Restaurant Rant: Leslie Brenner Falls Off Her Rocker Again

Dallas has a rich history of Tex-Mex. El Fenix opened in 1918. photo courtesy of El Fenix.

I know Leslie Brenner works hard and I swore to myself that I would quit pointing to things she writes that I consider odd or wrong. However, my brain snapped into a million fragments as I read her column on where Super Bowl fans can dine without a reservation.

After touting Tei-An and steakhouses she writes:

“If you’re looking for a place with another kind of serious Texas flavor, charge right past the Tex-Mex spots you’ll see all over town; Tex-Mex is not Dallas’ strong suit.”

What is she smoking? Seriously? El Fenix has been open since 1918. Tex-Mex is not our strong suit? When did we become the hotbed for soba noodles and octopus salad? Don’t get me wrong, we have excellent Japanese restaurants. But are they our strong suit. If so, why have I spent the last several days answering e-mails from visiting media members looking for hole-in-the-wall Tex-Mex and margaritas. I have to go outside and find some ice to slip on. Leslie, you can catch up on the history and significance of Tex-Mex in Dallas here. Or at least talk to Kim Pierce. Charge right past? Oh, my.


  • Scott–DFW

    This is about the fifth time Brenner has described Tei-An’s soba as “hand-pulled.” Soba isn’t “pulled” (like ramen or la mian). The noodles are rolled and cut.

  • Leigh

    My favorite part of your post? The categories you selected. Hilarious.

    I felt this way, for different reasons, when I read Hanna Raskin’s piece in the Observer.

  • downtowner

    I generally like La Brenner, but dismissing outright any Tex-Mex in Dallas is sheer lunacy.

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  • Eater

    Nancy, do you know if those restaurants mentioned – especially the ones like VT which seems to draw a bar crowd – that are normally closed on Sundays, closed this Sunday for the Super Bowl?

  • Ozonedude

    I don’t like her, but she’s right. Houston, San Antonio and Austin all do Tex-Mex much better than Dallas. It didn’t use to be that way, but the quality of Tex-Mex in this town is just pretty mediocre. And your tags are just about as funny as you, which is to say, not much.

  • Ray

    Esperanza’s Mexican Cafe and Bakery on north Main Fort Worth

  • James

    Ozonedude… You clearly need to get out more. There’s some amazing Tex-Mex in this town. In fact, it’s everywhere! And let’s stop discounting chain restaurants just because they’re chains. Places like Pappasito’s put out some pretty great Tex-Mex. Not everything has to be mom & pop or a hole in the wall.

  • Samba

    Nancy I think you are the only one reading Brenner these days.

  • i keep hearing that SA and Houston has better Texmex than dallas, but everywhere i go it tastes pretty much the same as in dallas.

    i think you can make the argument that dallas has mediocre BBQ compared to other cities in texas. and you can make the argument that we have mediocre mexican.

    but i think our tex mex is pretty much the top tier. hell we invented the frozen margarita!

  • Katy T

    WHERE is the LIKE button?? Leigh, five star response — like really. Category applause Nancy!

  • Drew

    From her reviews, LB looks like a total snob if you ask me. Tex-Mex seems far too low brow for her, so why would you trust her judgment?

    I tend to read the reviews for pure entertainment value, particularly the comments.

  • I think during her Woman vs Food critic diet her taste buds were scorched by an ultra hot bowl of duck soba broth at tei am (#, we get it, you like it and its a great restaurant). If only an LA or Vegas chef would move here and open a tex-mex spot…then we’d be back on her culinary map. Now, Cali-Mex – that’s good grub!!!!

  • MNS

    To echo the comments above…everyone who comes to visit here or expats who come home want Tex-Mex. It is not about what else we do well here but the fact that Brisket Tacos (pick your favorite spot) is the ultimate dish that is never better than right here. Throw in a decent frozen Marg and it is nirvana. LB seems to think we have an inferiority complex and that the most profitable restos are steakhouses and Tex-Mex is an affront. Wrong. We do Tex-Mex really well and deliver a product that people here seem to really like…it is like asking anyone what their favorite BBQ is…everyone has a different answer. Look at Dickey’s…no wood to be found anywhere near their store’s but people like it. LB needs to be proud of the city that she lives in and celebrate what we do well…while acknowledging what diners like to eat.

