Tuesday, April 8, 2008

A Letter to Benitos

Instead of my usual post regarding a restaurant, I will be submitting this letter to Benitos (not physically - stamps are expensive).

Dear Benito,

I was recently a diner at your establishment and I wanted to recount and discuss my experience. I believe some constructive criticism could be useful in making your restaurant everything we all dream of.

You, as the neighborhood Mexican restaurant on Magnolia has a purpose, nay, a duty to the people of the near southside in Fort Worth. A duty to be the best it can be, to provide Mexican food to the people, and to serve chips without charging for them. Benito, this duty is yours and yours alone. Unless you fail, in which case another Mexican restaurant will join your area and attempt to out duty you.

Remembering the concept from my childhood - that disappointment hurt worse than any harsh words, I have decided to avoid the harsh words. But I am disappointed. Not because you failed miserably, but because I believe you did not live up to my expectations.

I have two fundamental complaints, but cry not, for I have four compliments. I will start with the complaints, so that you can get mad at me and let your anger prevent you from absorbing the compliments.

First, don't charge for chips. It's like charging for the greasy fingers you have after eating at Carshon's. You just expect the chips at a Mexican restaurant. And when you bring out a delicious bowl of pico and salsa (see below) without chips, you're just a dirty tease. You don't want a reputation as a tease do you? Also, if you're going to charge for chips, they shouldn't be soggy. I used to work in a Mexican restaurant and I know this can happen inadvertently, but if you're going to make me (well, my friend) pay for chips, you should inspect them for crispiness, and you should probably gold plate them and feed them to us. Or just don't charge.

Secondly, if you're going to put a sauce on enchiladas that looks like cat diarrhea (see the Tacos Palenque review) it should have flavor. I'm not saying the sauce tasted bad, I'm saying it had no taste. I guess it was a good thing that it didn't taste as good as it looked. I know this may sound crude, but I want to help because this is a place that I entered with high hopes. The enchiladas weren't bad, they were just...meh.

Ok, let the hurt subside. I know it aches your heart. But hold your head up high Benito. there were many positive aspects of our dining experience.

First, as I mentioned above, the pico was wonderful. It was full of chunky bites of everything, with a perfect combination of flavors. I bet its great with chips... But seriously, the pico is Legen...wait for it...dary. This is easily the best pico I've had in Fort Worth.

Second, the salsa was also amazing. It had a wonderful spice that was hot enough for spice lovers to enjoy. Wonderful flavor and the color of it was very appealing. These first two compliments may be why I was so disappointed with the lack of free chips...you tease.

Third, the beans and rice were perfect. There are probably better beans and rice around, but they certainly fill the bill here and are great. They were warm and nicely flavored. Definitely an important aspect to get right. Good job on that Benito.

Fourth, the location, ambiance, decor, and overall neighborhoody feel was perfect. This is the type of restaurant I would like to call my regular Mexican restaurant. Except for the chips. And the sauce on the enchiladas. Fort Worth could use a dozen more restaurants with your feel, all across the city and with different types of food. The ambiance is great, the service was terrific and the attitude just felt right. A patio would be cool, but lets not get ahead of ourselves - free chips should be the priority.

So, as I have stated, your restaurant has been on my list of places I must eat at and I really enjoyed most of the experience. But to be honest, we both know you can do better. And the chips thing really bothered me. And so did the sauce. But those are small things that can be easily fixed.

I will come back for sure. But we'll have to start over. We'll have to rebuild the trust I falsely assumed we had. I will order beef enchiladas with queso or chili sauce and I will still complain about the lack of chips. But I will be back. With enough time, we can heal.

I know this stings, and I imagine you wont be posting my letter up in your restaurant, but lets make limonada out of these limes and use this little experience as a building tool to make Benito's all it can be. I look forward to seeing you soon...although I will understand if the feeling is not mutual.


Benito's on Urbanspoon


Anonymous said...

do you think they don't serve the chips on purpose? after all, they are known as "that late night mexican place on magnolia the doesn't serve chips."

have you been to Don Felipes on vickery? they have chips and it is a hole in the wall. your kind of place.

FortWorthHoleInTheWall said...

