By Jason Gatsby, TSB Chow Hound
In 1992, McKinney, Texas was an emerging suburb of Dallas with roughly 25,000 inhabitants. Autonomous in nature, the community was united by traditions and the support of their beloved McKinney Lions. Consisting of one high school, one middle school, and four elementary schools, the city was defined by their own philosophies, and not the overwhelming saturation of national retailers and chain restaurants that were soon to come.
In October of the same year, aspiring entrepreneur Arturo Ibarra and his family opened up one of the first authentic “Tex-Mex” restaurants in area, San Miguel Grill.
I was seven years old when I first met the sincere Ibarra. As owner, day in and day out, Ibarra has worked as the host, greeting every individual as if they were family for over twenty years. Even at seven years old, Ibarra would bend down and shake my hand, welcoming me to San Miguel. To this day, when I walk through the doors I am greeted by Ibarra’s smile, and I am immediately transformed back to 1992 when McKinney was considered a small-town; where strangers were considered family.
San Miguel is a self-proclaimed Tex-Mex restaurant, but despite its title, the restaurant serves up regional authentic Mexican dishes as well. Regions like Oaxaca and Yucatan are represented on the menu. San Miguel emphasizes the use of an assortment of chili peppers to create a distinctive flavor profiles in their moles, adobos and salsas.
Located off 506 W. University, near Highway 5, San Miguel Grill has become a McKinney staple. In 2011, The McKinney Chamber of Commerce named San Miguel its “Small Business of the Year.”
If it’s the middle of the week and you’re too exhausted to cook, San Miguel is a good option. Featuring “Happy Hour, All Day Every Wednesday,” San Miguel offers $2 Margaritas ($3 top shelf) and $2 draft and bottled beer. When drinks are that price, regardless of how they’re made, they taste pretty good. Before you know it, one margarita turns to two and two into four. So please, let your teenager drive home.
I’ve been to San Miguel enough enough times to know what to expect. While service, for the most part, is kind and cordial, they are rarely in a rush. When the restaurant begins to spill over with occupants, the staff may get flustered but they still manage to turn tables fairly quickly. On occasion, servers need to be reminded of an order or two: “Excuse me, sir, I ordered a side of guacamole and queso to go with my chips.”
Issues with consistency have been the underlying concern with San Miguel. Mexican staples like guacamole and salsa verde have been disappointingly different. A number of times I have been frustrated by “too much salt, not enough salt, too spicy, this is bland, I need more lime juice and cilantro etc…”
Portions are large, so unless you feel like taking food home I don’t recommend getting an appetizer to start. But don’t hesitate to order queso and guacamole to accompany your chips and salsa. This only completes the trifecta for dipping.
If you are feeling ambitious, I recommend the fajita or chicken nachos. The fajita nachos ($9.45) come with either beef or chicken, along with with beans, guacamole and sour cream. A cheaper version of the fajita entrée ($12.15), the nachos are large enough to leave most diners content. The chicken nachos ($7.95), a San Miguel original and my personal favorite, consist of shredded chicken, sour cream and an ample dose of Mexican white cheese to boot.
Under the “Tex Mex” portion of the menu, San Miguel provides different combinations of enchiladas, tacos, and burritos. All combos are served with refried beans and Mexican rice. The chicken, beef or cheese enchiladas ($8.85 – $9.25) are designed to please a wide range of diners. San Miguel’s enchiladas can be served up with cream sauces, salsa verde, and chili. The sour cream sauce will moisten any concerns you may have about overcooked chicken breast.
My party ordered the chicken enchildas with salsa verde ($8.85). On this particular evening, the salsa verde was much too salty, but the tasy refried beans helped to balance out each bite. The two enchiladas were filled with an ample amount of tender – not too dry – shredded chicken. The accompanying rice was well seasoned and not over cooked.
Navigating away from the norms, I decided to order the Pollo Yucatan ($12.15). The dish is comprised of chicken breast sautéed in garlic, parsley, spices, and achiote along with a side salad and Mexican rice. Achiote, a spice favored by the Yucatecos, is derived from the seed of the Annatto tree. Distinctively red, the flavor profile is mildly sweet with hints of pepper. The chicken was well seasoned, and an additional side order of tortillas enabled me to turn my entrée into tacos, which made it even more satisfying.
My companion ordered the Tacos Mixtecos ($12.15), and I couldn’t help but salivate at the massive plate. Composed of two flour tortillas stuffed with grilled chicken, topped with salsa verde, Mexican cream sauce, and white cheese, and served with rice, pico de gallo, and guacamole, the Mixtecos is the most well rounded dish they have. The richness of the cheese, cream, and guacamole is perfectly cut with the acidity and spice of the pico and the salsa verde.
To my dismay, beef entrees tend to be over-cooked, and when specified “medium” they often come out a little under. The “juice isn’t worth the squeeze” for me to take the chance on ordering a steak. Granted, the fajitas and the carne asada ($14.25) are meant to be over cooked. Both dishes are seasoned well and enriched with caramelized onions and sizzling peppers.
From time to time, I’ll give in to my sweet tooth and order flan ($3.45) or a delicious sopapilla with cinnamon ice cream ($3.45). The flan is a smooth, rich custard with a layer of baked caramel glaze on top and I have not beeen disappointed. Regardless of my decision making process, I often succumb to the impulse buy of praline cookies in the glass container or bright Andes mints that always remind me of my childhood.
I can’t wait for next Wednesday. I’m already due for a margarita…
Overall: Two stars
Food: two and a half stars
Cocktails: one and a half stars
Service: two stars
Atmosphere: two stars
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
Catholicism is the most prevalent form of Christianity amongst Latin Americans. Accommodating Catholic tradition during lent, San Miguel may offer a fish special, in addition to their other seafood entrees. The seafood options are the most expensive menu items, ranging from $14.95 to $16.95.
San Miguel offers a small lunch menu from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. which consists of enchiladas, tacos, fajits, and soup ranging from $6 to $9. Saturday brunch is offered from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. as well, offering a variety of egg dishes, migas and “arrachera.” House made Sangria and a bucket of beers is also available.
TSB’s Chow Hound attended culinary school in San Francisco, one of the most influential food cities in the U.S.., 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.