Queso flameado is one of the retro classics at Las Palmas, a new Tex-Mex restaurant that celebrates Dallas of the 1980s. 

Queso flameado is one of the retro classics at Las Palmas, a new Tex-Mex restaurant that celebrates Dallas of the 1980s. 

Allison Slomowitz/Special Contributor

The cocktail menu at Las Palmas, an ambitious new Tex-Mex restaurant in Uptown, lists 15 tempting drinks, from the trendy Tepache, made with fermented pineapple and rum, to a seasonal Pimm's Cup and the moody Future Classic, with smoky mezcal and a slivered round of charred jalapeño, which the bartender torches right in front of you.

The native Dallasite I'm dining with scanned them all, but he never really considered any of them. "Do you make a frozen margarita?" he asks. The drink isn't on the menu, but indeed they do. "I'll have that."

When you're talking about Tex-Mex, even the cocktails are a kind of comfort food. Fajitas, queso, crispy tacos and combination plates: The Tex-Mex love runs deep here in Dallas, and everyone has a favorite spot, a place that stirs affection and nostalgia even if the fajitas are a little dry and the margaritas have a certain chemical tang.

The frozen margarita at Las Palmas in Dallas

The frozen margarita at Las Palmas in Dallas

Allison Slomowitz/Special Contributor

At the same time, Tex-Mex is also a dynamic regional cuisine, and it's having something of a moment among Dallas chefs. Earlier this year, Shannon Wynne opened Miriam Cocina Latina downtown, with Miriam Jimenez's regional Mexican take on the theme. Omar Flores promises an El Paso-tinged variation at his next restaurant, Muchacho, due in September. And I've heard rumblings of yet another high-profile chef about to wade into the queso with a Tex-Mex spot of his own.

In the middle of it all, brothers Sina and Pasha Heidari opened Las Palmas in May, aiming to combine both of the Tex-Mex threads: a restaurant that stirs those nostalgic emotions while also moving the needle on the cuisine.

The Heidaris have Dallas restaurants baked into their DNA, with lineage that stretches back to 1982. Their Uncle Al bought the Old Warsaw in 1988. Their father, Mohsen, owns Arthur's Steakhouse and St. Martin's Wine Bistro, and Pasha also owns Bowen House and partners with Wynne's son, Sam, on Mike's Gemini Twin, a bar in the Cedars.

For Las Palmas, the Heidari brothers imagined a Tex-Mex tribute to 1980s Dallas and, to ladle on another layer of history, they chose the slightly creaky building that once housed Stephan Pyles' Baby Routh and gave it a whole retro redo.

Las Palmas, a new retro-style Tex-Mex restaurant in Uptown Dallas 

Las Palmas, a new retro-style Tex-Mex restaurant in Uptown Dallas 

Allison Slomowitz/Special Contributor

Red vinyl banquettes, 1950s-style diner chairs, oilcloth on the tabletops and dim, smoky lighting lend atmosphere. Dark-paneled walls are decorated with Dallas memorabilia, and a playlist of vintage country music and Latin big-band pop sets the tone. Altogether, it's just the right amount of cheese.

The menu, created with consulting chef Hugo Galvan of Casa Komali, walks the same line, with Tex-Mex standards (fajitas, nachos, combo plates and you-know-the-rest) given a light primping, plus a few drop-dead delicious regional Mexican dishes, such as snapper Veracruz made with a crisp-fried whole fish and downy, handmade tortillas wrapped around excellent puerco en salsa verde.

Las Palmas is committed to those tortillas. There are two masters at work in the glassed-in tortilla room out front: Adela León and Francisca Aguero, who also make the featherweight tamales and gorditas. Handmade flour tortillas are a particular specialty of Aguero's, who worked at Stephan Pyles and Revolver Taco Lounge, and they are even more impressive after you learn they are made without lard.

Shrimp cocktail gets a flavor bump from Texas Gulf shrimp and shrimp-shell stock.

Shrimp cocktail gets a flavor bump from Texas Gulf shrimp and shrimp-shell stock.

Allison Slomowitz/Special Contributor

Galvan and chef Hilario Serratós treat the classics with respect, and when their upgrades work they can take the fun factor of this food to a higher level. Shrimp cocktail, served in a tall fountain glass, douses fresh Texas Gulf shrimp in the classic spicy-citrusy tomato sauce, which Galvan enhances with shrimp-shell stock.

Tortilla soup, another well-made classic, arrives under a tumbleweed of tortilla matchsticks and cilantro microgreens. And it's hard to resist the pyrotechnics of queso flameado when the server ignites your pot of Monterey Jack and Oaxacan cheese with a dose of Bacardi 151, then stirs in sautéed peppers, onions and chorizo, and tucks the whole tasty, melty mess into those glorious warm tortillas.

The main-course chile relleno is as classic as it gets, made with a fresh roasted poblano stuffed with Monterey Jack and Chihuahua cheese, and battered and pan-fried in a thick layer of egg whites, fluffy as a meringue. It is served with a touch of ranchero sauce and flanked by terrific refried beans, microdosed with chipotle, and some simple Mexican rice.

Galvan, whose hometown is San Miguel de Allende, drew on a family recipe for puerco en salsa verde, dialing back the heat in favor of Tex-Mex flavors such as oregano and cumin. The tomatillo sauce is rich but bright with acid and lets the good flavor of pork shoulder from Tender Belly farm shine through.

The same sense of balance can found in the snapper Veracruz. Instead of the usual filet wallowing in a pool of tomato sauce, Galvan serves a magnificently fresh whole fish, lightly rubbed with flour and spices before it hits the fryer for a crisping.

