Cafe Reviewed: Wednesday, July 28 2004
See cook Carlos Toledo at family-friendly Celia’s.
Celia’s Mexican Patio
1401 Collins St (south of I-30), Arlington. 817-275-8404. Sun-Thu 11am-9pm, Fri-Sat 11am-10:30pm. All major credit cards accepted.
Celia’s salsa bar seemingly goes on for miles.
Salsa Bar

It’s not how you work your hips that counts at Celia’s, but your hands.


Celia’s Mexican Patio is a clean, bright, airy, fast-food-ish place that serves up terrific meats that you dress yourself at an oversized salsa/condiment bar. Located just off Six Flags Drive near The Ballpark, it’s the perfect place to go for a decent meal after giving your wallet a workout at one of the local tourist meccas.

The restaurant, which opened in January, is huge, with high ceilings and brightly painted walls, and it’s chock-a-block with comfortable booths and wooden four-tops (evenly spaced to afford diners privacy). Video games and a small stone waterfall greet you at the entrance.

On a recent visit, one Celia’s Family Special ($18.99) was more than enough to feed one adult, two teens, and one 7-year-old. Within a few minutes of ordering, one of the cooks brought out a sizzling platter piled high with more than a pound of diced grilled beef, chicken breast, and pork morsels on a bed of grilled white onions. The dish included three sides each of beans and rice and one side of guacamole, along with 10 spongy tortillas of both the corn and flour varieties. Plastic plates and utensils, along with large Styrofoam cups for the sodas ($1.69, refillable), rounded out the picture.

The three meats were delicious. The beef was tender, juicy, and seasoned with just enough vinegar to give it bite, and its crisp edge added complementary texture. The chicken, all breast meat, was grilled brown but still moist, and the pork adobado, marinated in a red chile sauce with garlic, had a rich, succulent, fatty flavor.

Of the sides, the standouts were the Jalisco beans, pinto beans cooked with bits of fatback bacon and a touch of tomato, and the guacamole, moist but not wet and with a nice lemon zing. The refried beans were good but ordinary. The Mexican rice, dry.

The salsa bar, though, is what Celia’s is banking on. It’s where you turn meats into meals. The bar is loaded with vinegared onions, cucumber slices, pico de gallo, minced cilantro, shredded cheddar cheese, sliced jalapeños, and chiles toriados — a mild-to-warm preparation of whole jalapeños marinated with onions. The bar also contains seven salsas, ranging from a mild avocado sauce to a tasty salsa tomatillo to a wheat-tasting, hot-but-not-impossible chile de arbol.

One complaint about the bar (which goes as well for the rice): It was a bit timid. The sauces all could have had more spike — not heat necessarily but a sense of adventurousness. And a few exotic items would have made the condiment selection much more interesting. On the other hand, with so many children packing Celia’s, ownership may be aiming for a little mildness, to please the greatest number of customers while not offending those immature palates.

For the lone diner or small group, Celia’s offers quick hitters (i.e. burritos, tacos, smaller portions of grilled meats), which all come with the side dishes and salsa bar. The restaurant also serves both domestic and imported beer ($2.25-$3.25) and some of the best homemade corn chips in town.

For families and friends — not dates, unless you think assembling your dinner over a salsa bar is romantic — Celia’s is worth the stop, especially if you’re near Six Flags or The Ballpark. l

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