You may not have heard about a recent Mexican Restaurant that has opened in The Woodlands (December, 2010). It was just between the holidays so many people were busy with family, shopping etc and not noticed that the location previously occupied by El Bosque was being renovated. Cantina de Tejas has moved in and set up shop just north of Research Forest Drive, on the south-bound feeder road of I-45 with little fanfare. Of course, one look inside and it’s clear that the understatement ends there. Cantina de Tejas is a comfortable, light and inviting restaurant and cantina run by three innovative and motivated people; Atticus, Brittney and Duane. All three bring prior experience to this new venture, along with a winning combination of Tex-Mex and wood-grilled American favorites. We were recently invited to come in and sample a few of their dishes, and we were not disappointed. As mentioned, Cantina de Tejas has given new life to the space previously occupied by El Bosque (who moved to their new location at Portofino last Fall).
The exterior of the building and the parking area has been updated providing an inviting appearance and increased curb appeal. When entering, one can see across the whole of the dining room to the left – which is open yet charming, and to the right, a pub-style bar complete with fire-side chairs and enough flat-screens to keep even the most avid sports-fan happy. Upon being seated we were immediately offered the customary tortilla chips and dips, the chips were warm, fresh and thin, and the sauce offerings included a mild, a hot, and some refried beans. We sampled a frozen strawberry Margarita, blended with a perfect balance of strawberry-to-tequila. Not too sweet, not too strong and a little creamy rather than crunchy with chopped ice. For the appetizer, we opted for the Pollo Trio. This generous appetizer could easily be shared among three to four, as it included a combination of chicken fajita nachos (thick, hand-made tortilla chips with refried beans, fajita chicken and Monterey jack cheese), chicken quesedillas (a warm, hand-made flour tortilla stuffed with seasoned chicken and a blend of white cheeses) and chicken flautas (a light, crispy corn tortilla rolled around some tender ranchero chicken and quick fried). These three finger foods were nestled around servings of pico de gallo, sour cream, pickled jalapenos, chili con queso and guacamole. Ordinarily, flautas are not our favorites; in many restaurants, they come fried to a crisp and hardened, usually with imperceptible amounts of chicken and dripping with grease. These flautas, however, were far and away the best we’d ever had. The tortilla was thin and crisp, almost delicate, and there was plenty of chicken inside that was flavorful and tender. And that pico de gallo? It was wonderful, with just the right balance of tomatoes, onions, jalapeños and seasoning; all diced into uniform pieces and neither dry nor watery.
We also sampled the Table Side Guacamole. Our server brought out a tray with all the proper ingredients for a good guac, and was more than willing to listen to our input as to what we would like the finished product to include. The serving was quite generous, made with three avocado halves it could have easily been shared among five or more. Both the service and the serving were a refreshing change from many restaurants’ ideas of “table side” – where you’re expected to be a captive, and quiet, audience for a tiny portion of a dish you may ultimately dislike. Difficult as it was, we attempted to pace ourselves with the appetizers while awaiting our entrees.
Our dinners arrived in good time; Fajita lovers to the end, we ordered the Sunset Grille Fajitas & Camarone and the Ranchero Chicken Chimichanga. This large portion of Fajitas included wood grilled beef, chicken and two jumbo bacon wrapped Cantina style shrimp on a bed of grilled onions came with borracho beans, rice, sour cream, pico de gallo and guacamole as well as fresh, hand made corn tortillas. At Cantina de Tejas, they hand make both corn and flour tortillas so say goodbye to those thin corn tortillas that fall apart before you can take the first bite. The Ranchero Chicken Chimichanga was an incredibly large flour tortilla, absolutely stuffed with tender shredded chicken in ranchero sauce (similar to enchilada gravy), beans and cheeses that has been delicately fried (again, not burned to a crisp!) then topped with more ranchero sauce and cheese; this of course also came with rice and refried beans.
The chicken and beef in the fajitas was tender and mildly seasoned; it, along with many other dishes on the menu, reminded us more of authentic Mexican food versus Tex-Mex. Everything that we sampled had a good, yet mild flavor. Interestingly enough, the Pollo Trio was more flavorful than the fajitas. With the exception of the jalapeños, nothing was overwhelming or overpowering. Spiciness could be easily adjusted according to one’s preference, but by no means was anything bland or tasteless. And everything was also cooked to near-perfection, nothing over-done, dried out or burned. It’s clear that attention is being paid to every detail in the kitchen, and Brittney (the manager that was on duty) tells us that tweaks and minor changes are being made to dishes all the time and that their menu is ever-evolving. For instance, the Ranchero Chimichanga was a little too saucy; between the sauce in the meat and the sauce on top, it was a bit much. Chances are yours won’t be, as they plan on adjusting the amount of ranchero sauce mixed into the chicken. The beef fajitas, while tasty, were incredibly tender, almost too tender – also easily remedied we were told. This attention to detail and a willingness to listen to patrons, (what a concept!) can make for a new and better experience every time you dine at Cantina de Tejas – something you should try very soon.
We didn’t know if we’d have room for it, but they insisted we try the home made Flan. (Yes, the Flan is made in house by someone’s grandmother; we could eat it everyday.) We were glad we did, the flan was thick and creamy, with just a hint of the curdled texture that sometimes accompanies egg and cream-based dishes. The mild caramel sweetness that blends perfectly with the strawberry topping, created a dessert that was refreshing and light. We were hoping to sample their signature dessert, the Hummingbird Cake, but alas, it was not to be. Apparently we weren’t the only ones as it is their most popular dessert. If you’ve never had Hummingbird cake (as we haven’t) it’s been likened to Italian Cream cake, but with pecans, bananas and pineapple, and frosted with a tangy, cream cheese frosting. As full as we were by this time, we also decided to give the German Chocolate Cake a try, if for no other reason than it seemed somewhat out of place in a Mexican restaurant. In a word? Decadent. This was by far the best German chocolate cake either of us had ever eaten.
The Cantina de Tejas has a variety of signature items throughout the menu – we couldn’t possibly get them all in one meal, but plan to go back for the Mexican Martini appetizer (shrimp & crab blended with tomato salsa and avocado), the Tortas (Mexican bread topped with fajita beef or chicken, beans, guacamole, lettuce, tomato, jalapeno and sour cream), the Stuffed Chicken Breast (grilled chicken breast stuffed with spinach, shrimp, and Monterey jack cheese topped with their secret recipe sour cream sauce) and of course some of that Hummingbird Cake.
Think we got it wrong? Or did we hit the nail on the head? Let us know in the comments below. And remember, you don’t have to take our word for it – give them a try for yourself and decide! Maybe we will see you there as we plan to return for more.
If you have seen the aquarium at Cantina de Tejas you may have noticed that it is very bright. This Captive Aquatic Ecosystems, LLC aquarium uses LED lighting using a mere 24 watts! The aquarium is custom made with two holes drilled into the bottom allowing the hidden filter to sit below, inside the stand; it is plumbed through the bottom so you don’t see any of the tubes. The heater, which is normally located in the aquarium is actually spliced into the return line of the filter down below. This method prevents having anything in the aquarium which would otherwise detract from a natural look. This aquarium system emulates part of the Amazon in South America using fish only from there; Angelfish, cardinal neon tetras, German blue Ramirez dwarf cichlids, corydoras catfish, etc.
Cantina De Tejas closed in December, 2011
Casa Medina opened in the same location in March, 2012.