I did not know that was their nickname. That might have been some good information to have before I went there. If they don't give you chips, then why do they bring hot sauce and pico out? I'll tell you why. They're chip teases.

benitos fan said...

the pico goes on other things other than the chips.

And it sounds like you missed the best part of benitos. the guacamole. and the margaritas.

they only recently started serving chips within the last year or two. and even then, the hot sauce only comes out with the chips i thought. If you are serious about the chips, order them with the queso, it has a lovely rich flavor unlike your everyday queso.

FortWorthHoleInTheWall said...

We did have the margaritas and they were large and delicious. There's another compliment.

I understand the idea of putting pico on other things but why bring it out with salsa as soon as we sit down? To be a tease.

And why would I order queso if I'm also going to have to order chips? If the chips don't come with the queso, I wont be ordering queso. That, quite frankly, is ridiculous. You're talking about a hefty bill for appetizers at a mexican restaurant.

If I order fajitas do I pay extra for tortillas? No, because a fajita without a tortilla is just a pile of meat. A bowl of queso without chips is just a bowl of cheese.

Steve-O said...

I wept the day Benito's started serving chips.

I have a lot to add to this. I'll post something soon.

Keep up the good work.

cdees39 said...

Before reading the comments, I was thinking "when did Benito's start serving chips?"

Anonymous said...

Ridiculous, that's as bad as M Crowd charging $2.25 for every Diet Coke. Just one of the many reasons to not visit M Crowd restaurants.

FortWorthHoleInTheWall said...

Are you talking about Mi Cocina? I didn't know they charged per coke. Ridiculous. Like paying for chips with queso...

Thanks for reading.

Stephanie said...

I think chips do come with the queso when you order it.

I like their breakfast dishes and the fact that they serve breakfast all day. Yum!

The Whited Sepulchre said...

Have they considered taking chips off the menu altogether, and going with a "Bring Your Own Chips" concept?
I know that I'm partial to the grease bomb chips at Mexican Inn, which they sell to go.
If Benito's has crappy chips, and doesn't seem excited about serving them anyway, this could be the best of both worlds.

FortWorthHoleInTheWall said...

There we go - BYOC.

cwheat said...

I am okay with them not serving chips, it is just one of those oddities that make hole-in-the-walls special. Not the typical 'chain' standards. Plus, you can save the calories and have a few more drinks; wink, wink.

FortWorthHoleInTheWall said...

Cwheat, that's true about the uniqueness factor, but the real problem was that they brought out salsa and pico as soon as we sat down. Are we supposed to stare at it? I can understand bringing it with our food, but when you see it as you sit down, you get excited about chips.

cwheat said...

Maybe their plan is to make your mouth water - that way, the food will taste that much better.

It's a marketing tool...!?

Anonymous said...

Benito's is a real Mexican restaurant, not Tex-Mex.

They never served chips until lately, and they do it only because people ask.

They also didn't serve ordinary enchiladas when they opened. Enchiladas in chili or queso are Tex-Mex, not interior Mexicano.

That is what makes Benito's great: It is not an ordinary Tex-Mex restaurant.

FortWorthHoleInTheWall said...

I think the confusion lies in the chip tease they started me off with. Don't give me a bowl of pico and salsa when I sit down if your plan is to have me stare at it until my food gets there.

Also, many mexican (not tex-mex) restaurants provide chips and salsa in Mexico and even in the parts that aren't right next to los Estados Unidos.

Gina said...

I never missed the chips at Benitos. We just order tortillas, (I don't think they were charged but I'm usually not the ticket grabber.) The pico, the queso, the salsa, are all better with a fresh corn tortilla skipping all the grease.

I haven't had the enchilada, but the chile rellano is the best I've EVER had. They also have a chicken fried steak with a spicy peppery breading that is fantastic.

A great neighborhood place.

Anonymous said...

benitos! Ate there twice and got sick. check the health scores!!! I hate that it didn't work out because it is such a cool vibe

FortWorthHoleInTheWall said...

I'll agree that tortillas with pico, salsa and queso are always better than chips.

