Review No. 35: On the Border Mexican Grill and Cantina
1150 S. Amity Road
21 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants
He Said: We figured we ought to review this new On the Border restaurant in Conway’s new "Lewis Crossing" shopping area, since people may actually be wondering whether to try it or not. This is a national chain of some 160 or so Tex-Mex restaurants, including one in West Little Rock and one in Sherwood, so it may already be familiar to many readers. And there may be some question about whether Conway needed another Mexican restaurant—with this addition, I believe the number now stands at something like 26,001.
But the Conway store opened on December 14, and we were determined to give it a try within the first two weeks. And so we set out to have lunch on a Wednesday afternoon before Christmas, and took a guest reviewer with us: My daughter Jenny (Ruud2). We arrived at 12:30 to find a great swarm of people ahead of us, and were told there would be at least a 30-minute wait. As it turned out, what with a number of people giving up and leaving in the meantime, and the restaurant’s apparent "under-promise and over-deliver" strategy, we only waited about ten minutes before we were ushered in to a table.
She Said: I will admit I was attracted to this restaurant only because of the novelty. It does seem a redundant addition to our food scene, but it is the only restaurant so far in this shopping center, which will attract people from well beyond our fair city who may not venture to Los 3 Potrillos, or the like. I did think the wait was pretty painless, as we were chatting with Ruud2, and she had an app on her phone that updated her on our position in line.
Ruud2 Said: When I saw the wait was 30 to 40 minutes I slipped into eye-rolling mode. It’s like when you wait two hours for the Olive Garden (which I would never do…as my Italian husband would disown me. Those breadsticks though…), still I was impressed at the speed and efficiency with which they got people in and out. The place is so big it really does move much faster than they set you up for. So it ended up being a pleasant surprise wait-wise.
He Said: The dining area is large, and feels new and warm. It has something of the atmosphere of a sports bar, with wooden walls and beer bottle chandeliers and flat-screen TVs. It’s a comfortable place.
She Said: It seems like Home Goods + Tex Mex in there, with large, generic food from that region of the world. It was comfortable, but not particularly creative or imaginative in its aesthetic.
Ruud2 Said: The lights hanging from the ceiling were a little "serial killer’s basement" for me. Not that I would know firsthand, but since I listen to true-crime podcasts now thanks to "She Said," I feel I’m practically an expert. But the walls were a pleasant color and the seating was comfortable.
He Said: They serve Coke products at On the Border, so I was able to order a Barq’s Root Beer.
She Said: They ALSO serve MANY different margaritas! The menu in this area was extensive, and it made it a little hard to choose. I went with the "El Jefe Rita," which had a special tequila in it. It was very nice and went well with my food.
Ruud2 Said: The frozen margarita I had wasn’t bad and was reasonably priced. There seemed to be a variety of interesting choices, and I would have sampled another drink (or four) had I not had to go back to the salt mines of academia that afternoon.
She Said: To be fair, Ruud2, your campus was closed down for the holidays by the time you met us, so we could have had another round, but I guess you really did want to get some work done that day.
He Said: First of all, let me just say that the tortilla chips they brought before the meal were really excellent: they were extraordinarily large and were light and fresh and crisp, and the red sauce was tangy. This was a surprising highlight of the meal. The menu here is very large, so I assumed that if I was careful I could find something to eat that would fit into my prescribed low-fat diet. On this occasion, I had not checked online to see whether there might be a nutritional chart for On the Border entrees available. There is, but I hadn’t looked at it.
So I decided to go with my own judgment (never a wise decision). On the menu were "Southwest Chicken Tacos," and I immediately thought that must be the meal for me. The chicken must be less fatty than beef, right? And the menu described these as "mesquite-grilled chicken, cheddar cheese, creamy red chile [sic] sauce and fried onion strings in warm, hand-pressed flour tortillas." Well, the cheddar cheese might be a little fatty, I reasoned, but it couldn’t be too bad, right? You can get two of these for $9.89, or three for $11.59 (I was tempted, but opted for two. Thank God). I asked if I could get these on crispy taco shells, which is my personal preference, but the answer was no.
These tacos were quite delicious, and the fried onion strings were a kind of surprisingly tasty touch. I’d recommend them, particularly if you really don’t care how many calories you’re consuming. Because as it turned out, when I got home and checked the nutritional content of the Southwest Chicken Tacos, I found that they actually contain 1220 calories. Yes, that’s one thousand two hundred and twenty—I haven’t forgotten a decimal point. Worse than that, for me, is that they contain 72 grams of fat. That’s twelve grams more than I am supposed to have for an entire day, all in this one entrée. Worse, if I had followed my appetite and ordered the three tacos, it would have been 1570 calories and—hold on to your pancreas—94 grams of fat. I wouldn’t have been able to eat again for two days, if I had escaped a hospital visit.
