Review: Hacienda on Henderson

Despite a trendy location and a pretty patio, Hacienda on Henderson fails to impress with food or service.

Fish tacos had a nice presentation but lacked flavor. photography by Matthew Shelley

Short rib tacos were the best dish we ate at Hacienda. photography by Matthew Shelley
I wanted to like Hacienda on Henderson. I really did. After all, one of the owners, Miles Zuniga, is the guy behind Vickery Park, one of my favorite hangouts. (The food at Vickery Park is pretty good, too.) Also, Hacienda is in my neighborhood, in a restored old house that used to be the beloved Mexican restaurant Cuquita’s. Yep, I wanted to like Hacienda. Unfortunately, Hacienda just wasn’t that into me.

The first time I ate there was a Wednesday night around Christmas. “Please seat yourself,” read a sign near the door. I am not opposed to seating myself, but only if I’m in a diner or a fast-food joint. But this was no deserted diner; the bar was stacked two-deep, and every table was taken. A host would have come in handy.

Feeling helpless and unwelcome—no one had greeted us or even looked our way when we walked in—we headed to the bar. Where we waited. And waited. Servers with baskets of chips nudged us not-so-gently out of the way. Colorful masks cluttering the walls seemed to mock us. Finally, a bartender noticed us. We ordered two shots of infused tequila and two beers. His: the mango/habanero. Mine: pineapple, which, weirdly, tasted like raisins. Luckily, his had pleasant sweet-hot thing going on.

We relaxed for a bit and asked the bartender if we could put our names on a list to get a table. Apparently those were the magic words, because a guy appeared and ushered us to an empty booth in the back we hadn’t noticed. The loud television was blaring the Mavericks game, but at least our server was sweet and attentive. We sampled the tangy-but-not-too-saccharine Milagro Fresh margarita on the rocks—skip the jalapeño margarita unless you want a milk chaser—and dug into the GuaQueSir, a bowl of queso with guacamole, ground sirloin, and pico de gallo. The first problem: the super-thin chips couldn’t stand up to the thick dip. The second problem: the queso was lukewarm at best, and it left an odd, chalky taste in our mouths. Not a great start.

Fortunately, the short rib tacos that followed were the best thing I’ve eaten at Hacienda. Tender chunks of meat, studded with a bit of cilantro and onion, were double-wrapped (note: these days they come single-wrapped, which we learned during fact check) in homemade corn tortillas, and the accompanying rice, many times an afterthought at Tex-Mex restaurants, was so fluffy and buttery that I couldn’t stop eating it. The chile cheese relleno, on the other hand, was limp and so overwhelmed with cheese that we couldn’t taste anything else. Attractively plated fish tacos looked nice, but the bland tilapia needed both salt and acid. For the most part, the food was underwhelming.

On our second visit, the sign at the front read, “Please Wait to Be Seated.” A girl with some sort of video player on her shirt stomped up to us and said, “Inside or outside?” No smile, no hello. It was as if she was too busy to deal with us. Never mind that the place wasn’t even half full.

We headed outside and sat at a brown picnic table by the gurgling fountain—prime patio seating along this stretch of Henderson Avenue. Once again, our server was friendly, and an order of nachos came out quickly. Sadly, these were only the first among many disappointments. Half-moon chips were piled high with small chunks of chicken and beef and smothered in a blanket of bland cheese. The chips were dark brown from over-frying, and, like our fish tacos before, these nachos lacked any discernible seasoning. My dining partner tried to salvage his with salsa, but it was so overpoweringly hot to me this visit that I couldn’t do the same. We each had one and left the rest—and who leaves nachos behind?

My friend’s chicken enchiladas obviously had been sitting under a heat lamp for too long, because the sauce was congealed upon arrival. When he took a bite, chewed, and swallowed without a word, I knew something was wrong. “I think they must have microwaved these enchiladas,” he said. “I don’t know how you’d get the tortillas so tough otherwise.” He was right; when I tried a bite for myself, the tortilla stuck to my teeth as I chewed. And again with the blandness—this time the shredded chicken filling and sour cream tomatillo sauce were the culprits.

I ordered fajitas, thinking they would be a safe bet. Unfortunately, the same lame beef from the nachos made an appearance—this time in sad, shriveled strips. Pieces of chicken breast fared better, but it didn’t matter, because the accompanying pile of sautéed onions and bell peppers were greasy. “At least I have the rice!” I thought to myself. Not this time. That fluffy, butter goodness I had on my last visit was now just a lukewarm and crunchy mess. I put down my fork.

Apparently, it takes me a long time to learn a lesson. I love sopapillas, so I had to try Hacienda’s version. When the plate of flat fried flour tortillas (yes, you read that right) drizzled in honey arrived, the deal was sealed. Pretty patio or not, I’ve got to tell you—Hacienda, I’m just not that into you either.

Get contact information for Hacienda on Henderson.