And final anonymous - if you'll look back a bit, you'll see my post on health scores. Health scores should be looked at like golf scores. The lower the better for a hole in the wall.

Anonymous said...

Agreed big time on the health scores issue. There was a great place on berry called Wok n Roll (har har) that had decent mall-line style chinese food but great sushi. No, seriously. And they were closed down several times, and eventually for good, due to health scores. I don't care what's crawling around back there if tastes good.

As for Benito's? If little-to-no flavor is what makes a good food aficionado, I don't want to be one. Not so hot, there's way better Mex and Tex-Mex in town (And Joe T's in NOT included on my list).

Keva Rosenberg said...

Benitos Golden Age was back in the early 80's and they had a waiter named Tino who was straight out of an "I Love Lucy" episode. He wore a horrible Floyd the Barber toupee and for an old guy was incredibly hyper. If he was walking across the room and realized he had forgotten something he would jump in the air and be turned around by the time his feet hit the ground. But he was a truly old-school waiter, always quick to answer questions about what was on the menu, quick with drink refills and was entertaining to watch. In other words the kind of waiter you wanted to over-tip. The day I visited Benitos and realized Tino was gone was a sad day indeed. Going to Benitos has never really been the same for me.
And the Original on Camp Bowie has the best chips and hot sauce in town, hands down...

Anonymous said...

I thought Benito's was horrible. The pico was the ONLY thing that had any flavor. Horrible enchiladas, horrible sauce, baaaaaaaaaad tacos with baaaaaaaaaadly seasoned beef (we also had the chicken, it was just boiled. no seasoning) Rice and beans tasted like air. oh, and if you are going to get a margarita do NOT get frozen, it is nuclear waste green and tastes like crap. on the rocks was ok. All in all, just BAD. Don't waste your money!!!!!

Anonymous said...

I absolutely agree about the chips; customers should -NOT- have to pay for them. The cost should be built into the price of the food. My first visit to Benitos will be my last until they change this policy. Otherwise, I thought the food was tasty, but not enough to overcome the overpriced chips.

sdgfnp said...

I do believe you have missed the concept of Benito's entirely. It is abundantly clear that you have more a palate for Tex-Mex, rather than authentic Home Style Mexican food. On the sign outside it says "Comida Casera." No, you're not going to get a Velveeta based cheese sauce and endless bowels of chips and weak salsa here, but you will get the kind of food you would expect to be served in someones home in Mexico. There, the meats are typically served unseasoned for the enchiladas -- the SAUCE is what makes the flavor.

No, Benito's is not for EVERYONE, and for those expecting some kind of On the Border experience, they will be sadly disappointed. However, Benito's DOES have a large following of regulars. I agree that I personally was offended by the fact that Benito's cratered into the preppy populous, and started offering chips. Still, to this day, I will not purchase them for any reason.

Oh, and Benito's was named after the original owner "Bennie." He's long since gone from there, and it has been bought by some other people who I believe live in California.

FortWorthHoleInTheWall said...

sdgfnp, I think this issue has been pretty heavily debated here, but I'll just reiterate my original position. I don't really care that there were no chips - and I understand that "this is real Mexico and nobody eats chips in Mexico" line - but they brought a salsa out when I sat down. Food was served much later in the meal. It was a tease. If they aren't serving chips, thats fine, but hold off on the delicious salsa.

Thanks for reading.

Longhorn Diva said...

Just had to jump into the melee here! ;-)

So I've been going to Benito's since I was a little girl (over 30+ years ago) and here's what I've noticed then and now: They have indeed had Enchiladas de Chile con Carne for that long; used to love it, not so much now. They haven't had chips, but as the corn tortillas and pico de gallo are made by angels, I was cool.

Nowadays, I loathe the margaritas there; love the pina coladas; yet usually get a Dos XX.

Best things on the menu (but lately more dependent upon a good day): tostadas de chorizo - addictive; enchiladas de mole poblano or chicken de mole poblano - on a good day awesome, but occasionally a miss; chile rellenos - my sister's by far favorite; their shrimp cocktail is amazingly spicy & good. Guacamole & queso flameado are addictive.

