Cafe Reviewed: Wednesday, August 31, 2005
Just a little spice would elevate Cachonga’s fare from good to excellent.
Cachonga’s\r\nCabo Chicken (lunch) $5.99\r\nMeatloaf (lunch) $5.99
Cabo Flabo

\r\nCachonga’s is this close to realizing its potential as Southwestern/Mexican-cuisine destination.



4255 Camp Bowie Blvd, FW. 817-731-9104. 11am-11pm Mon-Thu, 11am-Midnight Fri-Sat, 10:30am-10pm Sunday. All major credit cards accepted.

Cachonga’s is a lovely restaurant. Owner Mike Musgrove, who also owned the restaurant’s previous incarnation as Banderas on the Boulevard in the same Cultural District location, has made a point of making Cachonga’s feel as though it’s a break from the daily grind. Walking in, you may get the sensation that you’re at an upscale eatery in Cabo San Lucas. Rich oak courses throughout the bar and dining rooms, the lighting is subdued, fresh flowers grace every table, and lush bouquets peek out from the corners. Colorful Mexican drinks fill festive stemware. Mural-sized photographs of the spectacular rock formations that stand amid the sparkling, deep-blue, tranquil waters near Cabo line the main dining area and create an almost instantaneous atmosphere of relaxation. The vibe is casual-elegant and not the least bit stuffy.

That said, the only disappointment at Cachonga’s is the food. Billed as Southwestern/Mexican cuisine, it’s certainly well prepared, but it’s missing the zip that makes fine dining such a treat.

A recent visit was a portrait of dashed hopes. The Cabo Chicken, one of Cachonga’s house specials, came out looking wonderful — one large half of a chicken breast covered in melted Monterrey Jack and topped with strips of red and green bell peppers and sautéed onion, served with roasted new potatoes and grilled asparagus. Everything — the meat, potatoes, and vegetables — was perfectly done. The chicken was juicy and tender, the potatoes were crisp on the outside and deliciously substantial on the inside, Cand the veggies were al dente. Unfortunately, the dish was somehow tasteless, as if the chef had forgotten to use any seasonings.

The meatloaf, served with the same sides, was equally heartbreaking. While its texture was just right — moist but not crumbly — and the meat itself had a good amount of celery and onion to give it a bit of a crackle, there was simply no flavor. Cooked with some garlic and salt and pepper, and served with gravy — or, even better, a mushroom or Mexican chile sauce — this same meatloaf would have been something to come back to every other week or so.

Though both dishes were depressing in that they weren’t brought up to their full potentials, the pulled-pork sandwich was perhaps the biggest disappointment, if only because it held the most promise. Served on an extraordinarily savory rosemary bun, the pork couldn’t have been cooked better. It was moist, with a melt-in-your-mouth texture. But for whatever reason, the meat was flat-out bland. The huge amount of garlic and black pepper called for in even the simplest Spanish roasted pork recipe would have made a considerable difference here. But there was nothing — not even pan juices. The diners who accompanied me would have given their souls for just a little garlic-mayo or a few tablespoons of black bean and jalapeño paste. Oddly, the sandwich, served with tasty french fries, also came with lettuce, tomato, and onion, as if we were dealing with tuna salad instead of pulled pork. My guests and I wanted to shout to the kitchen: “Hey, gang! Where are your guts? Where’s the Southwestern/Mexican flavor? Where are the condiments? The chutneys? The selection of chiles and mushrooms? The hundreds of vegetables and squashes? The playful elements that make a meal a meal in the hands of a chef?”

Mike Musgrove knows how to make a restaurant look and feel good. He even knows how to generate foot traffic — every Saturday and Sunday he features live jazz by some of Cowtown’s finest players. He also has some good hands in the kitchen; they make the hard part (preparing the food) look easy, but if they’re not encouraged to cut loose or if they don’t gather the courage to experiment a little, Cachonga’s won’t be the destination that it should be.

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