By Jason Gatsby, TSB Contributor
Everyone has their “go-to” restaurant. You know, the one where you find yourself every Sunday after church or that place you end up eating at when no one is willing to cook dinner.
For those McKinneyites dwelling on the far west side I have good news for you. Another Tex-Mex restaurant may just fit the bill as one of the go-to places on your list, but this one may just be a notch above your current run-of-the-mill chips and salsa hangout.
Located at Custer Rd. and 380, “Ernesto’s Fine Mexican Food” has become a neighborhood hotspot for the budding far west side part of McKinney. With an abundance of young families in this community, Ernesto’s provides quality fare for a reasonable price.
Established in 2004 in Pilot Point, Ernesto’s currently has four restaurant fronts: Pilot Point, Prosper, Frisco and McKinney. The McKinney location opened about two years ago. Ernesto Puga oversees all operations, which is an incredible feat for any person. According Ernesto’s website, his vision is to “provide Texans with authentic, delicious Mexican food.” Maybe he should include, “With Tex-Mex flare.”
Unless you’re craving Tex-Mex, be wary of the 30-45 minute waits on Friday and Saturday nights. Ernesto’s understands their restaurant’s demographic and offers a kids menu that includes American cuisine (hotdog, chicken fingers, mac-n-cheese, and a hamburger) with all the selections under $5.
The remainder of the menu has an array of Mexican classics as well as Tex-Mex for those in search of fajitas and queso covered enchiladas. Ernesto’s Mole, Chile Relleno, and Tamales provided me with good ol’ Mexican “home-cookin’ ” that left me craving Mexico City street food.
As the wretched Texas summer heat approaches, Margaritas are becoming an essential beverage for the Gatsby family, and Ernesto’s provides a pitcher for $23.99. (Between you and me, if I had to put up with any more children running around, I may have had to order a pitcher for myself.)
A variety of Mexican bottled beers are also available for $3.99, but if you’re feeling crazy order the “beer-rita.” ($10.99) A frozen margarita with an upside down bottle of beer placed comfortably inside the glass. After consuming a “beer-rita,” I think Ernesto’s should hand out warning labels along with it the cocktail stating, “Please Drink Responsibly & Don’t Drive After Consumption.”
Oh, and did I mention the portions are considerably large? So don’t be too liberal with the chips. Accompanying the chips, the salsa isn’t overwhelmingly spicy, but it is cilantro forward. Some people are completely averse to cilantro, but lovers of the pungent herb will find themselves dowsing the salsa over the rest of their meal.
Most dishes came out well seasoned, but Ernesto’s makes up for the lack of precision flavor profiles with quantity.
A cup of Chili Con Queso ($3.99/small $4.99) is a nice addition to the salsa, but my group preferred Ernesto’s Platter ($12.69). Providing a variety of flautitas, beef fajita nachos, chicken quesadilla, stuffed jalapenos, with queso & fresh guacamole, the appetizer is diverse enough to please nearly any patrons.
Ernesto’s offers 20 “Favorites,” which is a few too many favorites, but the Chicken Mole y Brisket Taco ($11.99) was a fan favorite among my peers. Consisting of grilled chicken breast drowning in a pool of lush Mole sauce, the dish provided a pleasant rendition of the Oaxaca classic. (Mole is a Oaxacan delicacy made from seeds, spices, peppers, and chocolate.) The Brisket Taco is an intimidating addition, but while the flavor is there, the texture and consistency was disconcerting — mine came out dry and tough.
Don’t be fooled, the Chicken Enchiladas topped with sour cream sauce ($8.49) is far from “light.” The rich cream sauce reconstituted the shredded chicken with the fat necessary to make it nice and juicy. The heavy portion is accompanied with Mexican rice and refried beans. The beans were well seasoned, but I would love a hint of pork flavor if lard was used to refry to beans.
Tacos de Carnitas ($8.99, pictured at right) is a simple traditional Mexican dish that I adore. Three corn tortillas with slow cooked pulled pork, jack cheese, grilled onions, cilantro and & spicy avocado cream provides a luxurious addition to the ordinary taco found in your average taqeria. These lived up to my expectations.
The Steak con Enchiladas ($11.99) is a designated favorite by Ernesto’s, but too often when a menu claims “steak grilled to perfection” I’m left disappointed. The mere suggestion of “grilled to perfection” steered me away from ordering the dish. Please don’t get my hopes up only to disappoint me.
It appears that desert isn’t a focal point of most Mexican restaurants. While Sopapillas ($3.49) and Fried Ice cream ($3.99) are the norm, most Tex-Mex restaurants fill the diners up with chips, hearty appetizers and entrées, leaving little room for a sweet finish. We tried the Flan ($4.49) and the Sopapillas. The Sopapillas were light and pillowy, but the flan wasn’t as smooth as it should be. Perhaps the addition of gelatin or egg curdling put me off the gelatinous Mexican desert.
As I’m learning more about McKinney, I understand that service is one of the most erratic facets of any restaurants. Consistency is always an issue, but at Ernesto’s the majority of the time the servers have been cordial and friendly. Food comes out efficiently, unless the restaurant is swarming with patrons.
Rumor has it that the original location at Pilot Point is a better representation of Ernesto’s than the McKinney location, but it’s still worth a try.
Ernesto’s also offers an affordable lunch menu, Monday- Friday, 11AM-4PM.
Overall: 2 stars
Food: 2 and a half stars
Beverages: 2 stars
Service: 2 stars
Atmosphere: 1 and a half stars
TSB’s Chow Hound attended culinary school in San Francisco, one of the most influential food cities in the U.S. and where food and wine are idolized and border on an obsession that comes close to a cult following. While there, he worked in a number of award winning kitchens, which are nationally known amongst well-versed foodies.