Think about the first time that you heard the word fajita. Mrs. M. believes she first encountered it on a box or jar of one of the big commercial brands of prepared Mexican food items, way back when she was still a single girl. Mr. M. had never heard the word before one of his U.S. Army superiors, a First Sergeant by the name of Perez, prepared beef fajitas at a cookout for all the troops while a very young Private First Class M. was stationed in San Antonio, Texas in 1983.
One of Milwaukee’s newest Mexican restaurants, Fajitas Grill, has now slipped comfortably into the space once long occupied by a Cousins Subs (and later by the short-lived La Dolce Vita Mediterranean restaurant) at 1673 N. Farwell Avenue, near the corner of Brady and Farwell. And both of us agree that Chef Arturo’s restaurant is a polished new asset to the city’s trendy East Side.
Following the lead of the restaurant’s name, we both ordered fajitas. After first receiving a complimentary appetizer of thinly-sliced, fried plantain chips with spicy salsa, Mr. M. ordered the beef fajitas and Mrs. M. ordered chicken. At $16 per serving across the board, the fajitas here are made with one of several meat or seafood components: chicken, steak, pork, bacon (can you say YUM?), fish (haddock fillet), shrimp or scallops. With each different meat or fish, the vegetable medley in the fajitas of bell pepper and onion strips are varied and complimented with additional vegetables not normally served in most Mexican restaurants. Mrs. M.’s chicken fajitas were served with onion and both green and red bell pepper strips, while Mr. M.’s beef fajitas were served with green bell peppers, onions and mushrooms (a nice touch, to be sure). A diner next to us was having the shrimp fajitas, which come served with green and yellow peppers.
Served with Chef Arturo’s homemade corn tortillas (yes, homemade — not from El Rey), we were quite smitten with our fajitas — and so were our fellow diners. Entrees are served with either Mexican or Cuban rice and refried black beans (served family style). Appetizers range in price from $5 to $8 and include guacamole and chips or hot tortilla chips made from Chef Arturo’s homemade tortillas, Papas Rellenas (beef-and-cheese stuffed potato fritters), melted Chihuahua and Oaxaca cheeses served with homemade tortillas and Shrimp Cazuela (shrimp sautéed in a garlic and huajillo pepper sauce).
During our meal, Chef Arturo not only came out to visit with us personally, but also presented us and other diners with complimentary cheese-stuffed bolitos (small, fried balls of sweet plantain and cheese).
The only reservation we had about our meal was that the pico de gallo (a savory-hot, Mexican (Aztec) salsa-salad relish) was quite tame and, well, boring. We realize that Chef Arturo is probably trying to accommodate timid, Midwest taste buds, but he would do well to offer a choice between what he is serving now and a version with that classic bite that a lot of us naturally expect when it comes to pico de gallo. He would also do well to pack some more punch in his green salsa, which falls far short of being as spicy as green salsa should be.
As can be seen from the sophisticated menu with its innovative fajita selection, Fajitas Grill is not your average Mexican eatery; it’s a step up in terms of refinement, with stylish, modern décor adopted from its predecessor in an intimate atmosphere, where all diners are well taken care of. Before you know it, this small restaurant (49-person capacity) will have to start taking reservations in order to accommodate all the people we’re sure will fall head over heals with this latest of Milwaukee’s unique dining attractions. We sure did!
1673 N. Farwell Ave.
all major credit cards accepted
Try Mr. & Mrs. M.’s favorite, all-purpose Fajita recipe. The seasoning can be used for either beef or chicken fajitas.
Fajita Seasoning –
1 tablespoon cornstarch
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon crushed chicken bouillon cube
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/8 teaspoon cumin
Combine all of the ingredients in a small bowl. To store, pour into small glass or plastic container, seal tightly and keep in a cool, dry place. Makes the equivalent of 1 packet of commercial or purchased fajita seasoning mix.
In addition to the seasoning mix from above, you’ll need . . .
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts or skirt steak– cut into thin strips (or just get chicken tenders already in thin portions; be sure to tenderize skirt steak well with a kitchen hammer)
1 green bell pepper and 1 red bell pepper – cut into long strips/sliced
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/3 cup water
1 medium onion, cut into strips/sliced
1 cup salsa or pico de gallo (see second recipe below)
1/2 cup sour cream (optional)
1/2 – 1 cup grated Cheddar cheese (optional)
4 – 6 flour tortillas (NOT optional!)
Cut chicken or skirt steak into thin strips (tenderize skirt steak well with kitchen hammer). Cut the green and red peppers and the onion into strips. Heat the oil in a wide grill pan or a heavy, iron skillet until it’s smoking hot, then add the meat. Cook and stir over medium-high heat for 5 minutes. Add the seasoning mix, water, green & red pepper and onion. Reduce heat to medium. Cook and stir over medium heat until the meat is cooked through and the vegetables are tender. Serve sizzling-hot in the pan family style with salsa and/or pico de gallo, sour cream, and grated cheese in warmed tortillas.
Serves 4 to 6.
Pico de Gallo (means “rooster’s beak” – it pecks your tongue!):
1 large beef steak tomato, diced
1 medium or small, white onion, diced
1 medium jalapeño chili, diced
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/8 teaspoon each of salt and garlic powder
Mix all ingredients well. Chill before serving. Goes great in tacos, too, and also makes a nice dip for tortilla or corn chips.