Mary Lou’s Café has been serving up honest, home-cooked Mexican flavors at its Pleasanton Road location for years. The modest nature of the south side location would never lead you to expect the grandeur of its second location, a pumpkin-colored palace on McCullough Road with a pleasant patio to one side and plenty of dark-wood paneling marking the interior.
A couple of visits over the past few months have shown that the decor may be spiffier, but the main attraction – Mary Lou’s tasty take on Tex-Mex – is the practically the same.
That means you can expect a puffy taco with plenty of well-spiced picadillo and crisp iceberg strands filling a scorching-hot tortilla pillow fresh from the fryer and dripping with just the right amount of grease to add an irreplaceable flavor.
Likewise, the fingertip-searing heat of the gordita will get you primed for your first taste of juicy chicken and corn. The succulent strands of meat in this case upstaged the rest of the plate, and most everything else on the table.
I don’t order chicken too often when dining out. The breast meat rarely has flavor any more, and few kitchens take the time to prepare the dark meat properly. The threads of meat here, though, bore so much flavor that I may rethink that position.
Just know your shapes, which most of us who eat Tex-Mex regularly do. A plate with the puffy taco, the gordita and a perfectly adequate crispy taco all looked alike from the top, thanks to identical garnishes of iceberg, tomato and shredded cheese.
Which to eat first? The puffy taco, of course, because it loses its magic the moment it becomes cold.
Taquitos al Carbon arrived in excellent handmade corn tortillas. Cilantro, onion and lime nicely complemented the flavorful meat, giving the plate the feel of dressed-up street food.
Breakfast is served until noon, and the kitchen turns out good egg dishes, whether you’re getting a taco or chilaquiles. A pork chop on the side offers a first dose of vitamin P(ork) for the day.
Mary Lou’s has some oddities, though, that will turn off purists. The chips were made from flour, not corn, tortillas. And the warm salsa, loaded with bay leaves and large slices of onion, was little more than the sauce for huevos rancheros.
One item that is all too common in San Antonio restaurants, including the McCullough Mary Lou’s, is lousy guacamole. Ours was gray-green, ice cold and little more than mashed up avocado that was not fully ripe. Who wants to pay $3.50 for that? Or $2.25 for a side of refrieds?
As you can tell, the prices are higher than you might expect. Many of the entrées top $10, which may be in line with the Olmos Park area but feels steep for Tex-Mex fare, no matter how beautiful the setting.
Service was genial, and our glasses were constantly filled. It might have been a little better if our waiter had asked about why the guac was barely touched, for example. But perhaps he knows the answer already.
Mary Lou’s Cafe
4405 McCullough Road
Breakfast and lunch daily; dinner Monday-Saturday