flavor. Sit on the patio with a frozen Margarita and indulge in Tex-Mex favorites. It’s nothing fancy, but it will bring a smile to your face.

Overall: 3 stars

Food: 2 stars
Cocktails: 3 stars
Service: 3 stars
Atmosphere: 3 stars
Price $$

FOUR STARS = Extraordinary; THREE STARS = Excellent; TWO STARS = Good; ONE STAR = Fair; NO STARS = Poor

$ = Inexpensive: entrees $10 and under; $$ = Moderate: $11-$17; $$$ = Expensive: $18-$24; $$$$ = Very Expensive: more than $25

Note: If you’re looking for lunch, try La Hacienda from 11- 4 p.m., Monday thru Friday. Mini fajitas aren’t overwhelming, but will leave you satiated until dinner.

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