Smart Order: At Las Palmas, a Deluxe dish and just $20 for two

Refuse any offer to debone it: It will stay warm longer, and it's much more satisfying to pluck morsels of the snowy fish and dabs of the traditional Veracruz sauce of tomatoes, garlic, white wine, capers and olives. You may remember the dish from Café San Miguel, Galvan's bygone restaurant on Henderson Avenue. I'm grateful he shared the recipe with Las Palmas.

And I'm mystified why simpler Tex-Mex standards — taco salad, nachos, guacamole, fajitas — can go so wrong. On every visit, the guacamole was tired and bland. Instead of a casual pile of nachos, with varying amounts of cheese and other ingredients adding interest, the nachos here are arranged in a precise oval, each chip overloaded, yet underseasoned, with Monterey Jack, beans and, in the vegetable version, cubes of zucchini, creating almost a one-layer veggie lasagna.

The nacho plate was searing to the touch, but the nachos were barely warm. Same with the tepid brisket enchiladas, whose filling also had a suspicious sour taste. The taco salad looked regal in its tall fried-tortilla bowl, but held a clump of cold shredded chicken, wilted greens and various other accompaniments. The bowl, however, was terrific.

The biggest disappointment was the fajitas. On my first visit I ordered the steak version — made with Rosewood Texas Wagyu, no less — and it arrived with a promising sizzle. But the strips of meat were uniformly soft and missing that great smoky char. Instead, they tasted oddly livery.

On another visit, my frozen margarita friend went for the chicken fajitas, which were served with a flourish: As they sizzled, the server drenched them with bone marrow butter at the table. Flavor mystery solved. The chicken was moist but overly rich and carried that same off-animal flavor. Hold the bone marrow butter, please.

The Pink Squirrel Milkshake

The Pink Squirrel Milkshake

Allison Slomowitz/Special Contributor

But that frozen margarita? It was a smooth rebuke to any rocks-margarita snob. Barman Gregory Huston, whose day job is at Bowen House, reengineered the drink into something slinky and sophisticated, with reposado tequila, Cointreau and fresh lime juice rounded out with piloncillo and a secret ingredient or two, plus a spicy rim of chile salt.

Those other craft cocktails that my friend skipped were also well-considered and carefully made, though I will give you fair warning about the Pink Squirrel Milkshake, a supersweet dessert drink with rainbow sprinkles and two types of liqueur, like something mixed together by a rowdy toddler.

Still, the Squirrel is a laugh — and the kind of thing you might order again on a whim, in about 20 years, just for old time's sake.

Las Palmas

Rating: Two stars 

Price: $$ (Lunch starters $5.75 to $15.25, main courses $8.25 to $16.25, desserts $8. Dinner starters $5.75 to $15.25, main courses $8.25 to $25.75, combination plates $12.95 to $19.95, desserts $8. Fajitas $13.25 to $90, depending on type and number of portions.)

Service: Attentive and neighborly, more like a small-town cafe than a big-city restaurant.

Ambience: Brothers Sina and Pasha Heidari come from a family of Dallas restaurateurs (think Arthur's Steakhouse and the Old Warsaw), and now they are aiming to create a beloved classic of their own: an Uptown Tex-Mex restaurant inspired by Dallas of the 1980s. Vintage country music and Latin big-band pop set the tone, red vinyl banquettes and '50s-style steel chairs lend some atmosphere, and walls of Dallas memorabilia bring it all home. The menu of slightly fancied-up Tex-Mex standards was created by consulting chef Hugo Galvan of Casa Komali. But the most delicious dishes are the more regional Mexican fare, such as snapper Veracruz made with a crisp-fried whole fish and downy, handmade tortillas wrapped around excellent puerco en salsa verde.

Noise: Shouty (74 decibels)

Drinks: Gregory Huston of Bowen House (also a Pasha Heidari production) poured attention into the cocktail list, creating original drinks such as the Future Classic, made with mezcal, Ancho Reyes, Chartreuse and charred jalapeño, and reengineering frozen margaritas and retro dessert drinks (beware the Pink Squirrel Milkshake). There are also 70-plus tequilas and mezcals. After that, it gets basic: 12 bottled beers, six on tap and three wines ("Red, White or Pink" from Casa Madero in Mexico's Parras Valley).

Recommended: Shrimp cocktail, queso flameado, chile relleno, fried whole snapper Veracruz, puerco en salsa verde, Deluxe dinner plate, Tepache cocktail, Future Classic cocktail, frozen margarita

GPS: The space — originally two Victorian houses, now joined together by what is the bar area — is awkward. A seat in the front room is the best bet and, if you can, make it Table 30 at the corner of the banquette.

Address: 2708 Routh St., Dallas; (972) 863-7900; laspalmasdallas.com

Hours: Daily, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Reservations: Available by phone; online reservations through Resy are planned soon. Bar is reserved for walk-ins.

Credit cards: All major

Health department score: B (82, June)

Access: Ramp three steps up to the entrance; restaurant and bar are on one level. The upstairs private room is not accessible by wheelchair.

Parking: Free valet parking starting at 5 p.m. Monday to Thursday and at 11 a.m. Friday to Sunday

Ratings Legend

4 stars: Extraordinary (First-rate on every level; a benchmark dining experience)

3 stars: Excellent (A destination restaurant and leader on the DFW food scene)

2 stars: Very Good (Strong concept and generally strong execution)

1 star: Good (Has merit, but limited ambition or spotty execution)

No stars: Poor (Not recommended)

Noise Levels

Below 60: Quiet. Maybe too quiet.

60-69: Easy listening. Normal conversation, with a light background buzz.

70-79: Shouty. Conversation is possible, but only with raised voices.

80-85: Loud. Can you hear me now? Probably not.

86-plus: Deafening.

Prices

Average dinner per person.

$ -- $19 and under

$$ -- $20 to $50

$$$ -- $50 to $99

$$$$ -- $100 and over

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