San Antonio has always been a little ahead of the curve in the realm of enchiladas, but its legendary Mexican restaurants have, for the most part, held to a line well within Loop 410. Now comes Los Barrios, a stalwart in the local dining community, staking out turf on Redland, north of 1604.
"The only other choices out here are chains and Italian," says owner Roland Treviño, by way of explaining the lines out the door of Hacienda Los Barrios, even mid-week. If the choice of location initially seems an odd one, it has apparently already paid off. In conquering new territory and occupying posh new digs, Roland and his wife, Diana Barrios Treviño, have not seen the need to modify the family restaurant's familiar menu greatly. (Although I don't recall seeing Pollo Volare, battered chicken wings with dipping sauces, or the parrillada for four on the time-honored menu.) You can still get the classic Nachos Agrios, "the world's only gourmet sour nachos," for example - assuming the order is taken correctly. We were first brought a half order of standard nachos, and when the switch was made, the kitchen forgot the signature ingredient: sour cream. In testimony to the quality of the ingredients, the messy, two-cheese models with beans, jalapeño, and pimento were pretty good even without the crema agria.
Ingredients - either missing or unexpected - were an issue with the margaritas, too. When asked if they were prepared with fresh lime juice, our waiter replied in the affirmative. Maybe the question hadn't been phrased precisely enough: The dominant taste was one of Rose's lime juice or its equivalent. The extensive Mexican beer list featured both old-favorite Negra Modelo and the crisp Pacifico, however, and either would be good with the trio of tenderloin taquitos, served in the house's praiseworthy corn tortillas. The tenderloin could be chopped a little less finely for my taste (it tends to be dry), but the flavors were fine, especially when the cilantro and lettuce were piled on and some table salsa was drizzled on top.
It's possible that the camarones al ajillo are new to this menu; I don't remember seeing them before. And that may account for the lack of assurance. The flavors of garlic and strips of guajillo chile were there, but the shrimp were dry almost to the point of crispness. The piled-high plate sported a handsome, confetti-colored rice, and a salad with sliced avocado and tomatoes with taste that went far beyond the time-honored norm, but that wasn't quite compensation enough.
With the signature cabrito en salsa, however, the kitchen was back on familiar footing. True, one of the chefs had been reading too many fancy food magazines; the generous serving of kid goat came seated atop a thin layer of tomato sauce when it really needed to be almost swimming in the stuff. The goat seemed less bony than is often the case. But the kitchen willingly supplied a pitcher of supplemental salsa, and all was right with the world. Pair this with comfortingly familiar rice and beans with an air of authenticity, and you have a plate that seems to sum up San Antonio's Tex-Mex roots in northern Mexico. The Cortadillo Zuazua Style also speaks of the borderlands, and yet it's not a dish that has made much of an impact on local cuisine. Though the preparation sounds a little suspicious (steamed tenderloin squeezed of its juices and cooked again with onion and herbs), the final result is anything but ersatz. Full-flavored, almost stew-like, and generous to a fault, this was the hit of the evening. Where some of the cabrito went home in styro, not a shred of the cortadillo remained. Not a drop of the soupy sauce, either.
A cuisine on the move is well-served by a signature dessert or two, and lately that signature has become the tres leches cake. Hacienda has resisted it to date, but they have felt no such compunctions about what might well be the number two "it" dessert: the empanada with guava paste and cream cheese. Hacienda's version is large, light, dusted with powdered sugar - a delicate delight. I have frankly forgotten the name of the newly minted creation we also tried, but it's composed of cinnamon ice cream, whipped cream, a buñuelo, and a little caramel sauce. What's not to like? •