What’s with the title? Explanation: Zo means "so" in Dutch (I’m originally from Holland). We first discovered Z-Tejas in March 2004, on a busy Friday evening when we were finding restaurants filled up and with long (45 minutes to 1 hour) waits.
From the looks of the full parking lot in front of Z-Tejas, we almost didn’t bother to stop and check it out. But the hostess told us it would only be a 20-minute wait as she handed us a remote that would flash and vibrate when our table was ready. As we were waiting, we took a peek at the food being prepared in the kitchen, visible from the entry. We saw plates of Z-salad, looking fresh and green, and small cast iron skillets of cornbread.
The large central dining area contains mostly tables and chairs, but booths line either side. On one side is the bar. If you like your music on the louder side, sit near the bar, or you can dine outside on the attractively sheltered patio. Jagged Z lines repeat themselves indoors and out in architectural motifs and decorations. Many-pointed stars hang over the light fixtures.
Once seated, we both ordered large Z-salads with their specialty house dressing, red-wine blue-cheese vinaigrette, which is sweet and delicious. They came with the cornbread skillets we’d seen before. After the first bite, Bob immediately asked me if I could make cornbread like this. My usual cornbread was crumblier and not as moist. For the best cornbread you ever tasted, here’s the Z recipe. The ingredients that make it so deliciously moist are buttermilk, yogurt, and creamed corn.
About halfway through our salads and Fat Tire pints, we were served our entrées. Actually, Bob had ordered an appetizer that was on special, Hector’s Chile Verde. It was more than sufficient as an entrée. It came with a cup of black beans and four very fresh homemade tortillas. My entrée was the chile relleno stuffed with smoked chicken, chopped pecans, apricots, raisins, and jack cheese served with green chile mole, roasted tomato cream, and black beans and Spanish rice on the side. The wonderful fusion of flavors melded scrumptiously on my taste buds as I tried not to eat too fast.
It was at this point that we noticed a pie and ice cream being shared by a neighboring couple. We rarely order dessert but hadn’t noticed any desserts on the menu, so we asked our waitress. She informed us that there was no printed dessert menu, but the pie we were seeing was their famous Ancho Chili Fudge Pie. But by the time we shared a third Fat Tire and ate about as much as we could (still requiring a container for what we couldn’t finish), there was simply no room left in any part of our digestive tracts.
March 2005: In this, my birthday month, I found a birthday surprise from Z-Tejas in my Yahoo mailbox. I’d joined the Z Club online while locating their cornbread recipe, and now they were sending me an e-coupon for $10 off a meal. Luckily, March usually finds us in Phoenix, and I was more than eager to sample some more of their delicious food. I knew immediately that their special of seafood enchiladas ($10) was what I wanted. They are corn tortillas filled with blackened tuna, salmon, and shrimp mixed with spinach and mushrooms. This delicacy came topped with salsa fresca and drizzled with sour cream. Jack cheese melted dreamily into the black beans on one side, while on the other side was perfect Mexican rice. Bob ordered pecan-crusted chicken spinach salad topped with goat cheese and bacon with a bacon vinaigrette ($10). This is an unusual selection for him, and he was not as crazy about his meal as I was about mine, though I had a taste of it and it was delicious.
The day before we’d both had unpleasant weight-gain surprises when we checked our weights for the first time in months after working out at 24-Hour Fitness. I think Bob would have been happier with one of their steaks, either the 14-ounce Gorgonzola New York strip ($20) or the 8-ounce grilled beef tenderloin with wild mushroom horseradish ancho sauce ($20). I firmly put weight issues out of my mind, determining tomorrow would be a good day to work out, when I got my second birthday treat from Z-Tejas: a big piece of that famous ancho chile fudge pie, with a birthday candle stuck through the dollop of whipped cream on top! Rich, dark, and chocolaty, and with just enough chile to give it some zing but not overpower, I let each bite linger a while before swallowing, to the great delight of my taste buds.
Z-Tejas’ roots are in Austin, where the first Z-Tejas Grill began in an old Victorian on 6th Street in 1989. The four chefs whose brainchild it was combined Southwestern, Cajun/Creole, Mexican, Native American, Pacific Rim, and California cuisine in new and visionary ways to create the Z-Tejas taste. One of those chefs, Jack Gilmore, is now the executive chef overseeing the culinary operations of at least 10 Z-Tejas restaurants: four in Phoenix, two in Austin, and one apiece in Las Vegas; Costa Mesa, CA, Bellevue, WA; and Salt Lake City. There may also be one in Maryland, but the Z-Tejas locator map does not show it. The Z-Tejas described above can be found at:
7221 West Ray Rd.
Open for lunch and dinner daily.
Very highly recommended