Two western-themed restaurants have opened next door to each other in a Centreville restaurant plaza, both the inaugural Washington area locations for their owners. They couldn't be more different.
Catbo, the first restaurant under that name operated by the owners of the popular Jose Tejas and Jose's Border Cafes in New Jersey, Delaware and Boston, opened about a month ago and offers an unusual Tex-Mex/Cajun/Creole menu. Think Rio Grande Cafe light.
As you walk in the door, there is a long bar to the left, a cluster of booths to the immediate left and to the right, and a large open dining room filled with bare wooden tables and hefty wooden chairs. Boisterous music is piped inside and outside to the patio and parking areas. It can hardly be heard above the din, but then, neither can unhappy children.
Cases of beer are stacked in part of the dining room, and the decorations are limited to a few slogans painted on the walls -- such as "free beer manana!" -- and a street sign for Bourbon Street.
The prices are incredibly low, and the servings are impossibly large, making the restaurant an instant hit for families. The menu includes crawfish etouffee, Creole chicken, tacos and fajitas, all made fresh there daily. The most expensive items on the menu are $13.97; most items are less than $8.
The service is friendly, the chips are a bit too salty, the salsa packs a kick and the seasonings seem a little unorthodox. An order of Cadillac fajitas, prepared with beef tenderloin, lacked the tangy taste that comes from marinating and the sweet char from grilling. All the flavor seemed concentrated in the Emeril's Essence-style seasonings that permeated the accompanying onions.
Still, the beef was fork tender and the serving was generous enough to feed a family of four. And the supersize soft drinks weren't just refilled; they were replaced free.
Next door, the Redrock Canyon Grill looks more like a refined hacienda. A covered portico leads to the massive front door and a nearby covered fire pit that opens onto an expansive patio.
Inside, rows of deep, upholstered booths flank both sides of a large U-shaped bar. The dining area is two levels, and the booths are widely spaced, providing a sense of privacy to diners. Alcoves on either side provide more seating.
Dark stained wood defines the seating areas and the large, open kitchen, situated directly behind the bar. Two televisions are discreetly placed over the bar so they don't interfere with nearby diners. The noise level is loud, but it is still possible to hear normal conversation.
This is the third Redrock Canyon Grill. Others are in Oklahoma City and Wichita. Two more are slated to open later this year, in Gaithersburg's Washingtonian Center and in downtown Silver Spring.
The menu is western-influenced, with starters such as tortilla soup and stuffed poblano chile, but the main courses include steak, crab cakes, tuna, salmon and meatloaf. Although the restaurant had been open just a week when we visited, the servers were attentive and well-informed. One explained that the restaurant's sole freezer contained only beer glasses.
In addition to the 20 items on the menu, there are specials, including a daily fresh fish.
The queso and chorizo appetizer was creamy smooth, with just a hint of fire, and served with a mound of hot-from-the-fryer light and crisp tortilla chips. The poblano chile appetizer was a sophisticated version of chile rellenos, a large poblano filled with black beans, pulled chicken and savory cheese, deep-fried and served with tart green salsa. Either appetizer would have been sufficient for a main course.
The rib-eye steak, topped with sauteed mushrooms, was tender and juicy, with a deep meaty flavor, even though cooked to medium well. The main courses are served with buttery mashed potatoes and a medley of sauteed carrots, peppers and snow peas. A tuna steak was cooked perfectly to barely seared, though it contained a bit of nasty connective tissue that made a portion of it hard to eat. But the slice of tuna, topped with black and white sesame seeds, was still ample for two portions.
Corn bread, cooked in an iron skillet, is a specialty and was homemade good -- with a crisp bottom crust and creamy interior.
For dessert, we chose the ultimate indulgence: a huge brownie sundae. Ice cream was sandwiched between cinnamon-flavored brownies, set in a pool of rich caramel sauce, topped with walnut fudge, then heaped with thick whipped cream and chocolate sauce. We barely made a dent in it.
Catbo, 5825 Trinity Pkwy., just off Route 29, Centreville, 703-266-4400. Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-midnight Friday and Saturday. Reservations accepted only for groups of 10 or more. Appetizers, $3.95-$7.73; main courses, $5.75-$13.97. Accessible to people with disabilities.
Redrock Canyon Grill, 5815 Trinity Pkwy., Centreville, 703-266-4400, www.rrcanyongrill.com. Hours: 4-11 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 4 p.m.-midnight Friday and Saturday. No reservations accepted. Appetizers, $7.99-$8.99; main courses, $9.99-$25.99. Accessible to people with disabilities.
Do you have a favorite place for barbecue, ribs, brisket or sandwiches? Please contact Nancy Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org.