There is no need to draw attention to Marix Tex-Mex Cafe. The restaurant is already doing lots of business, as befits a place that serves very good Mexican food at very good, and that means reasonable, prices. Even more rare, Marix departs from the formula Mexican food found at most places. Its once French-continental menu has been revamped to be as Southwestern as mesquite and cactus. And its specialty is that trendiest of Southwestern dishes, the grilled steak strips called fajitas.
Non-smokers beware, for smoke and sizzle dominate the atmosphere when platters of fajitas go by. And they go by frequently, for this is a very popular dish. The fajitas come with flour tortillas, guacamole and pico de gallo , which is hot, Texas-style salsa. With these you make Texas-style soft tacos.
Loyal Californians should be warned that Marix is proudly Tex-Mex. "We love Mexican food, and we believe the best Mexican food can be found in the Longhorn state of Texas," the menu announces.
Santa Fe Special
Despite that statement, Marix dips into New Mexico for its Santa Fe special, two small blue corn tortillas stacked with a filling of shredded chuck roast or chicken and covered with mild red chile sauce and cheese. Refried beans and rice accompany this dish as well as the various combination plates.
Since this is a Texas restaurant, American-style mashed potatoes come with other entrees, including that west Texas specialty, chicken fried steak. The steak is one of a group of "Texican" dinners that includes carne asada, carne tampiquena, carne guisada, chile verde and chicken mole. Those with lighter tastes can have steamed vegetables topped with cheese or a grilled chicken breast that comes with potatoes rather than beans.
The dinners include soup or salad and a choice of flour tortillas or sopapillas. The sopapillas are tiny puffs, as substantial as a feather. Their companion is one of those bear-shaped squeeze bottles of honey.
Dinner prices range from $4.25 for the vegetable plate to $7.95 for the carne tampiquena. And those prices cover a lot of food. The chicken-vegetable soup that started dinner one night was amazingly generous with meat. The carne tampiquena plate included a juicy, perfectly grilled rib-eye steak, rice, beans, guacamole in a crisp tortilla cup and an enchilada with tomatillo sauce.
More specifically, Texan dishes include Rufus Gomez's world championship chili and cowboy beans, a concoction of pintos, bacon and ham flavored with onion, tomatoes and cilantro. There are also flautas, chimichangas, rellenos made with fresh chiles, quesadillas, nachos, chilaquiles, tacos, enchiladas and so forth.
Drinks include tall tea, which is not tea but a tall glass of sparkling water with a splash of Kahlua and lime juice. Marix's Margaritas rank with the best. Or one can have Texas punch, a blend of fruit juices and rum in a brandy snifter.
The restaurant's owners are Vicky Shemaria, an immigration attorney from San Antonio, and Mary Sweeney, who has a croissant shop nearby. They have done a good job not only with the menu but in creating an atmosphere so Texan that in hot weather, the awning-like roof rolls back and one does indeed dine in the wide open spaces.
Marix Tex-Mex Cafe, 1108 N. Flores St., West Hollywood (just north of Santa Monica Boulevard), (213) 656-8800. Open daily from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. No reservations. Major credit cards accepted. Valet parking.