All in the Family

Owner Manny Rios digs into his Mi Cocina and Mia’s roots and opens Manny’s Uptown Tex-Mex Restaurante.

All due respect to its enchiladas and whatnot, but Manny’s Uptown Tex-Mex Restaurante would surely be Just Another Mexican Restaurant were it not for its family connections. Pull up the spreadsheet: owner Manny Rios is brother of Anna “Mamma Mia” Enriquez. Who is the matriarch behind Mia’s. Which is the old-time Tex-Mex restaurant on Lemmon Avenue. Which also spawned Mi Cocina. Which is what passes for good Tex-Mex around here. Which—whatever.

Do we need another place that assembles combination plates anchored by a cheesy, meaty mass and slathered with rice and beans? Apparently we do. Since it opened in May, Manny’s has been a bona fide mob scene, especially on weekend nights, when its no-reservations policy spells a one-hour wait during peak hours.

Aside from the reassurance that a line implies—if other people are waiting, this must be good, right?—here it also presents an opportunity for mingling and showcasing. Being “forced” to hang out on the porch, right there on Lemmon where the Lexus parade whizzes by, fosters a barrier-breaking camaraderie. We’re all in this together, and I’m too sexy for my shirt. So where ya from?

As you might guess, it’s a young crowd weaned on Mi Cocina and duly grateful for this of-the-moment Uptown rendition. It sits in a grand old house previously occupied by Guthrie’s and, before that, Rooster. What a transformation. With its oversize tables and vividly colored paintings, the space feels crowded and very busy. On those weekend nights, the din is so loud that conversation is absolutely impossible. Which, if you are in your 20s and love some brisk action, is absolute heaven.

How about a nod to the service—from Manny himself to his son Paul to the noble men and women of Manny’s, who dodge the young rowdies, coddle the grumpy oldsters, endure the volume, and ride the hectic pace with grace and good spirits. On those nights when the line’s really long, they sometimes bring out bean-and-cheese nachos. Hooray.

Given that Manny is part of the Mia’s clan and that his kitchen staff includes Javier Hernandez, formerly of Mia’s, and Cirilo Hernandez, formerly of Mi Cocina, the menu doesn’t stray far from the tree: fajitas, tamales, quesadillas, and tacos, all competently made, all reliably familiar to anyone who’s hung at the siblings.

The high points centered on meat: specifically ribeye steak and brisket. Ribeye made the tacos al carbon a must-get, with rolled-up flour tortillas wrapped around tender strips of steak. Brisket turned up all over the menu—in quesadillas, chimichangas, enchiladas, and tacos. All good, but the tacos won the most points for giving the shredded meat its most prominent, unfettered role. Tacos can also be ordered with tilapia, an excellent choice for people who don’t actually like the taste of fish.

Chips and salsa are complimentary, but the odds seem high that you’ll order queso or guacamole, ’cuz that’s some hot salsa. If you can’t live without dessert, then it should be sopaipillas, four fluffy squares to an order, which easily beat out the lumpy flan.

Tex-Mex basics such as the chicken enchiladas, three nothing-special rolls filled with chopped chicken and slopped all over with sour cream sauce, fulfilled expectations in a way that didn’t offend. But then, it’s not really about the food.

Manny’s and its cousins serve as a kind of finishing school for fancy dining. Remember those first few meals out with friends? Was there anything more sophisticated in the whole wide world than to be 21 and meeting your equally mature peers for a grown-up dinner? With its brisk atmosphere, perfectly adequate food, moderate prices, and margaritas, Manny’s, like Mia’s and Mi Cocina, is a gateway to the brink of adulthood. And that’s a period some people never want to leave behind. 3521 Oak Grove Rd. 214-252-1611. $$.

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