September Restaurant Review – Frontera Tex-Mex Cantina
By Steven Nichols
I love good Tex-Mex food, and having spent time in both Texas and Mexico, as well as eating in restaurants claiming to represent the genre all around the world, I have a pretty good idea of what differentiates good Tex-Mex from average (or God awful) incarnations of the theme.
Most of the “Mexican” restaurants found in the Philippines are going for a more Tex-Mex flavor rather than highlighting dishes popular in Oaxaca or other areas in southern Mexico simply because the mass marketing of Mexican food in America and then on to the rest of the world largely grew from Tex-Mex origins.
Frontera Tex-Mex Cantina on Don Juico Ave (Perimeter Road) feels like walking into an extremely authentic, high-quality, Tex-Mex restaurant in the Longhorn State itself, while retaining subtle detailing in the atmosphere that reminds you that you are really in A.C. Frontera is, without any doubt, the best Tex-Mex restaurant in Angeles, and quite likely in the country.
Now that's a bold statement, so allow me to justify it. First, I don't pretend to have tried all the many Tex-Mex joints in the Philippines. But I've tried many, from Mindanao to Luzon, and I've sampled all of them in Angeles. Many of the other contenders in A.C. are good, and I find myself drawn to them once every couple of months to sample their take on the Mexican theme, but with Frontera I find myself coming back weekly if not more. The high-quality ingredients, made-from-scratch recipes, and consistent quality make it a hit each and every time that I walk through the doors. You won’t find blocks of melted Velveeta or cans of Ro*Tel here, folks. This is the real deal. But don’t take my word for it, check out the reviews on TripAdvisor.com where Frontera sits at the top of the Mexican food pyramid in Angeles and rates among the best restaurants in town in any category.
So what's the secret that makes Frontera authentic? In a word..."Larry." The owner, internationally experienced chef Larry Martin, is a true Texan who has run other successful Tex-Mex restaurants in the region. He oversees each step of the process, from the making of homemade tortillas, sour cream, nacho chips, and cheeses, to the roasting of the peppers, mixing of the homemade margaritas and blending of the house-made sauces. The attention to detail in each dish is more akin to what I expect from a fine dining establishment and far better than I am used to in many of the other local establishments. Frontera achieves a level of both quality and consistency that is hard to find in Texas, let alone in Angeles.
The menu has a wide array of Tex-Mex favorites and a few surprises, but it all stays true to its roots. You will not find sisig, or pancit, or variations on the theme here. This is Tex-Mex through and through. Your meal will start with a free basket of house-made chips and salsa to tide you over while you peruse the menu. The first basket is free, but refills will cost you. Trust me, you don't want to fill up anyway as there will be many gastronomic joys yet to come. Some of my favorite starters include the steak fajita nachos, the chili con carne (a traditional meat-only blend with just the right amount of kick), and my favorite, the chili con queso. This isn't your usual melted cheese dip. This dish blends high quality cheeses, cream and chilies into a cup of cheesy goodness that makes my mouth water just thinking about it. Don't forget to order one of their top shelf, homemade margaritas to wash it down. They come in a variety of flavors to suit your palette.
For the entree, there are a wide range of choices and I haven’t had a bad meal yet. The fajitas are a guaranteed crowd pleaser, and the tender carne asada always hits the spot. The chicken ranch salad with cilantro dressing is amazingly flavorful and refreshing, giving a lighter counter to a heavy Tex-Mex starter. If you're hankering for something more substantial, the cheese enchiladas smothered in chili gravy are a Tex-Mex tradition that will leave you satiated and smiling. For dessert, they do an honest-to-goodness key lime pie. Not some frozen Sara Lee substitute, but a genuine, made-from-scratch key lime pie.
The restaurant itself is a pleasant place to be, with lively music and a good vibe. The decor exhibits the same attention to detail as the food, featuring Tex-Mex themes with subtle nods to its Philippine home, such as the bottle of San Mig in the foreground of a painting depicting a border-town bar fight. The staff are attentive and you're sure to see Larry checking in to make sure that things are as they should be. With the opening of the new side gate to Clark later this year, Frontera will be even more convenient to reach from Clark, Friendship or Balibago. Frontera is currently launching an expanded menu with even more great Tex-Mex treats, so it’s a great time to try them out. I know I’ll be stopping by soon.