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Big Tex Cantina Restaurant Review, Decatur

$-$$

$-$$

As the last of our checks are paid, I look across the table at the droopy eyes staring back at me from behind stacks of styrofoam boxes and see only defeat. We made a valiant stand, but in the end, we stumble home with our heads hung low and 5 pounds of leftovers between us.

The source of our humiliation is Decatur’s Big Tex Cantina. The latest venture from Jonathan and Justin Fox — more widely known for their other restaurant, Fox Brother’s BBQ — serves up hearty Tex-Mex cuisine that can put even the most ravenous of appetites into a food coma.

Review by Jon Watson

Review by Jon Watson

Adorned with countless sets of longhorns, lone stars and all kitschy things Texas, the feel is unmistakably “roadhouse,” only brighter. The neighborhood seems to have already caught on, as the large wooden bar is regularly packed, overflowing into the nearly hidden game room tucked away in the back, complete with a pool table and skee-ball.

The menu of self-proclaimed “Texas-style comfort food” can make you feel full just reading it. Suffer no delusions — a full three-course meal here will have you wishing someone would come and wheel you out to your car. Nearly everything is fried, refried, topped with cheese or gravy, or all of the above. Gut-bombs away!

Oddly enough, the burgers are the signature dish here, even earning center stage on their website. This struck me as strange, considering the Tex-Mex theme. Either the Brothers Fox are looking to cash in on a “craze,” or there must be something special happening between those buns. The reality lies somewhere in the middle.

Thick slab bacon gives heft to this BLT (photos by Becky Stein)

Thick slab bacon gives heft to this BLT (photos by Becky Stein)

The foundation is certainly there: Each patty is a blend of in-house ground brisket and chuck, cooked between medium-rare and medium. My first taste of this is the Terlingua cheeseburger ($10.95), a half-pound patty topped with brisket chili, mustard, American cheese, diced onion and pickle. Certainly not lacking in juice, this sloppy mess of a burger certainly satisfies, but the flavor of the patty can’t combat the chili, which is nearly all that I taste. My next go-round, I opt for the simpler classic cheeseburger ($9.95). Without the dense chili burying the patty, the flavor of the moist ground beef shines through, and the heat of the griddled jalapeños compliments without overpowering.

I perk up when I notice the Big Tex BLT ($10.95). That price tag may seem high for what is usually a light sandwich, but not here. What arrives is a pair of ¾-inch thick slabs of house-smoked bacon, with tomato, lettuce, and chipotle mayo on Texas toast. The salty, smoky pork is rich, but I can’t help but be distracted by the pastelike chipotle mayo.

Chicken chimichanga

Chicken chimichanga

Beyond the usual Tex-Mex appetizer selections such as the pico de gallo ($3.95) and Texas queso ($5.95) — each perfectly fine, though not terribly remarkable — Big Tex has a few choices that shouldn’t be missed. Be prepared to split an order of the nacho sliders ($6.95), four slider buns spilling over with house-ground beef, queso and pico de gallo. Part sloppy Joe, part nachos, these are surprisingly good.

Nor should you overlook the Texas poutine ($4.95/half, $7.95/whole), a Lone Star twist on the Canadian staple with red chili gravy, cheese and cheese curds piled high atop a basket of French fries. You’ll do well to remember to save room for your entree, as these will fill most bellies quickly.

Perhaps the biggest pitfall here is as much a product of the genre as the menu. As a meal at Big Tex Cantina moves along, with nearly every dish covered in the same queso, pico de gallo, or gravy, each bite blends in with the last. By the time I dig into the Big Tex chicken chimichanga ($13.95), a deep-fried tortilla stuffed with chicken, pinto beans, pico de gallo and cheese, and topped with queso and more pico de gallo, I’ve grown weary. A man can taste the same flavors only so many times before it all becomes one big Texican blur.

There is some respite to the onslaught of uniform Tex-Mex flavor with the side of roasted cream corn included with my meal. With charred kernels of corn stewed in a creamy broth and topped with cheese, I find myself staring at the bottom of the bowl, despite my fear that my stomach may rupture at any moment.

Sometimes, you have an itch that can only be scratched by Tex-Mex and a margarita, and Big Tex Cantina surly fits that bill. But my advice? Come hungry.

BIG TEX CANTINA
308 W. Ponce de Leon Ave., Decatur, 404-377-3939
1stars5Food: Tex-Mex, burgers and salads
Service: Sufficient
Best dishes: The classic cheeseburgers and nacho sliders
Vegetarian selections: A few salads, fried avocado taco and multiple sides
Credit cards: Visa, Mastercard, American Express and Discover
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 11:30 a.m.-1 a.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Sundays. Bar open late.
Children: Fine
Parking: Street parking is scarce, but a public lot nearby opens in the evening
Reservations: no
Wheelchair access: yes
Smoking: no
Noise level: moderate to loud
Patio: yes
Takeout: yes

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56 comments Add your comment

Baltisraul

August 11th, 2011
6:48 am

1 star sounds about right.