Final thoughts - the past several years with the upswing of Magnolia, the prices have gone really high. And I realize this even more when we actually leave the 'hood to go to our new favorite, El Asadero - truly? It's what Benito's used to be.

FortWorthHoleInTheWall said...

Diva, Those two mole dishes sound like a pretty good menu item to try - noted for next time.

Thanks for reading and commenting.

Anonymous said...

It is called Authentico for a reason. Go to Mexico and see if they serve you chips. Ask them what chips are and they will probably laugh at you. If you don't like it; then don't go. Nothing like Authentic Mexican food. Why don't you stick to the Tex Mex places and leave the real deal to us professionals.

FortWorthHoleInTheWall said...

Welcome Anonymous. You've entered an old argument so let me catch you up. First, I'm cool with authenticity but it was the tease of great sauces that cause a problem. Second, people in Mexico wouldn't laugh at me for asking about chips. They are Mexican, not extraterrestrial. Thirdly, I've lived in Mexico and found many places that served chips.

But most importantly, the lack of chips does not a Mexican place make. Benito's has a very wide range of tex mex options with a smattering of great authentic Mexican dishes. It's the food that makes it an authentic place.

Thanks for commenting and check out some of the other reviews about Mexican style places here in Fort Worth. Salsa Fuego is another good restaurant with some authentic dishes.

Anonymous said...

I've been going to Benito's for over 30 years, and it doesn't surprise me when some people just don't seem to "get it." I'm not saying it's the best you can get, because that's about as helpful as saying "My dog is better than your dog."

Many times I've sat silently as "newbies" come in and sit in perplexed silence while waiting for the almighty Chips and Salsa gods to bless their table. When they are greeted with a bowl of Pico de Gallo and packaged butter, they look even more confused. Fact is, the majority of people in this country simply don't have a concept of "Home-style Mexican" due to their exposure to the common enchilada mills that are in abundance today. What you're being served is a CONDIMENT -- yeah, kind of like ketchup or relish. So...if you find yourself noticing a bottle of ketchup on the table where you're seated, do you suddenly expect a heaping bowel of french fries? ;) (Just kidding).

As fond of Benito's as I am, I too hated the day they gave in and decided to serve chips. Blasphemy!! I really wish they would take them off the menu, 'cause I really hate it when I overhear people complaining with "What?!?! I have to PAY for chips and salsa!?!?" Oh, good grief!!

TRUE Pico de Gallo is RARE at most Tex-Mex restaurants, and I have yet to see it being served up-front the way Benito's does. Unfortunately, for some, they simply look at it and think "Oh boy...can't wait for the chips!" I know...I can't seem to lose the subject. The Pico is intended to be used on ANYTHING to spice-up the flavor. Always fresh and tasty.

Bottom line -- Benito's is HOME STYLE MEXICAN. These are dishes (in most cases) you would expect to be served from someone's home in certain parts of Mexico. That's what sets them aside from the others, IMHO. This is NOT Tex-Mex, which many people here simply cannot understand the difference, and I get that. There seems to be a common "expectation" that newbies have 'round these parts, that C&S is a staple of any fine Mexican cuisine. Nothing, in my opinion, could be further from the truth.

Thanks for your posting, and for the feedback you have allowed for others to post. Your replies have been gracious to say the least, and I hope that you will try them again, sans the "expectations." Everyone who goes there (as a regular), typically has their favorites, and some they avoid. This would be true to any restaurant.

You can also see their Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Benitos-Mexican-Restaurant/412720448761953

FortWorthHoleInTheWall said...

I've decided to change my approach in responding. The chips and salsa deal was just one issue. I've been to Benitos numerous times since this review and I still don't like the food. The food, authentic as you may think it is, is sub par. And I like authentic mexican food. I don't like this food. And I've found many people who are too afraid to say anything because of the Benitos mafia.

sdgfnp said...

That's perfectly okay. You don't like it, and that's just fine by me. Never considered myself a part of a "mafia," but if you insist...perhaps, a cult of sorts? Maybe.

If you truly enjoy "authentic" Mexican food, then someone (or something), has thrown you severely off-course. Funny, how so many chose a definition, and then follow that solely; never once asking themselves "Is this the real McCoy?"

I digress.