Dining Spotlight: Happy take on Tex Mex

Food’s commendable, but margaritas olé!

The Happy Mexican's carnitas  are tender pork tips and the fixings. Wash it down with a margarita; there are several varieties available.

Photo by Mike Maple // Buy this photo

The Happy Mexican's carnitas are tender pork tips and the fixings. Wash it down with a margarita; there are several varieties available.

After recent consumption and talk of authentic Mexican, I found myself longing for the cheesier Tex Mex. As the Happy Mexican has just recently opened its second location, the timing was right for a visit.

The Happy Mexican's carnitas  are tender pork tips and the fixings. Wash it down with a margarita; there are several varieties available.

Photo by Mike Maple

The Happy Mexican's carnitas are tender pork tips and the fixings. Wash it down with a margarita; there are several varieties available.

 The Happy Mexican is at 6080 Primacy Parkway in East Memphis.

Photo by Mike Maple

The Happy Mexican is at 6080 Primacy Parkway in East Memphis.

The Happy Mexican in East Memphis is a hopping, busy  place at lunch and there's generally a full house during  dinner hours as well.

Photo by Mike Maple

The Happy Mexican in East Memphis is a hopping, busy place at lunch and there's generally a full house during dinner hours as well.

The Happy Mexican restaurant  has lots of color and atmosphere from the  chairs to the walls.

Photo by Mike Maple

The Happy Mexican restaurant has lots of color and atmosphere from the chairs to the walls.

Photo with no caption

Photo by Mike Maple

Well, it was almost right. I wish I'd timed my Saturday visit in the late afternoon instead of lunch, so that I could have taken advantage of the mighty tasty margaritas they serve up at a special price on Saturdays. But drinking a massive margarita at noon is just flying too close to the sun. If it carried a warning, it would say "Danger: May lead to napping and/or wasted afternoons."

So I settled instead for an indulgence

I'd been craving: Cheese dip. And it made me happy.

It's not much different from the ubiquitous white cheese dip found just about everywhere north of the border, but just different enough to make it better. It appears to be mixed with salsa verde, which provides texture, flavor and a bit of heat.

I visited the restaurant twice. On the first visit, it was packed at about 7 p.m. on a Tuesday. We waited so long for chips and salsa that I went ahead and ordered guacamole, a perfectly passable if not stellar version. The salsa came at the same time, and I was taken aback by the thick and sweet bowl of tomato mush in the bowl. It was just bad. I complained to a friend the next day, who told me that she loves the salsa at the Happy Mexican.

On the next visit, we were served a completely different salsa. It was spicy, with small bits of tomato, onion, peppers and cilantro in a tomato broth. It was very good, and, I hear, the salsa typically served.

The menu is extensive and making selections can be time-consuming if you don't have a taste for something in mind.

We chose the shrimp a la diablo and an order of four mixed enchiladas on the first visit. While the shrimp were delivered so hot it took about 10 minutes for them to come to suitable eating temperature, the enchiladas were barely warm.

Once cooled, the shrimp came through. Large, butterflied, and resting in a pool of spicy red sauce, the dish satisfied. It was a nice match for the "Ultimate" margarita, a concoction made of typical margarita ingredients with a splash of orange juice and Coke.

The margaritas are made fresh -- the menu boasts they use no mixes and I can vouch that I detected no trace -- and they are not stingy with the tequila. I had the small drink and could feel it enough to know to stop at one.

The fajitas we ordered at lunch were an excellent example of the standard. The beef was tender yet charred, even a bit crisp in spots; the chicken, flavorful and succulent.

The carnitas, roasted pork tips, were also good. I shredded them -- they just fell apart -- and made tacos with sliced avocado, onions and salsa.

The tacos we ordered on a combination plate were, unfortunately, filled with bland ground beef (as was the beef enchilada).

You can get a nice Tex Mex meal at the Happy Mexican; just ask questions if you're not certain about the ingredients. The servers are busy -- the restaurant is large and full -- so make sure you ask on the front end.

It's a festive place, too: The walls are covered in murals, everything is brightly colored, and birthdays do not go unnoticed (plug your ears!). Massive sombreros are placed around the restaurant and often find their way to willing heads. Might have something to do with the margaritas.

-- Jennifer Biggs: 529-5223

Happy Mexican

Food:

Service:

Atmosphere:

Address: 6080 Primacy Pkwy.

Telephone: (901) 683-0000

Hours: Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.

Reviewers' choice: Shrimp a la diablo ($12.99); carnitas ($12.99); the Ultimate margarita ($6.95-$15.50; on Saturdays the jumbo is $7.99)

Alcohol: Full bar and frequent specials. Regular margaritas are $3.25 from 3 to 7 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday.

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Comments » 1

highflyer writes:

I used to like lunch at the Happy Mex downtown, but service has also become problematic. We had to leave without lunch on our last visit - waited for 20 minutes to place our order, and then 30 minutes later no food. When we asked the server when our food would come, she just shrugged. Asked for the manager, but noone could tell us who that was, so we just left. That was our LAST visit.

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