Winter is the perfect time to explore the natural stone shelters where native Arkansans once lived
Whether it's the red-sauce-coated Tex-Mex we grew up with or the taco wagon special we've grown to love, we have a soft spot for simple, workman-like Mexican food. There's just something about simply prepared tacos, burritos and enchiladas that makes us feel right at home from the very first bite — it's the sort of food that doesn't need anything fancy to make it good.
With Riviera Maya on Fair Park, we may have found the perfect sweet spot in terms of good food, great prices and a friendly staff that keeps the chips and salsa full and the drinks flowing free. We paid it a couple of visits recently and were impressed enough with each dish we sampled that we left ready to declare the place one of the top Mexican joints in a city full of them, an accolade that we don't bestow lightly.
Fans of traditional tacos will find a lot to love here, and should make a beeline for the Tacos Azados ($8.25), a plate of four beautifully prepared piles of steak resting in pillowy soft corn tortillas (flour available on request). These tacos were served just how we like them: with a small bowl full of onions and fresh cilantro, some salsa verde, and a couple of wedges of lime. The steak is tender, hot from the grill, and seasoned just enough to give it some kick without overwhelming the natural flavor of the beef.
Given that the steak was grilled so well, it was no surprise that our second dish, Pollo a la Riviera ($10.25), also turned out nicely, since chicken takes the flavor of the grill better than beef. This chicken dish consisted of a thin, juicy chicken breast piled high with peppers, onions, tomatoes, mushrooms and three large shrimp. And as if that weren't enough, a topping of rich cheese sauce pulled everything together into a gooey pile of gloriously messy excellence. Our only minor complaint with this dish was that the three tortillas served with it were in no way enough to match the sheer volume of food here, but that was a problem solved with just a word to our server about a couple more.
Our second visit found us sampling the weakest dish we tried — which was still pretty good. That was the Enchiladas con Chorizo ($10.25), which consisted of one cheese enchilada, one shredded chicken enchilada, and one ground beef enchilada all topped with spicy chorizo and a single shrimp. The chicken and beef enchiladas were pretty pedestrian, lacking a lot of the flavor we'd come to expect from Riviera Maya, but the cheese variety was a luscious, silky affair of melted white cheese that paired perfectly with the chorizo. The shrimp was a nice touch, and was good enough for us to look forward to our final dish, something we laughingly called "Fajitas Everything" when we saw them.
The "everything" fajita platter is the Riviera Maya Fajitas ($12.50), a massive plate of chicken, steak, shrimp and pork ribs. Yes, pork ribs. Again, our side of tortillas was nowhere near enough to hold all this food, and we wound up taking over half of it home to eat later. But, man, it was good. The shrimp, chicken and steak were all wonderful, and while we prefer our ribs barbecued, we have to admit that they were pretty good, too. This was an astonishing amount of food for not a lot of money, and prepared just like we like it: simple and delicious.
For a good, tasty bang for your hard-earned buck, we can't think of many places better than Riviera Maya. The staff is friendly, the food is served up quick, fresh and hot, and it's just the perfect sort of South-of-the-border down-home goodness that makes for some of the best comfort food around.
Sorry, but I don't see how a return visit is going to make those soft…