For a restaurant with sweet life connotations, Dulce Vida’s first impressions strike a less-than-saccharine note. For starters, the restaurant occupies the shell of an oddly designed, former Greek restaurant, faux columns, Mykonos murals, and all. A few conventionally Mexican artworks on the walls are the only evidence of a genre-change operation. Given the elevated prices, the menu is not a model of inspiration; a chile poblano stuffed with chicken and cheese and “cooked over the grill to perfection!” and a “creamy cilantro sauce” are about the only indications of aspirations. The serving pieces are cafeteria quality, nobody would accuse the cook of overly precious presentation, the waitstaff apparently don’t have to pass a drill sergeant’s uniform inspection …
But then comes redemption: The food here really tastes good. Dulce Vida’s table salsa is seriously toasty yet also brightly acidic; it makes the standard-issue chips taste almost too acceptable. A shaken Mexican Martini ($7.95), the only Margarita-like libation that didn’t seem too tricked out with extra ingredients, made the most of El Jimador, Cointreau, fresh lime juice, and an un-advertised chile-salt rim. And that chile relleno mentioned above? Let’s move to a new paragraph.
The poblano ($9.99 at lunch) is simply stuffed with chicken, white cheese, and onion; it has been charred, then grilled; and it’s topped with that aforementioned sauce. And I have only one suggestion: some fresh cilantro sprinkled on at the end to lend freshness and a slightly better look; it’s otherwise very respectable. The accompanying Mexican rice has genuine flavor, an over-blended dab of guacamole is nevertheless flavor-packed, and the soupy/bacony charra beans are truly sensational.
Taquitos al pastor at DV are very proudly priced at $13.99 for four (including the beans), and the plate is anything but visually impressive. Mexican pop music on the sound system hardly justifies the price premium over a good taco truck. But again, the tastes transcend the trappings. The pork is tender and very well seasoned, there are cubes of pineapple (though they should show signs of grilling), and the corn tortillas pass muster.
What to make of all this? There needs to be more than a Stone Oak-area location to justify comida corriente pero cara. The kitchen is apparently capable. That leaves the rest to management.
Dulce Vida Mexican Cocina & Cantina
19178 Blanco at Huebner