  • And in her review of Avila’s, “I honestly ‘don’t get’ queso”. Then maybe you don’t get Tex-Mex as that’s a fairly big part of it. And maybe, just maybe you don’t get Dallas.

  • Heh… you said Dickey’s…

  • MCC

    It was purely a click/comment bait post. Successful troll is successful.

  • Twinwillow

    I guess “Ozondude” has never been to Casa Milagro. They do fabulous Tex-Mex!

    And, Leslie Brenner is beginning to get on my nerves. She has lost all credibility in my opinion.

  • Wow. I want to say that I’m surprised by that. But I’m not. That’s just sad.

    Oh, and be sure not to have a chicken fried steak while you’re here, either. Wouldn’t want it to seem like you’re in Texas/Dallas or anything like that. In fact, it’ll probably be best if you just eat what you usually have back home.

  • Neutral

    I think Twin said it best, except, that I felt that way a while back.

  • Scagnetti

    I hate it when mommy and daddy fight.

  • john

    Swear to yourself again. Now you’ve got Tim sniping at competitor bloggers. It lowers all of you.

  • Gastronome

    Mexican food is like Italian food – there are many regions and distinct differences between them. Mexico City, Oaxacan, Coastal, Border to name a few. But the regions don’t end at the border; you’ve got Cal-Mex, New Mexico-Mex and Tex-Mex. Tex-Mex was invented in Houston, Dallas and San Antonio, as well as other kitchens across the state. Someone who was raised on Cal-Mex may not understand or appreciate Tex-Mex, but that’s no reason to denigrate those who invented it and continue to define it. Spewing bile to sell papers may work in the short run, but eventually it causes food lovers and those with a casual interest to run from the source (hey DMN, catch a clue – your food writer doesn’t seem to have one).

  • macpad

    We’re all entitled to our opinions. While I completely disagree with Leslie’s column, I also disagree with you stooping to diss Leslie.

  • You may call it “stooping to diss Leslie” but I consider it fair game to criticize her opinions. She is telling millions of readers to skip Tex-Mex in Dallas and I think that is wrong. What is wrong with criticizing someone for their opinions?

  • Twinwillow

    I know this analogy is a bit of a stretch but, it’s like telling someone to skip the pizza if they’re going to Naples, Italy.

  • astroman

    You read too fast Nancy! Or you don’t understand what “strong suit” means, like some of your readers. Brenner ONLY says that Tex-Mex is not Dallas strong suit, i.e. that Tex-Mex is (let’s hope) better elsewhere and certainly that among the 30 best restaurants in Dallas not a single one is a Tex-Mex restaurant. The fact that El Fenix opened in 1918 is beyond the point. The fact that anybody visiting Dallas wants to have Tex-Mex food is also irrelevant. See now I’m sure you agree with Brenner… Dallas strong suit is NOT Tex-Mex food. Sad but true.

  • OzoneDude

    @nancynichols: Calling someone a skinny bitch is a legitimate critical opinion? “El Fenix was founded in 1918” proves Dallas has good Tex-Mex in 2011? Whatever lady. However, based on these comments, you can play to your base, so bully for that.

  • macpad

    @Nancy – it’s fair to criticize? Disagree maybe but do it on Leslie’s comment page — being snarky and insulting is for amateurs.

  • Lee

    I am from the Valley and have lived in Houston, S.A. and Austin. I agree with the opinion that Tex-Mex is not Dallas strong suit. There are some good places, but top to bottom there is more bad than good. I realize that Mi Cocina lovers may disagree, but it is a fair opinion. For Nancy to get all snarky about someone else’s opinion is silly.

