‘Sexy Mexican‘ Maíz in Mansfield has some big names from the dining scene behind it

Along the frontage road of 287, you’ll find plenty of dining options, most of them familiar names that you could find anywhere. Mansfield’s dining scene has long been a chain-laden landscape. So, it’s interesting that a couple of industry veterans have now joined forces to bring Mansfield something fresh and new. Maíz Cocina & Tequila Bar opened there on Feb. 15.

Mike McMahan owns Mac’s Bar & Grill, with its 30-plus-year history in Arlington. “I’ve always wanted to open a Mexican concept,” he says, “so when this location became available, I thought it was time to finally do it.” He teamed with Chris Carroll, the founder and CEO of Spring Creek Barbeque, which has 32 locations. Carroll acquired the Mexican Inn brand as well in 1980. That’s why the new Maíz has a familiar facade — it was formerly one of Carroll’s Mexican Inn restaurants.

McMahan and Carroll did their homework, pulled together all the things they wanted to see on a Mexican menu, and hired a native chef to lay out one for Maiz (a name that has been on the back of McMahan’s mind for many years, he says).

Chef Rodrigo Pineda is a former culinary instructor at the University of the Americas in Puebla, Mexico. Pineda has a rich résumé, having worked in the U.S., Thailand, Mexico, Australia, and Spain. When asked to describe his menu concept for the new restaurant, he says, “Maíz is sexy Mexican cuisine.”

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The vibe: All traces of the former Mexican Inn are gone. Bold tones have been replaced by neutrals, and wood accents. The tile floor is faux wood plank, with wooden barn doors leading to a room for parties. Wainscoting, trim work and decorative planter boxes tie the scheme together.

The boldest color statements are found in the paintings of sturdy agave plants hung against a brick wall painted orange. Some of the imported lighting pops in the otherwise serene space as well. The main dining room has a central iron chandelier with tulip-shaped blown “lettuce glass” fixtures (so-called for its mottled appearance). Brightly colored round globe lights hang individually and in groupings.

The food: The tequila bar is well stocked with sipping tequilas and mezcals. The wine list has a little of everything, and most are served by the glass as well as the bottle. The beer selection is mostly from south of the border and all served by the bottle, with nothing on tap. But, the cocktails are really the place to begin and end your meal. All the juices are fresh squeezed and refreshed every eight hours.

The Maíz house margarita ($12) is not a sad mix prepared in a huge bucket; it is a simple and refreshing one made with hornitos cristalino, Cointreau, fresh lime and agave nectar. Be warned though, while most margaritas contain 1 ounce of alcohol, all the varieties on the Maíz menu contain 3 ounces, so you can actually taste what you’re paying for.

I enjoyed the tart la paloma ($11) with both grapefruit juice and combier pamplemousse (a grapefruit liqueur). I also sampled the Mercedes margarita ($12), which is sweet enough to be considered a “dessert margarita” at the end. It is sweetened with Cointreau, agave nectar and a frothy Grand Marnier foam. The foam lasts until the very last sip and the champagne glass is topped with black sea salt for an added treat.

There are several appetizers you can order in what I would call sampler flights. The creamy, fresh guacamole comes tradicional, pineapple, or toreado (a little spicier with sauteed serrano) single ($7) pair ($10) or trio ($12). Ceviches come tradicional — featuring snapper, Maíz with tuna, or Caribbean with shrimp, coconut, pineapple and mango, single ($9) pair ($16) or trio ($21).

The tuna ceviche was quite good with chunks of tuna, and tiny dices of crunchy red bell pepper, jalapeño and red onion in a lemon-lime broth with soy and olive oil. I would definitely order it again, but would prefer if it were served in a bowl or classic martini glass, because we had trouble scraping it all around a plate trying to get every last bite on our forks.

You will be presented with a very safe and mild salsa alongside your basket of chips, but you can order the better stuff as a single ($3), pair ($5) or trio ($7) as well. There is a roasted tomato, an avocado cilantro, a spicy Emigdio’s habanero and tomatillo jalapeño, the one we sampled, which had a tangy flavor and even spice.

If you have trouble deciding with so many options, go for the ceviche.

Tacos are served three to an order on fresh corn tortillas. I will be back to try the mole blanco, which is a common mole served at weddings in the Puebla region. “There are over nine different moles found in Puebla, and this one is sometimes called bride’s mole because of its expensive dose of pine nuts, almonds and light yellow colored Caribbean chiles,” says chef Pineda.

The enchiladas suizas ($12) was a very satisfying and hearty portion of three blue corn tortillas filled with shredded chicken and black bean paste. The dish is topped with melted Swiss cheese and served in a mild roja sauce with rice and black beans on the side.

The chile relleno ($14) was also a winner. Served resting in the same roja sauce. The mild poblano pepper was filled with lean shredded brisket and slivered almonds. It was not battered and deep fried, as many are, making the dish feel lighter and not so indulgent.

For dessert, try the yummy dessert sope ($8). Basically, a perfect cinnamon churro is formed into a disc and topped with a scoop of ice cream and chocolate sauce.

The verdict: In Mansfield it’s hard to eat outside the box. Maíz is a pleasant surprise. It has a well-thought-out and coordinated space, with an equally enticing menu. There are plenty of reasons for a return visit. I almost forgot to mention our incredibly knowledgeable server. I had a lot of questions, and she handled them all with ease.

With a little more than one month under its belt, Maíz is seemingly already a big draw for the locals. I didn’t need my reservation on a recent weekend to get seated, but the dining room and bar were filled by the time we left. And, with a couple of captains of the restaurant industry behind Maíz Cocina and Tequila Bar, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few more popping up around the area in the next few years.

Maíz Cocina & Tequila Bar

1722 U.S. 287 Frontage Road, Mansfield

Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m.Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Happy hour launches this week, and weekend brunch is expected to begin in early May.