Matt

August 11th, 2011
7:54 am

The Big Tex is “surly”? Sounds a little disappointing, and this comes from someone who loves Fox Bros..

Hungry Gringo

August 11th, 2011
8:25 am

The tacos! You forgot to mention the tacos! And the stacked enchiladas! You left out all the best parts!

G Mel

August 11th, 2011
8:31 am

One star!?!?!?! Wow! I belive wholeheartedly that AJC food critics are one star. The star of the menu at Tex Mex are the tacos, especially the brisket tacos. Sad that these were not reviewed. Also, the fact that you were full really is not surprising. No normal person would eat/order what you did and as a result, your experience is not representative of a normal person. Anyway, another worthless AJC review strongly summarized with your lackluster rating system.

Joel Chase

August 11th, 2011
8:34 am

I love Fox bros, and i went back when this place opened in June, and thought it was just ok. I went back last weekend with my wife and kids and another family and had a great experience! My wife had the pork carnita taco special and loved it. My Chicken Fried Steak was killer and reminded my wife of her time back in Texas! My friend had a Fried Chicken special that was killer! If you visited Fox Bros Bar-B-Q back when they first opened it was far from the special place it is today, so i think with a little time and the attention the Fox Bros seem to give, The Big Tex will be a great place just like Fox Bros! I think it is well on its way!

Leighellen

August 11th, 2011
8:34 am

I thought the food was great. Atmosphere great! He never tried the Chicken Fried Steak!

Jon Watson

August 11th, 2011
8:36 am

@Hungry Gringo – I didn’t actually forget the tacos, I simply ran out of room. With the burger being a focus for the restaurant, I chose to focus more on that dish. The tacos were pretty good, but I didn’t find them that remarkable either way. I did have one of the specials – the pork carnitas taco – that I quite enjoyed, but the menu is so large that I didn’t have enough space to address everything.

@Matt – As a fellow fan of Fox Bors., I didn’t want to fall into the trap of comparing them, as they are very different restaurants. If you like Tex Mex, Big Tex is definitely worth checking out. There were not really any dishes that were “bad”, and individually many are quite good. But the repetition of flavors can get exhausting.

Jon Watson

August 11th, 2011
8:43 am

@G Mel – I assure you, everything listed here was not part of a single meal. I don’t think anyone could handle all of that in one sitting! My point there was really that so many of the dishes are so heavy – and I love rich, heavy food – that a normal meal (Chips/salsa + appetizer + entree) can weigh you down more than most restaurants. The larger issue isn’t the density of the food as much as the uniformity of ingredients and flavors.

Victor

August 11th, 2011
8:57 am

there’s no wonder why the bros are the size they are. there’s nothing exciting about their new venture, but they had to do something with all the money they made from fox bros.

RK

August 11th, 2011
9:08 am

Same 5 ingredients from plate to plate? Sounds like every other American-”Mexican” restaurant…

Whit

August 11th, 2011
9:08 am

as been said before you missed the best entrees of the place the tacos, enchiladas, and country fried steak and the scramble burger..

Tammy

August 11th, 2011
9:12 am

I love Fox Brothers and was so excited to try Big Tex. I ordered a country fried steak sandwich and onion rings. The sandwich was huge but unfortunately it was very bland. The onion rings were OK. Blah. I did notice that the majority of the patrons were on the husky side so the food must be packing the calories in.

Edgewood Adam

August 11th, 2011
9:32 am

Two things need to happen at this place. 1. They need to have hand made in house flour tortillas for the cheese dip. Its a travesty to call yourself Tex Mex without it. 2. They need to have fajitas on the menu to be served with said tortillas.

Willow

August 11th, 2011
9:33 am

Glad to see we weren’t the only ones underwhelmed by Big Tex. The coporate-kitschy decor and the TVs were huge turn offs from the moment we sat down. Servers whisked plates away while we were still eating. The food was blah, greasy and over-priced. The margaritas were awful. I’ll say this: I remember the fried-avocado tacos very fondly.

noelle

August 11th, 2011
9:44 am

I have been 5 times and loved it every time. Actually went last night and had the brisket quesadilla- it was out of this world. I am wishing i had left overs!
Great job guys!

Augusta

August 11th, 2011
9:51 am

With all the concern over obesity, this place is reasons 1-10 why I don’t do out to eat. Restaurants need to serve healthy food and smaller portions.