  • 31858060

    Thank you Nancy for bringing the obvious to the attention of the oblivious.
    What is it about that job at the DMN? Once they become settled in, they get bitten by les folies de grandeurs. Let’s just hope she doesn’t start writing BBQ books, soap opera cookbooks and endorsing Ranch Dressing!

  • Dallas has lots of tex-mex. Dont compare Dallas to Austin and San Antonio because they prefer to be authitic Mexican.

  • joe mama

    boone…surely you joke. san antonio/austin authentic mexican? really?? define authentic.

  • RidemCowgirl

    Hey. Here is the point. People are coming to Dallas fro all over. They are not going to Hoysto or Austin or San Antonio. They are hear. To tell them to stay away from Tex Mex is stupid. Really? How many times a month do you pay for TexMex in Dallas? To not include it in a list of suggestions for visitors is outrageous. It is a huge part of our food heritage.

  • Cassie

    It doesn’t really matter. Leslie Brenner’s picture has been passed around the restaurant scene like a stripper at Charlie Sheen’s house.
    And sorry but I am not going to take a food critic seriously if she is on a diet. She obviously has her favorites and it is reflected in all of the restaurants that she has missed.
    The truth is that Dallasite’s know what is good out there and what isn’t. They don’t need some West Coast aging palate to tell them.

  • logan

    Nancy, do you know what Leslie Brenner considers good Tex-Mex…i am wondering where in the United States she has eaten what she considered good Tex-Mex…i am thinking she really just doesn’t like Tex-Mex in general because she has yet to name a place in the United States where she had what she thinks is good.

  • joeat

    I totally agree, Dallas’ strong suit is not Tex-Mex. It amuses me that in all 36 posts, mostly abusing Leslie for her honest opinion, only 2 Dallas restaurants are mentioned by name. The rest are just generalities and popping off. If Dallas has so many “great” places, how about a few names and NOT Mi Cocina or El Chico. Surely no one goes to either for the food.

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  • L.

    joeat, how about Herrera’s? Avila’s? Ojeda’s? Mercado Juarez? Mexican Inn? Mia’s?

    I can go on all day…

  • A. B.

    Why do we need a strong suit? Dallas has great food of all kinds. We have a closet full of strong suits.

  • @ozonedude. Skinny Bitch is actually an inside joke compliment started by Pat Sharpe at Texas Monthly. She wrote a hilarious story “Confessions of a Skinny Bitch” several years ago. My reference to El Fenix was meant to support the long tradition of Tex-Mex in Dallas and how it has influenced many of the restaurants in our area. Eat a chile relleno at Avila’s, a number 10 at Herrera’s, any globby luncheon special at Escondido, the freakin nachos at MiCocina, enchiladas at El Jordan, sopapillas at Rafa’s,chile relleno at Matt’s…………Tex-Mex is gooey, cheesy goodness with spicy beans and salsa and salty, greasy thin chips. I lived in Los Angeles for 11 years and NEVER tasted anything close to what I was raised on here. Perhaps her palate is mine in reverse. But to dismiss it as in “charge past” is just ludicrous. And as a Dallasite and a Tex-Mex addict, it pissed me off.

  • JT42

    Completely agree with you Nancy….and really enjoyed your post.

    Also agree with snootyfoodie:

    “And in her review of Avila’s, ‘I honestly ‘don’t get’ queso.’ Then maybe you don’t get Tex-Mex as that’s a fairly big part of it. And maybe, just maybe you don’t get Dallas.”

    Leslie doesn’t get Dallas…at all. And to me, she’s lost all credibility. I only read her reviews (and comments on the reviews) for pure entertainment now.

  • Beda

    I’ve met non-Texans who don’t like Tex-Mex. It may be an acquired taste, or something you love because you have eaten it all of your life. She obviously hasn’t acquired the taste, but she didn’t need to be so dismissive of it as a favorite of the local yokels just because it isn’t to her taste.

