Lost in Sauce

| photography by Alex Lepe |

Yes, enchiladas, tacos and combo platters heavy with rice and beans are on the menu, but Benito’s is not a Tex-Mex restaurant. Here queso is real cheese and not a processed sauce, and the chile con carne is not poured from a can. Rich, deep red mole rojo and tomatillo-based mole verde replace the elusive, often watery “red or green” enchilada sauce, and dishes venture past quesadillas and burritos and delve into seafood, steaks, chops and stews. With piñata-adorned ceilings, colorful high-back chairs and serape print strewn throughout, the 35-year-old restaurant is a South Fort Worth staple for authentic Mexican food.

On our two most recent visits, service was swift. Within seconds, drinks were delivered and servers were ready for dinner orders. But more time was needed to navigate the nearly 100 menu items, categorized by apps, salads, enchiladas, tacos, combos, comidas corridas (economical, quick dishes), specialties, guisados (stews), caldo (soups), and breakfast, which is served all day. Patrons will be tantalized and tempted by everything from ceviche tostadas piled high with cubed fish, tomatoes, avocado and lime wedges to the tamal Oaxaqueno – a tamale wrapped and baked in a banana leaf with chicken and red mole sauce.

The queso flameado ($7.95) – or flaming cheese – is just that. Melted white Oaxaca cheese and chorizo are lit ablaze tableside, thanks to a splash of Barcadi 151 rum. The server meticulously mixes the fiery concoction with two forks, lifting the stringy cheese high before turning the bowl to combine to perfection. The flames disappear and the creamy, salty appetizer is then ready to be devoured with hot corn or flour tortillas. Ours was shared among four and served as the perfect palate pleaser.

A great way to sample several of Benito’s authentic homemade sauces is by ordering the chicken enchilada combo ($9.50). A trio of oven-charred enchiladas comes with red mole, green mole and sour cream and tomatillo-based suiza sauces. The small, yet plump, enchiladas were crispy on the outer edges and soft inside. Shredded chicken was mildly seasoned, leaving the sauces as stars of the show. The red mole, heavy with various chile powders, was the standout for its complex layers of flavor, which ranged from smoky to slightly sweet.

The ceviche Yucateco ($13.95) provides for a healthy option comprised of lime-juice-marinated tilapia covered in thick tomato wedges, chopped onions and fresh avocado slices. The colorful ensemble comes with white rice and black beans and is a light and refreshing dish big enough to share.

Breakfast is a must at Benito’s, even though the restaurant opens rather late for it - 11 a.m., Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m., Saturday and Sunday. Perhaps the most popular breakfast item is the chilaquiles en salsa roja ($6.25) – a hot plate of fried tortillas coated in bright red chile sauce and melted white cheese served with Mexican rice and refried beans. Crispy and almost airy, the dish is easily inhalable with a cold beer or michelada. The restaurant is open until 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday, and while we’ve never visited anywhere close to that hour, we can imagine the restaurant packed with hospital workers and night owls feeding their own Benito’s addiction.

Location: Benito’s, 1450 West Magnolia
For Info: 817-332-8633
Hours: Mon. - Thurs., 11 a.m. - 9 p.m., Fri., 11 a.m. - 2 a.m., Sat., 10 a.m. - 2 a.m., Sun., 10 a.m. - 9 p.m.
What We Liked: The queso flameado ($7.95), not only for its salty creaminess but for the presentation that comes with its delivery.
What We Didn’t: We wonder why the frozen margaritas are bright mint green – almost neon – in color. While they may be perfectly tasty, we’ll stick to dye-free drinks.
Our Recommendation: The chicken enchilada combo plate ($9.50) for the variety of sauces and the chilaquiles ($6.25) for the ultimate indulgence.