I have to give this a -10.

Hungry Gringo

August 11th, 2011
9:57 am

Jon, I disagree about the burgers being the focus… they just happen to be on the front page of the menu. I’ve been there ~10 times and not only have I never ordered a burger, but no one I’ve been with has ordered a burger.

Not Alton Browns wife

August 11th, 2011
10:22 am

Hey Jon what abt the Chicken Fried Steak?…anyone who know Texas cooking knows CFS, Brisket ang Margs are at the top of the food pyramid

Boses

August 11th, 2011
10:25 am

Good honest review. That is what we need. Please keep them coming. Thanks.

Sophie's Choice

August 11th, 2011
10:33 am

Was significantly underwhelmed by my first visit as well– the stacked cheese enchilada with a fried egg was served lukewarm, and without a doubt, they served the most watered-down margarita I’ve ever had (come on, people– it’s just tequila, fresh lime juice, a little simple syrup, and Cointreau– how can you screw that up???). Others at our table were similarly unimpressed by their entrees. Even so, I’m waiting till they’ve been open a little longer before I render a final verdict, because I really want to like them, and I like to support local independent restaurants whenever I can. But they’ve got some stepping up to do!

KoPP

August 11th, 2011
10:55 am

I think it’s a bit early in the game to pronounce them blah at the scene – they’ve been open for about 3 months, and have been working on the menu. The Bros. didn’t want to start with a 5 page menu – they wanted to work into it, get the recipes worked out, then add stuff on an even pace. I had a few problems with salt early on that got fixed in later iterations, and the menu is growing slowly but surely. I think they’re doing a great job so far, and there are some things on the menu I love, some I’ve tried and decided that it’s good, but not my fav. Also, specials like the meatloaf (which is a different mix than the Fox Bros. meatloaf – I like Big Tex’s version better) should be tried out. Just think it’s a little early in the game for a review.

TheFoodAbides

August 11th, 2011
11:12 am

As someone who can’t get enough of this restaurant, I’m still not terribly surprised by your review. Much of the signature dishes sound forgettable and pointless. I’d put the burger in that category.

However, the tacos, sides and specials (which they run everyday) are phenomenal. Not to mention the pricing – I can get two tacos (I consider the brisket and fish to be phenomenal), half a fried chicken (which is fried properly) and 3 sides for $24. It’s a great deal and a great place despite the floundering mains. Definitely a place worthy of more than 1 star even on the AJC’s scale. Tacos and sides alone.

JRC

August 11th, 2011
11:15 am

So we’re sure Kessler didn’t get canned?

Wino

August 11th, 2011
12:23 pm

I’ve been 5 times…twice in first 3 weeks of opening when it was horrible. Chicken fried steak was so salty it was inedible. It was taken off check when the mgr. heard about it. All the side veggies had a weird sameness of flavor. Second visit I had meatloaf that was dry, heavy and flavorless. Veggies still had same weird flavors. I decided to give Big Tex a couple months. Last 3 visits showed improvement, but I still have to agree with Jon about the sameness of flavor. I thought the tacos were OK, but I’m not sure the Atl needs any more tacos. I agree with the 1 star rating, and believe that the Fox brothers are sharp enough to add a second star soon.

Wino

August 11th, 2011
12:39 pm

I also hope that they stretch the menu to include items not as frequently seen on menus, like bananaleaf tamales, chiliquiles,etc. And add a few lighter items like ceviche so I would get 2 courses.

jack trent

August 11th, 2011
1:31 pm

dude where is kessler?

Grasshopper

August 11th, 2011
1:35 pm

‘Not to mention the pricing – I can get two tacos (I consider the brisket and fish to be phenomenal), half a fried chicken (which is fried properly) and 3 sides for $24.’

That’s a great deal?

Grasshopper

August 11th, 2011
1:36 pm

‘dude where is kessler?’

Look a few posts back…he’s learning how to fry chicken.

Jack Jackson

August 11th, 2011
2:37 pm

The Fox Bros….furthering obesity in America one plate at a time. Those guys are pigs.

JRC

August 11th, 2011
2:50 pm

Grasshopper, he learning to fricassee, or some hybrid. My fried chicken never includes carrot medallions.

I still say Kessler has writer’s block, trying to come up with an alternative and witty way to say “Farm to Table”…perhaps “Overalls to Oven” or “Plow to Plate”…just a suggestion.

John Kessler

August 11th, 2011
2:55 pm

Like those, but was leaning toward “garden to gullet.”

Grasshopper

August 11th, 2011
3:14 pm

“Pasture to Paunch?”

