Typical Tex-Mex at a price

June 10, 1999|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

Tia's Tex-Mex is exactly what its name proclaims -- Mexican food born (and commercialized) in the U.S.A.

Despite the building's cliched appearance -- forced rustic, with neon signs and tacky wall hangings, including a saddle and stuffed cowboy hanging from the rafters -- the new restaurant along U.S. 301, just beyond Prince George's Stadium, home of the Bowie Baysox, does offer a few surprises.

Tia's tries hard to be authentic. A mariachi band plays there several nights a week, and the menu includes items not usually seen in area restaurant chains.

When my husband, Corey, and I stopped in for dinner recently, we found camarones al mesquite (grilled shrimp wrapped in bacon), chicken fried steak, flautas (chicken wrapped in tortillas and deep fried, served with a cheese sauce), and chiles rellenos (battered and fried green chiles stuffed with beef or chicken).

There was also a good sampling of Mexican favorites -- enchiladas, quesadillas, nachos and fajitas; a few pieces for vegetarians -- a sampling of salads, chile con queso and other dishes available meatless; and Mexican-goes-modern wrappers.

The prices seemed just a dollar or two too high, though, for what's on tap -- the same deep-fried combinations of beef, chicken, tortillas, cheese, tomatoes and spices found in most Tex-Mex food.

First, we sampled the salsa. What would a part-Mexican restaurant be without nachos and salsa? It was fresh and spicy, but not hot.

Service was astoundingly quick. We had our appetizers in less than five minutes.

Corey's queso supremo ($5.29), a variation of chile con queso, was served without flair. The waiter brought a meager bowl that looked full of cheese. The seasoned beef was drowned at the bottom, and the guacamole, which was supposed to top the bowl ,was missing.

But you know how wrong first impressions can be. The dish turned out to be very tasty, just a little spicy. At our request, the waiter brought a hefty serving of chunky guacamole on the side. The cool guacamole was an enjoyable mix with the warm cheese and meat (even more so when eaten with the nachos chips instead of a spoon).

I ordered appetizer flautas ($5.99). The dish was served like taquitos -- tacos in a strip -- on a bed of lettuce with a bowl of cheese sauce, a wide dollop of sour cream and pico sauce (tomatoes, onions, spices) on the side.

They were tasty to a hungry palate, although the cheese sauce didn't have as much kick as the one served in Corey's appetizer.

One of the impressive things about the menu was that several dishes involved a choose-your-own sauce selection, including queso verde (cheese sauce with cilantro and jalapenos); chile con carne (the same as queso verde, with meat); a Spanish sauce (with tomatoes, bell peppers, onion and cilantro); and a green sauce (a simmered Spanish sauce), basically the same as Spanish sauce, only simmered.

For the entree, I tried the chiles rellenos ($7.99). My girlfriend Erica, a real Tex-Mexer, served them at her house once and I was hooked. Tia's fried chiles stuffed with ground beef didn't beat Erica's, but they were certainly a tasty treat smothered in the queso verde sauce. The dish was served with Spanish rice, refried beans and a salad, which unfortunately was also covered in queso verde sauce.

The chiles were huge, bulging with beef. They were very lightly battered (if at all) and fried briefly enough for the vegetable to retain some of its crispness. I would have preferred a little more battering and frying, since the dish came off overall reminiscent of stuffed bell peppers with a cheese sauce. The beans and rice were average, and the salad was nothing special, made wilted and worse when topped with warm queso verde.

Corey said the shrimp and enchiladas combo was not worth $11.49. The shrimp half was a sampling of their appetizer camarones al mesquite -- grilled skewered shrimp wrapped in bacon and served with garlic lemon butter. Though the bacon overpowered the delicate flavor of the shrimp, the combination was still tasty, he said. The garlic lemon butter would have probably been better without the lemon, though.

"Bland" is how Corey described the other half of the dish, two chicken enchiladas with sour cream sauce, and the side dishes of corn and sliced squash with Spanish rice. After the wonderfully flavorful queso supremo, I could see why.

Tia's dessert menu included the traditional Mexican meal toppers flan (custard covered in caramel sauce) and sopapillas (fried dough sprinkled with cinnamon and powdered sugar), and folded in a few new ideas. Applepillas, a twist on the traditional sopapillas, has apples wrapped in the deep-fried dough, and there's ice cream pie made with butter pecan ice cream -- both more Tex than Mex.

We were too full to try any sweets, but maybe another day. Our dinner with two beverages and tip came to $40.50, not bad for a reasonably authentic, although garish, trip south of the border.

Tia's Tex-Mex

Where: 16461 Excalibur Road, Bowie: 301-805-2286

Hours: The restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday. Lunch is served weekdays 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Prices: Appetizers, $3.49-$8.99; entrees, $6.79-$24.99.

Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa, American Express, Discover, Carte Blanche, Diner's Club

Rating: * * 1/2

Ratings: * culinary wasteland * * * * culinary heaven

Pub Date: 6/10/99

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