Not that you can’t find something healthier to eat at On the Border. A bowl of their Chicken Tortilla Soup, which I was also eyeing, is 470 calories with 18 grams of fat. Not great but far better than what I ordered. A grilled chicken sandwich here is 310 calories, but also with 18 grams of fat. Chicken tortillas with rice are 430 calories and 15 grams of fat. And grilled chicken fajita tacos were only 310 calories with 8 grams of fat—that should have been my order.
She Said: Yes, I thought the chips were tasty, and since I don’t have your pancreas, I had the guacamole for my appetizer, which I shared with Ruud2. I thought it was very good, fresh and flavorful, and the portion we had was just right for two to share. I was not incredibly hungry that day, so I was looking at the mix-and-match portion of the menu to create a smaller lunch for myself. I had a lunch combo with two items, the Dos XX fish tacos and a spinach and mushroom enchilada. I had mine with refried beans and the lime rice (it comes with Mexican rice, but since I don’t like tomatoes, I do NOT like that, and the waitress happily subbed this out for me). I thought both items were very good, and hit the lunch spot quite well. The tacos have fried fish, so that was a little heavier. This turned out to be a pretty good choice, relatively speaking, calorie-wise, as the spinach and mushroom enchilada with sour cream sauce has 190 calories. The Dos XX tacos have 500 each. That’s a lot, and doesn’t count the calories from the guac or the margarita or the refried beans or the rice, but I’m not adding those up, and you can’t make me.
The side dishes are served family-style and are "bottomless," which just means you can keep getting more as long as you want. I thought the refried beans were very satisfying, but the rice was bland and not worth the carb calories that came with it. (It was nowhere near as good as Tacos for Life’s cilantro lime rice, which, I could eat three times a day.)
Ruud2 Said: I agree the chips were light, crisp and delicious. Plus, they kept bringing more and more which always makes me feel like I matter. When the establishment knows how many chips I want to put in my belly…they get a big tip. The fajitas were fine. They didn’t rock my world but for the cost they were tasty, and I left satisfied.
He Said: Nothing to complain of here. Typically, when you visit a restaurant shortly after it opens, there are innumerable service gaffes, since the staff is all new and have not gotten accustomed to the system yet. Many may not have even worked at a restaurant before. At On the Border, though, the staff seemed very well trained and professional. Our server was prompt, courteous, and helpful (except, I suppose, for that crispy taco request). It was crowded at lunchtime and there were a number of staff who concerned themselves with us, and all of them were proficient at their jobs. And we didn’t have to ask for the check—they brought it very promptly—perhaps because they knew that people on their lunch hour need to get in and out as quickly as possible; or perhaps because they were trying to shoo us out the door since they had dozens of others waiting for the table.
She Said: Yeah, the servers were all friendly and helpful, but I did think the waitress rushed us too much. She asked us about dessert right after we got our lunches, and brought our check without asking if we needed anything else. Even though it was lunch, I would have had another margarita since it was Christmas vacation, and they were delicious, but I had no chance to even ask for it. That’s the only quibble I had, but I would prefer they just have the check ready, so when we ask for it, they can present it tout de suit—or however you say that in Tex-Mex.
Ruud2 Said: Everyone was nice, very friendly and accommodating, though our waitress did the "slowly take things away one by one" thing near the end when we lingered perhaps a little too long. She did it with a very pleasant smile on her face the whole time, though.
What We Got and What We Paid: Guacamole appetizer, Barq’s root beer, wildberry margarita, El Jefe Rita, Southwest chicken tacos (2), lunch combo-2 items, Wednesday chicken fajita for $57.95
He Said: The food was definitely good, though perhaps not quite up to the more family-owned type Mexican restaurants in town. But I would go again, as long as I had checked out the nutritional facts on my entrée first.
She Said: It seems like an efficient and reliable margarita joint, especially if I’m in that part of Conway, but I’m not sure I’ll crave it more than I do some of the other local Tex-Mex eateries. Is it worth the calories? In Conway I think there are definitely more worthy contenders.
So…He Said and She Said: Solid offerings with efficient service in the chain Tex-Mex category with lots of margarita choices and a big menu to please a lot of people. Also lots of fat grams, if you like that, too!
Editor's Note: Eat It, Conway is produced by local author Jay Ruud and his wife (poet and novelist Stacey Margaret Jones). The couple has begun an attempt to eat at and review, every restaurant in Conway, Arkansas. The Log Cabin Democrat and thecabin.net are publishing Eat It, Conway with permission from the authors. Visit them online at jayruud.com and on Facebook at Eat It, Conway. In addition to restaurant reviews, Ruud authors movie reviews on the site.