When the CEO of The Rio Grande Restaurants, Jason Barrett, asked our group of bloggers for our impressions of the food at The Rio before we tasted the new menu, I tried not to make eye contact. It wasn’t that I had a particularly negative opinion of the food, it was just that, from the one time I’d been to The Rio, I couldn’t remember much about the food at all.
I swear, I only had one margarita.
Turns out I wasn’t alone. One of our group mentioned the “fog” of the excellent, very strong margaritas blotting out impressions of the food. But to Barrett’s credit, he was the first to say that his restaurants had been forced to contend with something of a negative reputation when it came to food up until recently.
Well, not any more.
About a year ago, the staff embarked on a mission to reintroduce their patrons to the food at The Rio, improving it here and there, paying more attention to presentation and waitstaff training, and updating the actual menus to emphasize the fact that their food is made from the best ingredients, in house, and from scratch.
As we started tasting, it was easy to see that The Rio didn’t get to be a 26-year-old restaurant—ancient in restaurant terms—by its margaritas alone. The guacamole was fresh and perfectly seasoned, with just a little garlic, a squeeze of lime, and a dash of salt.
The shrimp diabla was a favorite of the table, especially served with the fresh, house-made tortillas. Spicy and unexpected, we could also really taste that the shrimp was ultra-fresh.
We sampled a whole bevy of tacos from their new open-face taco offerings, of which the smoked chicken was definitely my favorite. These street-taco-style offerings are fresh and all the combos were delicious.
By the time they brought out the sizzling platters of fajitas, I was fit to burst, but the intensely flavorful marinated portobellas in the vegetarian fajitas made a big impression on me. Also impressive? The attention the waitstaff paid to one of our party’s gluten intolerance.
For dessert, the sopapillas are different than any others I’ve ever tried—lighter and crispier, and served with a generous portion of ice cream, meaning there’s plenty to share. But the ancho chile chocolate creme brulée blew everyone away.
It gave me a whole new impression of The Rio. Before, I thought of it as kind of a college hangout with killer margs and a great rooftop patio; the perfect place to party. Now, I’m definitely putting it pretty high on my list of places to go for great Mexican food.
The Rio Grande invited a group of local food bloggers, including me, to sample their new menu, however I was not paid for this post, and all my opinions are my own.