Kat

August 11th, 2011
3:25 pm

if you didn’t try the tacos then you didn’t give the place a fair shake. I disagree with you that the burgers are clearly the focus of the joint. I’ve been twice and never gotten that impression from the menu. the Tex taco is AWESOME! and these guys make outstanding Fried Chicken as well.

Amy

August 11th, 2011
3:41 pm

I completely agree with some of what has been said before me. You left off some of the best parts of the menu. They have incredible tacos. Their meatloaf and fried chicken are also not to be missed items. Your main complaint (that most of the items tasted similar) would not be noticed by the average patron because no one is coming in and ordering that many items off of the menu. In fact, you reported that you did, in fact, enjoy several of the items that you tasted. I hope Fox Brothers loyalists will look past this review and try out Big Tex. I can say with certainty that you won’t be disappointed.

RK

August 11th, 2011
3:43 pm

He did try the tacos!!!!!!!!!!! Try reading.

Grasshopper

August 11th, 2011
3:49 pm

‘Your main complaint (that most of the items tasted similar) would not be noticed by the average patron because no one is coming in and ordering that many items off of the menu.’

Amy, so are you agreeing that everything does taste the same?

Kat

August 11th, 2011
3:56 pm

he only mentions the tacos in the comments and even then only talks about the one that’s a special. in one breath he says he “ran out of room” and also says he didn’t find them “remarkable”. can’t have that both ways.

Grasshopper

August 11th, 2011
4:02 pm

Jon,

Could you please satisfy some of your apparently disgruntled readers and post a 2500 word essay on the tacos at Big Tex Cantina?

Thanks!

Amy

August 11th, 2011
4:19 pm

Not at all. I was simply arguing that wouldn’t be an issue for most patrons because they wouldn’t be trying so many items at once. I have not left with that impression on any of my visits. For the record, I’ve tried the burger, several of the tacos (pork taco on the specials is currently my favorite and I hear that will become a regular menu item), the meatloaf, and the fried chicken.

Mr. Ed

August 11th, 2011
4:32 pm

Looks like it could become a heavy meal quickly. Might be best to stick with a with tacos.

randall

August 11th, 2011
4:37 pm

I’ve been twice, and i’ve been impressed both times. I’m a huge fan of Fox Bros., and i think Big Tex will eventually get there. It’s a fun place to go. the houston salsa is amazing, but my favorite was the stacked brisket enchiladas. One star? Seriously?

Kip

August 11th, 2011
4:46 pm

good to great food, great atmosphere. don’t understand the 1 star rating. i suggest you go back and don’t gorge yourself youll enjoy it more.

noelle

August 11th, 2011
4:49 pm

Brisket taco’s are the bomb, the margarita’s are amazing. The corn side is my absolute favorite. I dream of the brisket!

Skinny Tex

August 11th, 2011
6:02 pm

Those boys from Texas sure can cook. Plain & simple. Hopefully they hire a personal trainer to whip them in shape because we need these two brothers to stick around a while. Two big thumbs up!!

mUFFIN

August 11th, 2011
7:01 pm

is fried chicken considered tex mex? i don’t get it. fried chicken + tacos = huh? sounds like a stomach ache on a plate.

KC guy

August 11th, 2011
8:02 pm

I’ve eaten here several times and always thought it to be a pretty good combination of food, service and pricing. The menu is a bit limited but offers reasonable choices. The atmosphere is fun. It’s certainly better than 1 star — I’d give it a 3. The Margs are a bit disappointing but that’s based on a limited sampling. Kansas City’s primary cuisine is barbeque — none better anywhere and I’ve looked. Fox Brothers is the best barbecue I’ve had in Atlanta or anywhere in the southeast including Memphis. I’m hoping they open another and the line gets shorter…

Brandon

August 11th, 2011
8:32 pm

I don’t get the low rating…I’ve been twice (both times on a Friday night), the food was excellent, the service was great and the atmosphere inviting. The brisket enchilada plate is one of the best dishes I’ve had lately. The sides are uniquely great(especially the nightly specials) and margaritas are up to par. Not a big fan of the guacomole, but I would definitely give the restaurant 3 or 4 stars. I’ll be back soon.

Old South

August 11th, 2011
11:26 pm

There is only one place in the Atlanta metro to get good Tex-Mex. But with so many people who have never been anywhere but the east coast in Atlanta, very few people you might find at the “Bros” place would be able to tell.

oldandntheway

August 12th, 2011
12:05 am

Been there, the food is really good. If you want to click in at about 3 and a quarter, eat there often.

The Big Maru

August 12th, 2011
1:14 am

@Old South

‘There is only one place in the Atlanta metro to get good Tex-Mex.’

Where, pray tell?