East Plano may never be the culinary capital of North Texas, but thanks to restaurateurs Bonnie and Nathan Shea, it is two steps closer to becoming a respectable dining destination. In 2009, they opened Urban Crust Wood-Fired Pizza and 32 Degrees Rooftop Bar on 15th Street. The spot was packed from day one.
This year, the Sheas gutted the former Plano Ice House building in the downtown historic district and created a four-story complex with a restaurant (Urban Rio), a bar (On the Rocks), a catering office and event space (Rooftop), and a gelato shop (Nate’s Gelato). Obviously people in Plano were desperate for a place to party. Urban Rio and On the Rocks are busy every night.
Even though Urban Rio bills itself as “more than chips, salsa, and margaritas,” it excels at all three. There are familiar Tex-Mex offerings such as tacos, fajitas, and enchiladas, but there are also many dishes with a real chef’s touch. Mark Miller, famous for the Southwestern cuisine he created at Santa Fe’s Coyote Cafe, consulted with Urban Rio chef Ryan Olmos. The kitchen doesn’t take any shortcuts. The peppers are roasted properly, the sauces are complex, and the tortillas are made from corn ground on site.
There is nothing ho-hum about the tacos. Brisket is cooked for eight to 10 hours before it is stuffed into a fresh tortilla and topped with a spicy barbecue sauce. Even the lowly quesadilla gets a fancy twist. Olmos wraps two layers of three cheeses (Oaxacan, panela, Chihuahuan) and avocado scented with ground Mexican oregano and smoked paprika and heats it on a griddle. It’s a cheese lover’s dream.
The Sheas have created a place where Planoites can gather with their families and friends in a restaurant that doesn’t have a trademark in the logo. And on the balcony of On the Rocks, you can sip a watermelon margarita and watch the sun set and feast your eyes on the twinkling lights of downtown Dallas. Yes, dinner with a view in Plano. Take that, Hooters.