I collapsed, my will broken, my hunger undiminished. For an interminable month, I had wearily trudged through the desert of downtown food, searching for a glimmer of relief, a refuge from the stinging tyranny of tastelessness. Everywhere I turned, I encountered the same stale sandwiches and the grease-pool pizzas from which I sought escape. Could there ever be hope amidst such desolation? I cried, piteous and, now, fallen.
Then, it appeared. Sand-plunged, heavy-headed, I trained my squinting eyes on the miraculous vision in the distance. I espied a tawny form, a mustachioed stoicism, a sombrero of solace. I found Señor Bean.
He adorned the side of a squat, painted-brick building (which formerly housed Chen’s Kitchen). But for Señor Bean’s enigmatic visage, the unremarkable building fit seamlessly into its unremarkable surroundings: a cracked-concrete parking lot; a gray parking garage; and a perennially under-construction, cone-littered stretch of Olive Street. Still, I was desperate enough that I set aside the optics (even the eyesore of a rippled-aluminum awning) and spent my last measure of gustatory hope on Señor Bean, a Tex-Mex restaurant that opened in November of last year.
And, oh, how I was rewarded!
Upon entry, I was promptly greeted by one of the friendly wait staff as well as the ubiquitous portrait of a dough-rolling mama, shocks of occasional color amidst brick walls, and the tranquilizing flicker of flat-screens tuned to ESPN. But unimaginative decoration was of little concern to my growling stomach and to the dozens of patrons eager for a tasty, but quick bite for lunch.
I almost missed my seat, as my greedy eyes tracked the treasure-laden platters carried to and fro by the efficient waiters. Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait long to get my hands on a tide-you-over helping of warm chips and medium-fire salsa. I added two bowls of creamy queso to the mix: one, a standard, poblano-spiced serving ($3.99/cup; $5.99/bowl); the second, an undeniable queso habanero with savory ground beef and, beware, a kick ($5.25/cup; $7.25/bowl). How soothing it was.
With my order placed and hunger momentarily abated, my curiosity began to itch. In a moment, I found myself across the table from one-half of the brother duo behind Señor Bean, a gregarious Jesse Barbosa. Barbosa’s family—including father Enrique and brother (and Señor Bean co-owner/operator) Raul—are behind the popular Mercados Juarez, a 25 year old, North Texas-based chain of four markets, which each comprise a crafts bazaar, a panaderia and carniceria, and a large-party restaurant specializing in the cuisine of northern Mexico, specifically Monterrey. The idea for a casual Tex-Mex joint was Jesse’s, who was ready to branch out.
Señor Bean was the manifestation of that idea; in Jesse’s words, it is a “Mex-Mex” restaurant, presumably because he aspires to stay true to his Monterrey roots. To me, though, the menu looked plainly Tex-Mex.
But, really, who cares about taxonomy when you have a tabletop of steaming dishes awaiting lusty consumption. Ignoring Jesse (sorry, Jesse), I turned to the shrimp chipotle ($8.99), a dish of jumbo (like, actually jumbo) shrimp sautéed in a tomato-based sauce and served atop flavorful cilantro rice. It was reminiscent of a shrimp creole, except with a tomatillo undertone and a spark of cilantro. I restrained myself from emptying the plate, though: a platter of street tacos and a mini Señor (Señorito?) Bowl awaited my maw. The tacos ($7.99)—filled with the customer’s choice of chicken fajita, beef fajita, beef brisket, or chori beef (a chorizo-spiked steak)—were served in double corn tortillas alongside chopped cilantro, diced onions, salsa mocajete, and crucial slices of lime as well as does-the-job Mexican rice and refried beans of near-perfect consistency and taste. The chicken fajita taco made me wish for more; the beef brisket left me chewing, chewing. Then came the mini Señor Bowl (regular bowl: $7.99), a virtually bottomless basket of our favorite Tex-Mex goodies: cilantro rice, black beans, a spicy pico de gallo, shredded cheese, guacamole, chicken strips, and (the finishing touch) a creamy, brings-it-all-together verde sauce. Per intuition, I mixed and enjoyed.
Forty-five minutes after sighting Señor Bean, I was (at long last!) sated. For those who yet suffer the indignities of downtown food, your oasis is here. Give Señor Bean your mouth; he will make it happy.
Farraz Khan is a D Magazine intern.