Valencia’s Tex-Mex Garage is the newest restaurant to open its doors in Oak Forest. Planted along West 34th Street, between Oak Forest Drive and Ella Boulevard, the spot was opened by brother-sister duo Vienna and Rico Valencia, who have ties to the neighborhood.
During the evening, being the only place open in the new development, Valencia’s neon sign is like a beacon to hungry passersby. After my recent visit, I think everyone should answer the call to at least try the restaurant.
The first thing that caught my eye was the lit-up sign on the back wall of the restaurant that declared the neighborhood it was stationed in. The second was that the space was already warmed by Christmas decorations. But what really made the space pop was the wall of skulls, painted in the sugar skull fashion.
My impression of the place was that it’s a modern, colorful space that had an open concept. And while I didn’t sit out on the patio because of the cold weather, I could see it was plenty spacious.
For dinner I got the Monday special, which was one pork and one rotisserie chicken tamale. For some variety, I tried the chicken fajitas.
While waiting on our main course to be served, my dinner companions and I snacked on fresh chips and salsa as well as an order of guacamole. The salsa, served cold, had a good amount of spice with hints of sweetness. As for the guacamole, I don’t think I would order it again. It was already browning when it got to the table and seemed almost watered down. If I’m going to pay more than $10 for it, I want the guacamole to be better.
The pork tamale was topped with chili con carne, onions and cotija cheese and the chicken tamale was topped with tomatillo sauce, onions and cotija. Mexican rice and refried black beans came on the side.
The tamales were at least double the size of the tamales I was used to eating. The pork was tender and savory. The chili con carne gave it another layer of flavor with its spices. The chicken, on the other hand, was made sweet by the tomatillo sauce. Both seemed fresh and while I enjoyed both, I preferred the pork tamale.
One reason I would encourage people to try the restaurant more than once is because it’s still a new place and possibly working out a few kinks. For example, my brother got the pork tamales and while his were cold, mine were hot.
I’m not as used to black beans as I am pinto beans, but Valencia’s only serves black beans. The beans were darker and had a richer flavor.
The marinated chicken breast used for the fajitas, wrapped in a warm, thick house-made flour tortilla, was simple but good. I could still taste the outside of the chicken, where the marinade was sealed in while cooking.
The service was also great. Our server was not only quick with our refills, but quick to fix our mistakes — like when we forgot to order a meal for my nephew and didn’t notice until our food was already on the table. Our server helped get a kid’s meal to us in minutes.
Valencia’s Tex-Mex Garage
Address: 2009 W. 34th St.
Hours: 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Saturday
Healthy options: Yes
Star of the show: Pork tamale