October 1, 2023

Comalito HTX in the Airline Farmer's Market Complex

I came away thinking, “I don’t want to eat Mexican food anywhere else from now on in Houston.”  I would normally wait several months before trying out or commenting on a restaurant that had just opened. To allow them time for new restaurant growing pains.

But everything about today’s meal was very good. Perfectly CDMX to be specific. Because of family, I have been traveling in Mexico for over 50 years. Our family friends live in Mexico City, a.k.a..CDMX. And you can imagine just how many meals I have enjoyed in that wonderful city. 

My tacos were bistec. This is a good taco to gauge a place by. Because in Mexico where there is such intense competition between the different Taquerias and price cutting is common you can go the full range of very tough and gristle-y ones to very tender ones. My taco today was as tender and perfect as it gets. And the sauces that came with it were excellent. in addition, I ordered some thing that is typical of CDMX But not as common up here. And that is the.”costra”, or, chicharrón de queso. A thin slice of cheese is grilled and then rolled into a crunchy deliciousness. And theirs was about as good as it gets. 

The mushroom soup was excellent. In style of the La Marquesa area on the way to Toluca. Mushrooms, stock, onion, garlic, and strips of guajillo chiles. Perfect.

I’d skip the tortilla soup as it was more like a thick chile puree gravy than a soup. Not recommended. 

But definitely try the flan. I saw, but did not sample, their churros, which looked perfectly made.

Tortillas.  They use several special types of corn to nixtamalize. It's one of the things that they feature. The tortillas are good, but dry. They could be softer and more flexible. But the tortillera making them does have the technique down to make them puff up. You typically need two-three different heat zones so you can move the tortillas from a lower temperature area to a higher temperature area. I've had tortillas in Oaxaca and Puebla that were so soft and pliable that you'd swear they were flour tortillas. But here at Comalito, that is not the case. These are harder and drier tortillas, still within the tortilla spectrum but not to my liking.The sign that a tortillera knows her stuff is when you watch the tortilla release its interior steam and puff up. You have to properly sear it, flip several times, do some heat transfers, and then know precisely when to give it a press to cause it to inflate. .

El Bolillo Bakery on Airline across from the Airline Farmer's Market

El Bolillo on Airline. 

Back in the day, about a decade or more ago, there were a bunch of panaderias in the Heights. Two on North Main, two on Yale, etc. But there was something disappointing about all of them. Like the owners and staff didn't care. Messy cabinets, paint peeling on the walls, a kind of here we are, we're a Mexican bakery so this is how we are kind of attitude. Kirk Michaelis, Galveston born, had a doughnut shop and his staff of bakers told him that if he would put together a panaderia they would come and make all the traditional breads of Mexico. He established the first El Bolillo (which is actually a pun, since a "bolillo" in addition to being a dinner roll is also slang for a "white guy") and went out of his way to make it very nice and hospitable. 

Soon, people were shopping at only his place and the other panaderias went out of business. Was this cultural appropriation by a white guy? I say no. He just made a cleaner,better, more friendly venue for patrons and they supported him. With the success of the first location (where El Rey meat market is now...as an aside, this is where I buy my chorizo as it is made in house from a family recipe of one of the butchers) he built his new location across the street and went out of his way to make it pretty, with murals on the wall, lots of space, and a large assortment of the breads of Mexico. I got to have some input. 

On one of the walls, the artist whom he had hired was painting a woman at her metate. But in her hands was a rolling pin. I showed the artist what a metlapil should look like and she repainted over the rolling pin!

Kirk survived a cancer lymphoma.

Kirk knows how to juggle.

He has three daughters that went to Nashville to start a music career as a trio. Under the name Michaelis.

For me, like for so many others, El Bolillo is my Heightw default when I want breads and I'm not baking my own.

Although they sell flour tortillas, my preferred source for flour tortillas by the dozen is actually Spanish Flowers, where Airline dead ends into North Main. Less greasy. And I also love the flour tortillas at Trigo's, but that isn't in the Heights and is a story for another time.

Many years ago, when he was just building the new place, Kirk and I did a walk through his production area. I did a video of one of his bakers forming bolillos and to this day, it is the YouTube video that I've had the most hits on. Go figure.

Granel Spice Market - Airline Drive

Granel, I am told means "bulk" in Spanish. This latest, wonderful venture from the Flores Spices family is located directly across from El Bolillo Bakery on Airline Drive. It is impressive and is my default, go-to location for all of my spice needs. Especially cinnamon. The cinnamon we know of as Mexican cinnamon is actually from Sri Lanka. It is a milder cinnamon that is much loved in Mexico for flavoring pastries, coffee, chocolate, etc. Here follow photos of the Granel Spice Market.