What: C.K.’s Cantina & Grill
Where: 63 A Gerald Ave., Dallas
Credit cards? Yes
Wheelchair accessible? Yes
Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday through Sunday
Why we went: Cody Kittle’s seasonal ice-cream and food shack on pretty much the same Back Mountain property has established itself as one of our all-time favorite summer spots. We could only expect more greatness in a dine-indoors atmosphere.
Atmosphere: Fresh, fairly spacious and fairly fun. Furniture and paint are new; a false wall separates a large bar from the dining area, where the Mexican touches, such as sombreros and other accents, are just enough. We wouldn’t mind a few more accents, even if kitschy, and perhaps some overhead Mexican music would amp up the ambience.
Menu highlights: We absolutely delighted ourselves in a shared C.K.’s Dip Sampler for $7.99, which was a huge plate of thin-and-crispy red, white and blue nachos accompanied by four dippers: guacamole, bean dip, chile con queso and pico de gallo. The contents of one bowl were better than the next — one of those cases where what you were eating at the time was hands-down the best until you moved on to the next. The guac was bright and fresh and not heavy on the avocados (which I consider a good thing); the chile con queso was all warm cheese, all the time, with a kick, so how could you go wrong? The bean dip was pretty much the same as a side of refried, but no fault to that; and the pico de gallo had low cucumber content and was instead high on the cilantro, which thrilled me. We marveled at the obvious freshness, as if each ingredient had been picked and hand-chopped 15 minutes before the bowl arrived on our table. Well-done, C.K.; well-done.
An also-shared plate of a dozen mini tacos ($5.95) was another big hit. High marks for looks as well as taste, provided you like a bit of spice in your taco meat, which I do. These corn-shelled cuties were commendably thin yet packed with meat for their diminutive size, and that meat came with a bite. One of us found them too spicy, but, hey, more for me. I’d order these again and again.
Next up? A chicken fajitas skillet for $12.99. While we awaited its arrival, my guest who had chosen this plate — your usual fire-grilled chicken with grilled peppers, onions and pico de gallo, served with corn or flour tortillas as well as rice, beans, lettuce, tomato, cheese, salsa and sour cream — could only repeat, “I just hope they are sizzling.” Were they ever. Friends, if you’ve ever ordered fajitas at a Mexican restaurant and been disappointed by a lack of, well, noise and smoke when they arrived, know that will NOT be the case here. This was the sizzle heard ‘round the restaurant, and the scent alone almost made me regret that I’d just ordered a chimi, until my gorgeous chimi ($7.95) arrived.
My initial disappointment — I’d ordered the “wet” and asked for the verde, or green, enchilada sauce but received red rojo — was quickly allayed, after one bite, in fact. This huge, crispy-crunchy yet thin tortilla shell was bursting at the seams with my chosen meat (pork) as well as three fantastic cheeses, and the generous red sauce came alive over the whole creation. Whether having a classic burrito or a chimi, I’d advise choosing “wet” and adding the sauce. My guest’s burrito with sauce on the side, while tasty, was simply not quite the same when he tried to spoon the sauce on carefully.
Other menu options: Burritos also come in bowl form, similar to a C.K.’s Taco Salad ($7.95), which is a crispy tortilla bowl filled with fresh romaine, seasoned ground beef, beans, tomatoes, onions, croutons, cheese, salsa and sour cream. Our taster must have said “so good” on each five-minute mark.
After that, plenty of other items intrigued enough to plan a revisit: grilled fish tacos and fried fish tacos, both with tilapia, as well as shrimp tacos and fire-grilled “street” tacos; a combination enchilada plate (of course); and several Americanized options, should you find yourself in plainer company. Think chicken or shrimp scampi, pasta Alfredo or even a Mexican spaghetti bowl.
Drinks? Go for a margarita, served not in a margarita glass but in a tall tumbler (which to us means you get more, so we’ll not complain) or a red or white sangria. We chose a white, and I loved that it was decidedly NOT sweet and had just enough diced citrus fruits. My sweet-toothed guest would have preferred more sugar but was quick to note she also puts Splenda in her Greek yogurt.
Desserts? Fried ice cream tempts, but, alas, we could not sample to see if it was truly “fried” because the house had run out during our visit. We were offered complimentary hard ice cream instead, which was high-quality anyway. The fried stuff will wait until next time.
Overall impression: Thrilled. Yes, we are simply thrilled that C.K. is moving up in the world. We’ll still use the outdoor stand throughout summer, but rainy days, and surely other days, will no doubt draw us inside here, where the Mexican is, as it’s said, “real.” Cody reportedly learned his art from his mama, and his mama’s done no wrong by us.