Hipper, newer

Tex Mex Bar & Grill

2326 J St.
Sacramento, CA 95816

(916) 273-4930

For fans of downtown’s late Texas Mexican on Eighth Street, much is taken but much abides at Tex Mex Midtown, a hipper incarnation of the old eatery.

What most delightfully abides is much of the friendly, proficient staff of Texas Mexican. Like Mickey, whose smile would light a pitch-black cavern. And much of the menu abides as well, such as the same three choices of beans—refried, black, charra—the always reliable enchiladas verdes; the spirited, by request, salsa verde decorated with chopped white onion; and, of course, the warm-up-a-frosty-day Mama Rosas Chicken Soup with its varied vegetables accompanied by pico de gallo and avocado.

What’s taken is the All-World pozole, with its rust-orange oil slick of grease, hominy and plate of shredded cabbage, onions and limes. It’s a particularly harsh blow because a heavy hankering for some causes Tex Mex to inexorably beckon, like moth to flame. Then, after scouring the menu, which looks like a cross between a ransom note and the Bandidos Yanquis posters from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, despair ensues. Please join the holy crusade, initiated here, to restore the truly epic pozole to Tex Mex’s menu. Hasta la victoria siempre.

The old Texas Mexican, at least the original part with the loft above, felt like a warren: Dark and a tad claustrophobic. Not an issue in Midtown at what used to be Taco Loco Taqueria near 24th. Two rows of big windows—one just below the roof line, one just above—cascade light onto the spacious interior with aisles wide enough to accommodate two-lane dim-sum cart traffic. There’s a row of commodious booths and plenty of tables. The brick walls are brightened by large reddish and orange infused paintings. Shifting lights, flowing in one sitting from pink to green on the glass shelves behind the bar, dapple an enviable array of tequila. Below the counter, the bar stays a steady Prussian blue, at least during several visits. In a nice touch of detail, there are hooks beneath the counter on which to hang outerwear.

Overall, this is a more conducive site for a couple belts after work and then dinner.

A paragraph about the ubiquitous Justin, who seems manager, major domo, barkeep and waiter rolled into one. He taps kegs, delivers food, makes margaritas and carries it all off with verve. Seek and heed Justin’s advice. For example, the spectacular—and, at $10, ridiculously affordable—Santa Fe salad, with its eruption of thin tortilla strips at its center, is best enjoyed with a mix of ranch dressing and the table salsa, Justin says. For those wanting more fuego, Justin gets the chef to mix into the red table salsa a double dollop of the El Diablo sauce, described on the menu as “fire hot” but nowhere near as feverish as the fiendish Laotian’s War Sauce up the street at My BBQ Spot. Not a conflagration but certainly an attention getter. Justin’s tailor-made salad dressing is a snappy accompaniment to the chunks of beef, roasted corn, poblanos, carrot shards, shredded red cabbage and cotija, most of which sinks to the bottom of the thicket of romaine and iceberg lettuce forcing a diner to eat their greens if only to unearth the other goodies.

The carnitas are a bit tough and over crisp on one visit. An interesting new addition to the Tex Mex repertoire—this also recommended by Justin—is Fajitas Au Gratin. Au gratin, as this enfeebled mind believes is not a synonym for potatoes, otherwise it would be redundant. So, the initial shock at finding none in the sizzling mass of jack cheese, bacon, bell pepper and an occasional onion is ill-founded. Chicken, not beef, Justin insists.

As to the skirt steak being “World Famous,” as the menu claims, others must judge. There is no dispute, however, the chunks are cooked to a juicy medium and Tex Mex is right to call it its signature dish.

Something old, something new: Try the chili verde: It’s swell, too.