May 2, 2017

Mexican - Time Machine Tex-Mex (Mexican Food, Circa 1960's Era)

This year, I chanced to check out the new Casa Vieja Mexican restaurant on Fulton in the location that housed the original Doneraki's for many years.

Anyone who has seen the movie, Ratatouille, knows the famous scene where the dish of ratatouille transports for restaurant critic back to his childhood.

Tex-Mex can have the same effect on me. Truthfully, there are a lot of things to not like about the mess that we call the combination dinner. Too much salt. Too much grease. No vegetables to speak of. Artery clogging cheese and meat. And I have joked that if an alien was dropped into Texas and served up a big old mess of Tex-Mex, he might remark, "What the heck is this on my plate?"

But for those of us who grew up here, Tex-Mex seems very right and we love it. As a kid, my family ate at an El Patio on Telephone at Park Place at least twice a week.

In the eighties, new menu items started appearing and certainly there are now many restaurants that offer fare more typical of the food of northern Mexico and other regions.  For example, the menu at the charming Morales on 76th Street could as easily be the menu of a small comedor (eatery) in Monterrey, Mexico.

With my recent very positive experience with what I fondly call Retro Tex-Mex at Casa Vieja, I thought that I would put together a list of 12 places that, if one could time travel back to 1960's Houston, these would be the combination plates that one might be served.

Now, I know that my suggestions are going to generate a lot of "why did you choose that place and not this place" comments in the comments section. Well, this is not an exclusive list. It's a starting point for your explorations around town. Some you will probably recognize. Others may be off your radar and new to you. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments section.

And so, here begins my list, a list of restaurants where that combo plate will have frijoles refritos, arroz a la Mexican, a flour/oil/chili powder "chili" gravy to cover the enchiladas and tamales. The tortillas for the enchiladas will have been dipped in hot out to soften and then stacked until ready to use. The rice will be slightly red from tomatoes, seasoned with cumin and hopefully, light and fluffy. The beans may be watery or slightly thick and probably made with pinto beans. If you are lucky, the crispy taco shell will be puffy and inflated like a balloon (Los Tios and Fiesta Loma Linda are the only places that I know of that still do these).

Here is a link to the update to this article, published at Houston Food Finders:


Houston Food Finder - Houston Retro Tex-Mex Link


El Real Tex-Mex #7
1201 Westheimer Road
www.elrealtexmex.com

Many of the recipes at El Real came from Robb Walsh's (The Tex-Mex Cookbook) lifelong love affair with the history of and recipes of classic Tex-Mex. The flour and corn tortillas here are excellent. Be sure to go upstairs and check out the Jay Francis Collection of Tex-Mex memorabilia.





















Don Key Mexican Restaurant
5010 Spencer Highway, Pasadena
Established in 1984. I came across this time warp treasure via their billboard on Old Galveston Road that I noticed one day when driving back into Houston.






















































Los Tios (Beechnut)
4840 Beechnut Street
www.lostiosrestaurant.com

Los Tios is a Houston institution and one of only two places that still make the puffy and crispy taco that was once very typical of Houston Tex-Mex. This location on Beechnut is a favorite.





















Don Teo's
2026 W. 34th Street
http://www.donteos.com

The story of Don Teo's is pretty interesting. This location was one of the original Monterey Houses in Houston, this one franchised to Don Covington. Now in his 80's, he still comes by for Tex-Mex every week. The Martinez family that own it now, Don Teo and his son, Teo Jr., worked for decades for the Monterey House chain. Junior began as a kid and worked his way through the various stations of a restaurant. He is an absolute delight to chat with and we recommend to be sure to say "Hi" when you visit.





El Paraiso (on Fairview in Montrose)
2320 Crocker Street

El Paraiso, too, prepares class Tex-Mex, and also offers house made moles and a few northern Mexico regional dishes.





















Don Carlos (on 76th Street)
416 76th Street
www.doncarlosrestaurants.com

On the east side of town, what is becoming known as Eado, though, we prefer the name Canaviburg,
Don Carlos has a long history of serving Tex-Mex.
























Mi Sombrero
3401 N. Shepherd at 34th Street
www.misombrero.com

Mi Sombrero offers classic Tex-Mex dishes and like Don Teo, serves the Garden Oaks and Shepherd/Ella area of Houston.


























Fiesta Loma Linda
2111 Telephone Road
http://www.fiestalomalinda.com

Our favorite because of the classic, Houston style puffy tacos that they continue to make and make well. Originally a classic diner, the owners friendship with the owners of the now long gone Loma Linda Restaurant by Palms Center, follow the original Loma Linda recipes. And they still make the classic praline on premises. You will get one when your check comes. 





























Lopez Mexican Restaurant
11606 Wilcrest Drive
www.vivalopez.com

Another historically significant, classic Tex-Mex institution. This one serves the Stafford, Hwy 59 at Wilcrest Houston area.





















Monterey House (Beaumont, Texas)
1109 S 11th Street, Beaumont, Texas
www.monteryhousebmt.com

The holy grail. The mecca for lovers of classic, retro Tex-Mex. The franchisee bought the rights to the recipes of the original Monterey House chain in the 60's and continues to duplicate the original recipes. A must stop for anyone travelling east on Highway 10 through Beaumont. For more details, please see this link:
Monterey House - Beaumont






















Larry's (Richmond, Texas)
116 E Highway 90A, Richmond

Larry Guerrero worked for Felix Tijerina back in the day, and, when he expressed interest in creating his own Mexican restaurant, Mr. Tijerina provided assistance. Ninfa Laurenzo also offered help in exchange for his buying his masa products from their family tortilleria off of Navigation.
Be sure to pick up a Larry's t-shirt when you visit. It is one of the coolest looking t-shirts in Texas.






















La Hacienda (Memorial)
14759 Memorial Drive
www.lahaciendamemorial.com

If you grew up in the Memorial area, your family probably went to "La-Ha" at least once a week. It is a Tex-Mex institution for Memorialites.








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