East Texas Restaurant Invasion

Lufkin Tex-Mex hopeful Cafe Del Rio challenges Allen restaurant curse

Lufkin Tex-Mex hopeful Cafe Del Rio challenges Allen restaurant curse

Exterior of Cafe del Rio in Lufkin
Cafe Del Rio, which has roots in Lufkin, Texas, is opening in Allen on March 15. Cafe del Rio/Facebook
Combo plate at Cafe del Rio
Cafe Del Rio does the expected combo plates. Cafe del Rio/Facebook
Exterior of Cafe del Rio in Lufkin
Combo plate at Cafe del Rio

Allen is a tough restaurant town, but here comes another hopeful in the form of Cafe Del Rio, a Tex-Mex baby chain with roots in Lufkin that takes over a former Hibachi Grill. Grand opening is March 15.

The menu is your classic Tex-Mex, with enchiladas, nachos and combo plates. The fajitas get singled out, as does the free serve-yourself ice cream. For non-Tex-Mex fans, there are baby back ribs and chicken-fried steak.

And shrimp is a thing, says manager Letty Vargas. There is a shrimp dip and a shrimp brochette stuffed with cheese and wrapped in bacon.

"The shrimp dip is different. It's a signature dip we have, and it's pretty rich," Vargas says. "It's a white dip, made with whipping cream, butter and baby shrimp folded in."

The margarita lineup includes one made with Midori, another made with Grand Marnier and the signature Cafe Del Rio Swirl. Vargas says the menu for Allen will be different, and they'll take the opportunity to do some experimenting.

"We'll have complimentary salsas, including a ranch, a hot salsa, a warm roasted salsa and our regular Del Rio," she says.

To enhance the house-made flour tortillas, Vargas says there is butter and honey on all the tables, and the desserts are distinctive. Apple "chimis" are fried pastries with tortillas and an apple filling.

"If you like apple fritters, you'll like these; they're filled with big apple chunks," she says. "Our sopaipilla cheesecake is so good. We bake it, and the crust is made from Pillsbury crescent rolls, so it's flaky."

The Lufkin Cafe Del Rio has been open for 20 years. There is also a branch in Beaumont, and at one point in the mid-2000s, there was even a branch in Fort Lauderdale. Businessman Don Davis is the founder, Vargas says, and Cafe Del Rio is only one of the company's three concepts.

"We have our seafood concept, Ralph & Kacoo's; there've been three in Louisiana that have been there 30 years, and one in Lufkin," she says. "We had one in this same location in Allen. And then we have our steakhouse, Brazos Cattle Co."

Allen has had its share of Tex-Mex restaurants present and past, including Mi Cocina, Uncle Julio's, Taco Casa, Los Compadres, Los Charros and Matt's — which recently closed. But Vargas says they're so confident of their prospects that, in two months, they're opening a second branch in Mesquite with a spacious patio, plus a third in Corinth by the end of 2014.

"We feel strongly that this concept will work for us," she says.