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Tex-Mex Triumph

With a menu that is constantly changing, Mexicali Border Café is reasonably priced, friendly, fresh and authentic. And those margaritas have kept people coming back for over 30 years.

Donna Leahey
Sarah Eliza Roberts
May 28, 2018

Hanging from the high ceiling of Mexicali Border Café is a large Corona sign that traveled from the back of the Corona beer plant in the bed of a pickup truck. It’s just one of the details that helps you believe you’re walking into a cantina on the border for some good food and good times.

The big, blocky, brick building in the Tulsa Arts District was a warehouse when it was built in 1900. Now it’s an open, airy space with big windows to let in plenty of natural light. With bright Southwest colors on the walls and the scents of Mexican flavors filling the air, you feel like it’s your time for a fiesta.

Since 1986, Mexicali Border Café has been a Tulsa tradition for great Mexican food. Helmed by owner Marshall Kottler and general manager Albert Cronheim, Mexicali is dedicated to quality food and excellent service. Kottler and Cronheim have worked together to provide Tulsa with great Mexican flavors since Cronheim joined 29 years ago.

Part of Mexicali’s success is their dedication to their staff. Mexicali’s kitchen manager has worked with them for 21 years. The average member of the kitchen staff has been there for 10 years, and some of the wait staff has been there 25 years.

Shrimp Tacos with Avocado Cream (Photo: Sarah Eliza Roberts)
Shrimp Tacos with Avocado Cream (Photo: Sarah Eliza Roberts)

“We work as hard to be committed to our employees as we are to our customers,” says Kottler. “This is a good place to work. We’re very committed to that. We want people to love their jobs here. We put thought into it.”

Cronheim is the creative force behind the food. “I’m the one who comes up with the food,” he says. “We’re very responsive to customer feedback. Millennials want more authentic food, so we’re adding more traditional recipes. At the same time, this is obviously a big restaurant. We couldn’t fill it without Tex-Mex on the menu, too.”

The menu is constantly changing and evolving to keep up with the times. “Our menu looks nothing like it did 10 years ago,” says Kottler. “We work aggressively to stay current with up-to-date specials and new drinks.”

Part of that menu evolution is Mexicali’s weekly specials. Cronheim tests out new dishes to see how people respond. “Most of our new menu items are tried out on our weekly specials,” says Kottler. The most successful ones make it onto the ever-improving menu.

Mexicali's drinks offer a perfect way to cool off and relax on a hot summer day. (Photo: Sarah Eliza Roberts)
Mexicali's drinks offer a perfect way to cool off and relax on a hot summer day. (Photo: Sarah Eliza Roberts)

Everything is made from scratch, from the best ingredients they can find. “We get fresh ground beef from Tulsa Beef,” says Cronheim. “We use ground chuck for better flavor. We use all our own spices, not spice packs. So much work goes into making this food great. We have 45 sauté pans. We sauté every order of fajitas fresh. Most of our specialty plates require sautéing.”

To make their food authentic, Cronheim says that a lot of their recipes come from people he knows in Mexico.

Mexicali is famous for its fajitas. Sizzling fresh cooked beef, chicken, or shrimp with onions and peppers is brought to your table, fragrant and hot. It’s served with rice, your choice of beans, sour cream, pico, flour tortillas, and guacamole on request. The meat is seasoned just right, while the onions and peppers cooking right before your eyes add an additional sweet and savory flavor. The sides add texture, taste, and all-around scrumptiousness.

One of the newer menu items is the Mexico City Tacos, cooked on a flat top grill. They’re like traditional street tacos and are very popular.

Kottler loves the Shrimp Acapulco, and you will too. It’s a generous plate with jumbo shrimp wrapped in bacon, stuffed with Jack cheese and jalapeno. It’s a flavorful meal of rich texture and taste, with a spicy profile that bites back.

The Ultimate Enchiladas are another of Kottler’s favorites. “We take the basics a bit further,” he says. These enchiladas are stuffed with fajita meat, one with fajita beef and one with fajita chicken, along with a savory blend of portobello mushrooms and sautéed pico de gallo. The enchiladas are covered with white queso, mixed cheese, cilantro and ranchera sauce. It’s a treat.

Some of the Tex-Mex specialties include the crispy chimichangas which you can get stuffed with shredded beef, seasoned ground beef, or shredded chicken. The Enchiladas Cozumel are another delicious option, filled with shrimp, portabella mushrooms, Jack cheese, pico, and sautéed spinach. The roasted red bell pepper sauce sets it off perfectly.

Be sure to check out Mexicali’s three options for fish tacos, their new appetizer of avocado fries with fresh chipotle cream sauce or Mexicali’s queso. “Some of the best queso around,” says Cronheim. “We make it with cheese, milk, and half-and-half. You can have the white or the yellow queso. Our regulars love the yellow.”

Treat yourself to a margarita while you’re there. “We blend our own,” says Cronheim. “We use the best ingredients and all our margaritas have 3 ounces of liquor.” It’s a perfect way to cool off and relax on a hot summer day.

If you want to bring Mexicali’s dedication to service along to your next event, consider them for catering. “We cater every day,” says Kottler. “We can do anything from drop off to full service. Our most popular is the fajita fiesta. We can do it all the way — in homes, businesses, weddings, the whole thing. We can do banquets in house; it all depends on the number of people.”

With a dedication to quality, service, staff, and guests, Kottler and Cronheim are keeping Mexicali Border Café current and delicious every day.

Mexicali Border Café
14 W. M.B. Brady St. | Tulsa
Sunday-Monday: 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Tuesday-Thursday: 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m.
Friday-Saturday: 11 a.m.-10 p.m.