Short Orders: Cyclone Anaya's (Oak Lawn)
3211 Oak Lawn Ave.
Recent visits to this popular outpost of the Houston-based chain inspire two observations.
First, bars and restaurants in Dallas consider the Margarita a child's drink. Order the famous Tex-Mex cocktail and, with a few exceptions, they bring out something bar-syrup sweet and only vaguely alcoholic, the sugary limeade flavor disguising shortcomings in the tequila department. Occasionally you pick up on a familiar effervescence in the background, a flitting taste similar to Sprite. Unfortunately, these candied concoctions tend to draw raves from the city's drinking crowd--maybe because it's possible to pound them all night without fear of a DWI.
Cyclone Anaya's 'celebrated' Margaritas fit the Dallas palate...and its pre-recession credit limits. They are far too sedate for the price tag.
The second observation is more frustrating: in a city proud of Tex-Mex flavors, it takes very little to achieve popularity. Supposedly savvy diners praise mediocre joints and even place barely-above-the-norm chains on their top ten lists. Standouts exist, of course--but compare some of the more successful Dallas Tex-Mex places to, oh, a weathered rural tamale stand and you'll see just how far the city's expectations have fallen.
Simply put, there's no reason a well-funded restaurant can't match some small mom and pop kitchen. But few try.
Cyclone Anaya's earned its popularity by quickly and easily rising above the city's norm. They deserve some praise for creativity and more for the warm, husky shreds of beef in their version of the tamale...although their sauce falls into the suspect category.
Consistency has been a problem. Service on recent occasions has been doting, but marred by little flaws--poor expediting one day (when the entree arrived shortly after the appetizer), missing silverware another. On my most recent visit their interpretation of ceviche turned into a two-faced mess, with all the chilis crammed into one ferocious triangle and the rest seeping far more lime than should be necessary to cure fish.
But the salsa...bold, smoky, earthy, but with a monomaniacal attitude. A hint of complexity and a pretty solid kick.