  • logan

    @joeat…plenty of suggestions have been given her on the original article she wrote…i’m not wasting my time naming suggestions because i think she’s tried some of them and apparently found them lacking. now i just want to know what she considers good tex-mex…let her name some of her favorite tex-mex places so we can see if she just doesn’t get tex-mex period…or if she thinks dallas’ version just doesn’t compare to what she holds in high esteem

  • Paul

    For all those who say Tex Mex is sooo much better in Austin, San Antonio, the Valley, etc., give me a break. As a native Texan who has eaten all over the state, and whose four food groups are enchiladas, chips/hot sauce, queso and margs, I can say that the best places in Dallas easily equal the best places anywhere in Texas. As a matter of fact, this topic and the cold weather are making me hungry.

  • Wm. B. Travis

    Her transparent pimping of her subjective favorites is quite annoying. Now compare that review with the NYT review. Which one makes you want to brave the elements to find somewhere fun to eat? One really need not go farther than the photo — pure art in the NYT, pure cleavage from the DMN. (The cougars that prowl VT is a whole other story.) Both reviews do establish an absolute truth — bad BBQ in Dallas.

    Visitors — our TexMex is solid. But it’s not CalifMex. And our steaks are solid. Dunston’s has survived how many Avner recarnations?

    But our best dining category is the personality-driven venue. We’re not inventive, but Dallas restauranteurs are awesome at customizing, polishing and sexing up a style.

  • I’m with Nancy. You tell people to go to places where you can’t get reservations but actually need them because they are crowded places to begin with. And you tell people to charge past the one thing you can get, no matter what neighborhood you’re staying in, without necessarily waiting and that you can’t get at home… are you kidding?

  • Neutral

    I wonder what Anthony Bourdain would say about all of this. We already know how he feels about Ms. Brenner and barbeque-gate.

  • You Knew This Was Coming

    By Borborygmus

    “No more poems for Leslie”, words now I regret,
    I just cannot stop when one sets up such a target.
    LesBren’s latest argument against Tex-Mex dishes,
    A punch in the face for those thinking “delicious”.

    It kept me awake, as I remembered some geometry
    And rules regarding the logical properties of equality.
    “Maybe she’s no mathlete,” I think as I decide
    To walk through the equation of her culinary suicide.

    Let’s start with the premise that a equals b,
    As in “Skip the Tex-Mex, it’s just not Big D
    Cuisine worth eating”, her statement loosely.
    Never mind that it’s eaten, citywide, profusely.

    So on to the next link, y’know, where b equals c,
    The local Tex-Mex places you can’t help but see.
    And successful? Many popular for decades or more
    But the fact that we love them doesn’t add to her score.

    Which leads to the final link, just so insulting:
    Then a equals c, do you see where I’m heading?
    If our TexMex doth suck, but we love it’s taste
    You’re saying we’re ignorant, a punch to the face.

    Never mind that thousands have loved this food,
    And most of us really, really consider it good.
    Not up to her standards, her measurement, what?
    Other city’s food, not Dallas’. This woman’s a nut!

    So let’s move on to a little Diophantine analysis
    Of writer, whose criticisms invite diner paralysis.
    But it’s obvious to me, and perhaps to you too
    She’d rather be elsewhere, it’s in every review.

    It’s sad that a person with DMN’s large platform
    Lacks a palate, yet opines, rating most “lukewarm”.
    But most of us recognize her power is waning
    Few read her reviews, they’re just not entertaining.

  • Ridemcowgirl

    A tweet on this post went to Anthony Bourdain. He retweeted this:

    @NoReservations Anthony Bourdain
    @DSideDish The poster-critic for the increasing irrelevance of food related print media.

    Bottom line: Leslie does not have a sense of humor. Her writing is snobbish and all about “I”. My list. My reviews. My meals. I like that Nancy puts her opinions out but then opens it up to the readers here. I don’t see anybody commenting on Eats anymore. I think they may have lost the race.

  • Robin

    If you’re going to talk about strong suits of Dallas cuisine, El Fenix shouldn’t be involved at all. It’s passable, decent Tex Mex that is very much overpriced. But Pappacito’s, Mi Cocina, etc, are all great.

  • slade

    Go Nancy!!! I love my Tex Mex here in Dallas