Tejanos may well become the hidden gem of Northallerton cult dining, says Malcolm Warne

PRAISE be. The Gods of hospitality are shining once again on the town of Northallerton.

Whisper it quietly, but there are signs of life in the county town’s “night-time economy” beyond pubs and the place behind the Golden Lion which seems to change its name a lot.

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A new restaurant has opened in the High Street – North Yorkshire’s celebrated graveyard for after-six dining options beyond the Lion, Pizza Express, the Indian(s) and the Chinese.

And even more exciting, the perfect little daytime cafe in Barkers Arcade, Casa Rustica, is about to open a big sister establishment in Friarage Street which will be open in the evenings. Woohoo!

That should be open in a matter of weeks but in the meantime those of us desperate for somewhere decent over to eat in the town centre after the shops and cafes have closed over and above the eateries already mentioned will have to make do with Tejanos, a Tex Mex which opened in April above Lakeland Leather in what used to be Cafe Natural.

We liked Cafe Natural. The cooking was very good, the surroundings not unpleasant but it was fatally undermined by its situation above a shop and the evening access (through the shop during the day) down a ginnel – which as town centre passages go is by no means unremittingly grim – and then a narrow set of back stairs. It’s not exactly a grand entrance.

For Cafe Natural, which aimed to provide a slightly posh dining experience, that was a real problem. For Tejanos it’s a not an issue because it has no pretentions to be posh dining. It’s robust, no-nonsense, fill-yer-boots mostly spicy grub. The down-an-alley-through-a-back-door-and-up-some-steep-and-twisty-stairs approach actually lends the place a slightly mysterious air – as if you have finally found some little-known gem of a place recommended to you by that wise old gaucho you bumped into when tying up your horse outside M&S...

However, there’s a marked absence of cowboys on reaching the first floor and the long, thin dining room with its view over the High Street at one end and an open terrace at the other - which will probably be lovely if we get any summer.

There were lots of Northallerton folk in – certainly more than Cafe Natural ever seemed to attract and that’s encouraging. We would dearly love Tejanos to do well just to disprove the theory that all people ever want to eat in Northallerton on an evening is pizza, curry or egg fried rice.

The crowd include one very large party which appeared to have taken their places just before our arrival which meant our food was a little slow. But as we hadn’t booked, and the menu went to great pains to point out that everything was cooked to order and we were offered some complimentary drinks to compensate for the wait, we had little or no grounds for complaint.

And when it did arrive, it was largely worth the wait.

Our starters were some plump chicken wings (£5) with a cracking barbecue sauce, an ideal balance between sweet and sour and nicely sticky, and a tostada (£4) – a flour tortilla baked with some sliced chorizo, sweet peppers and finished with lots of coriander. What made this dish work really well was the paprika-flavoured oil seeping from the chorizo into the crisp-baked tortilla.

We mixed and matched with our mains chosen from a lengthy menu featuring lots of Tex-Mex standards like fajitas, enchiladas, ribs and chillis. Paella might not be considered classic Tex-Mex but the seafood version (£14) we enjoyed was made with good quality prawns, chorizo and nutty, round short-grain rice flavoured with lots of saffron.

Served in the skillet in which it had been prepared, the rice had slightly caught on the bottom of the pan – a bit of a shame as it was in every other respect flawless.

A plain burger (£12) made with good quality ground steak mince was topped with cheddar and more of that excellent barbecue sauce. Served in a brioche bun with lettuce and tomato, it came with crisp and dry skinny fries and we thought it as good as any burger could be.

We were tempted by the key lime pie and the hot churros with chocolate or caramel sauce but desserts would have turned a midweek meal into a blow-out and we weren’t up for that.

Talking of blowouts, the Fred Flintstone Challenge – “only a real man can tackle this” the menu describes in startingly non-PC fashion – features a £40 full rack of slow-smoked kings ribs served with salad and fries. Not surprisingly it has to be ordered 24 hours in advance.

The wait for the food aside, service was super-friendly and largely efficient. The bill was £45 with just soft drinks included.

Tejanos Tex-Mex Restaurant

First floor 182 High Street,

Northallerton DL7 8JZ

Tel: 01609 777770 Web: tejanos.co.uk

Open: Wed/Thurs 10am-9pm; Fri/Sat 10am-10pm; Sunday noon-9pm; Tues 10am-9pm (tapas only); Mon closed.

Limited vegetarian and gluten-free options. Stairs may be a challenge for some.

Ratings

Food quality: 8/10

Service: 7/10

Surroundings: 7/10

Value: 8/10