A favorite featured at many Mexican restaurants across Fayetteville is the Steven's Special, a dish piled high with tender strips of seasoned chicken on a bed of Mexican rice, covered in creamy queso and served with a stack of tortillas.
I compared variations of the dish at La Huerta, Mexico Viejo, Mojitos, Sabor Guacamole and San Miguel’s, putting my wallet and lactose intolerance to the test.
In last place is Mojito’s on East Joyce Boulevard. The thicker cut of chicken stood out against its competitors but was countered by an overall blandess. The appearance was okay, but the taste gave me flashbacks of Mexican rice from my high school cafeteria. The total came out to $8.93, so it was one of the cheaper stops on my list.
In fourth place is La Huerta on North College. Their take on the Steven's Special was nothing show-stopping, but also not terrible. The creamy queso, which had chunks of jalapeno, was the star of this otherwise bland plate.
The chicken was cut into chewy, thin strips that were missing the necessary elements of spice. The dish was served with soft flour tortillas. After tax the special alone was $11.16, one of the more expensive Steven's encountered.
In third place is San Miguel’s on North Front Street. The store’s neon sign always draws my attention like a moth to light, and with decent prices and good food, it did not disappoint. At $8.93 a plate, it was one of the cheaper standouts.
The chicken came in small, nicely-cooked cubes instead of the thin strips I was getting used to. It was a nice change and worked well with the consistency of the queso. The rice did not pack quite the punch that others did, but the chicken and queso worked together well enough to distract from this. It was not served with tortillas, but since the chicken was easier to eat, I did not miss them.
A favorite for many college students, Mexico Viejo on Martin Luther King Boulevard was one of the first places I visited as a new-to-town freshman who was kicked out of her room so a boy could come over.
For $11.16 with tax, patrons get a delicious plate of thin chicken strips mixed into a light Mexican-style rice covered with warm queso. The red and green peppers in the queso and rice really made the plate stand out to me, and definitely made it more appetizing than some of its competitors. The chicken and queso were both well seasoned, and you could pick up on the hints of jalapeno and chili powder, not just chicken and cheese. The tortillas were definitely part of what knocked the dish from first place. They had a weird aftertaste that I could not shake.
The Steven’s Special at Sabor Guacamole, located on North Lindell Avenue, took first place for me. The chicken was cut into soft slices that balanced the cumin, chili powder and other seasonings perfectly. The queso, spiced up by diced jalapenos, was well-incorporated into the fluffy rice. The only really downside to the dish was the tortillas were a little dry.
For a nice middle-of-the-road price of $9.82 after tax and that delicious chicken, you cannot beat it.
There are nearly as many versions of the Steven's Special in Fayetteville as there are Texans at the UofA. They may not all be created equally, but each brings something unique to the table and leaves me feeling better than I did before I got there, leaving only one question – who is Steven and how did this become his special?