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When Chili’s first came out in Dallas, it was a wonderful thing. All of the food was fresh and they had a simple menu with a few salads and appetizers. The entrees were great and a so were the few deserts they offered.  They specialized in a few good dishes and did it well. It wasn’t complicated.

One of the best meals on the menu was chili. Chili’s opened in Dallas in 1975, and soon after was a local hit. It was a simple, well-done concept. Last year, we tried going back to Chili’s and our experience was mediocre at best. There is a do-it yourself mentality with this new device at the table, maybe I should have cooked my own meal. I probably would have liked it better.

We were seated in a booth, which was our request. The atmosphere was good. The music was a bit loud, but tolerable.  As we sat down, a server came to greet us.  She got our drink order. She was very friendly and fast. It was after 8pm – a little late for the dinner rush.

As we got our drinks, we also ordered the new spinach-queso dip appetizer. It was good, I could have used a bit more spinach mixed in with the cheese, topped with roasted diced tomatoes plopped in the middle with a small scoop of guacamole. It came with Chili’s endless bowl of chips-n-hot sauce.

I always liked Chili’s hot sauce, and tonight was no different. It was a very good sauce. I like it a little more like Pico-de-Gallo – less blended – but it was more like a sauce, than a salsa and it was tasty.

Things were going great, we got our order and then I realized something around us started to occur.  The server began vigorously cleaning her tables and swiping the hokey sweeper. Then I picked up the salt to douse my chips, and nothing came out. I unscrewed the top, (which I never recommend) and underneath was a large clump of salt and rice that had no chance of making it through the tiny little holes. No big deal, I grabbed one from another table, and told her when she came back.

Then here came our entrée, we ordered the triple on the fajita with shrimp, chicken, and steak.  I was okay with the fact that the food came soon, I was ready and didn’t want to fill up on chips. I looked down at my watch when the entrée came and it was about 15 ten to fifteen minutes after we had arrived. Then I looked at the chicken. If you ever get served fajita, of any kind, and there are no burn marks from a grill, it means either the grill was getting ready to shut down and they pan-fried it, or it was boiled. The chicken was mostly cooked through but it was completely white and very watery, most likely boiled. The shrimp again had no burn marks on it from the grill, and the steak looked a bit grey. So back it went.

As we sat an waited for the food to come back I looked at the fajita condiments and noticed a little tree of ramekins with dead jalapeno from a can, some grated cheese, Pico-de-Gallo, sour cream sauce with cilantro and a tiny scoop of guacamole.  We also got a bowl of black beans and a small serving of white rice with cilantro seasoning.  This was okay because I didn’t use any of it when the food came back.

Upon its return, the same food came back to us with grill marks. Also I noticed there were so many onions on the fajita pan that it couldn’t get to the meat. When we got the dish back, the shrimp and the chicken were cooked, bit still had no flavor from the grill. The steak still was so grey, it was practically green and had no flavor.  I chose to make a chicken spinach-queso fajita, and it was great.

Strike two for me on Chili’s again. I hope someone at Chili’s can remember how to marinate steak and chicken.   It would have been still been an okay experience if the fajitas came out right the first time. That sour cream sauce and the spinach-queso dip has enough flavor to make a fajita taste pretty good.  But, since it was nearing time to close, and I could sense it wasn’t going to get any better. We didn’t order desert, and we didn’t ask for a box to take the rest home. Maybe next time!