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Zapata Grill, which started in Texarkana and recently opened its second location in North Little Rock, admirably elevates Mexican cuisine beyond typical Tex-Mex. While the mixed reactions of our lunchtime crew suggested that its efforts might not be to the satisfaction of everyone, Zapata is worth giving a shot for its creativity alone. Fajitas, enchiladas, even (gasp!) cheese dip — no dish is too sacred to give a twist.
Mexican restaurants generally offer an overwhelming selection and Zapata is no exception. But here you'll find choices that go beyond expected fare. It's rare to see quail on a Mexican menu. Zapata's also includes salmon, tuna, steaks and salads in addition to burritos and tacos.
After an opener of chips and thick salsa, we ordered the obligatory chili con queso. Not your normal Velveeta/Rotel blend, this fresh dip, a mix of white and yellow cheeses, had a pleasantly chunky consistency.
For our entrees, we ran the gamut from nachos to steak. The crawfish enchiladas were excellent, with plenty of crawfish. The dish came with a basic tortilla soup — good, but nothing to write home about — and generous portions of rice and fresh guacamole.
The mesquite steak, tender and flavorful but not too much so, also got a thumbs-up. Not so strong were the black beans and rice that came with it — they could have used more spice.
To one diner's taste, the Zapata Nachos were also a tad bland, but that was the only negative thing we can say about this completely loaded dish. Complete with chicken and bushels of veggies, they're listed as an appetizer but can easily serve as an entire meal.
The only problem is that we didn't order the Zapata Nachos — we ordered the Zapata Quesadillas. The restaurant's inventiveness briefly made us wonder if it was changing the definition of a quesadilla, but clearly the server messed up. That was the only kink in service, however — overall, waiters were friendly, attentive and quick with the water jug.
The most controversial aspect of the meal stemmed from an unlikely place — the fajitas. Not your typical steaming iron skillet of bite-size chicken chunks, the meat arrived in several large strips that had to be tackled with a knife and fork. Along with the small dish of garlic butter that came on the side, this baffled the person who ordered the dish. The unique style also had an affect on the meat's taste — though the reviewer's sampling of the chicken revealed nothing wrong, the diner who ordered it considered it too watery.
The disappointed fajitas lover was the most vocally opposed to Zapata's style — why not just stick to the usual Tex-Mex? That feeling was exacerbated by the prices, which are abnormally high for a Mexican restaurant. Some dishes we probably wouldn't order on principle alone — “no, thanks” to a $10 taco salad and a $7 bowl of tortilla soup. More substantial dishes are also pricey — fajita platters, for example, range from $15.95 to $19.50, though there is a cheaper lunchtime option. The cheese dip, too, was costly — $7 for a bowl, albeit one that was enough for four people. The expense might keep some from coming back too often.
Zapata also happens to be in an unfortunate location, on Warden Road off of Highway 67. There is access from McCain Mall — otherwise you'll have to take a giant U-turn and traverse Warden's commercial strip before reaching the restaurant.
But if you're willing to deal with this minor inconvenience and cough up about 10 bucks more than you normally would for Mexican food, then you'll be rewarded with a worthy meal. The open dining room is a comfortable place to eat, linen table cloths are a nice touch, presentation of the food is attractive and portions are huge. Plus the grub is good, eccentricities notwithstanding. What more could you ask for?
4305 Warden Road
North Little Rock
Try the crawfish enchiladas for an atypical version of a Mexican favorite. Mesquite steak was also solid. Presentation of the fajitas may startle. Portions are huge.
Mon.-Thurs. 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m. – 11 p.m.; Sun. 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Credit cards accepted. Full bar. Pricier than your typical Mexican food.