December 1, 2018

El Real Tex-Mex - Vintage Tex-Mex in Houston - And One of My All Time Favorites

(Now Closed as of 2020)

Way back in 1999, I came up with an idea for a Christmas gift for all of my friends. I planned to go out for lunch each day to a different ethnic or interesting restaurant and create a Word doc with my reviews of each. I titled it, "Economical Ethnic Dining in Houston".  By the end of the year I had put together enough reviews (and I used our office copy machine after hours to put together printed copies, held with an alligator clip).

I met Robb Walsh the following year when he moved to Houston from Austin to become the Houston Press food critic. The same week that I sent him an email to introduce myself and to offer to show him around town, specifically, some of the ethnic grocery stores and food areas, he received a copy of my dining guide from several different people. That's how I learned that it had been floating around on the 'net and was being shared by others. He was intrigued. Gave me a call and we set up to meet at San Dong Noodles.

And so we planned a meet-up for lunch at the old location of San Dong Noodles in the Diho Square on Bellaire Boulevard; which, unfortunately, was closed (vacation). But we then went to check out another place I knew of and he wrote an article on our meet-up.

In one of our conversations in the following week, I remember saying to him, " I want to take you to this little Mexican restaurant...but it's just your typical greasy Tex-Mex."

I remember the look on his face and I realized that he was taking exception to my calling it "greasy". He explained how he was tired of people trashing Tex-Mex which, if you think about it, is the Mexican food that the whole world loves. I became a believer and never again referred to it as "greasy Tex-Mex".

He had in his mind to do a book, "The Tex-Mex Cookbook", and he asked if I would help with recipe testing and research. I said "yes" and it was a great year and a half of trying recipes, visiting restaurants around Texas, reverse engineering meals that we had, etc. etc. etc. When I had some free time at work, I would take a look on Ebay for old restaurant menus or other Tex-Mex memorabilia to purchase. A great year.

El Real Tex-Mex comes out of that book and Robb's continued passion for things Tex-Mex. Though some folks think it had a glitchy start (I don't), I can truthfully say that they ironed out any glitches years ago that there might have been and, in this year of 2017, the food is spectacular.

They took photos of the memorabilia I had found on Ebay and incorporated it into the table tops. They bought the vintage wooden chairs from Felix Mexican Restaurant and repaired them. Billy Gibbons donated a guitar and poster to the restaurant. Chingo Bling suggested they label the bathrooms "Tejanos and Tejanitas".

On my most recent visit, I was delighted that both the flour AND corn tortillas were so perfectly executed. Because I was with friends, I was able to sample more dishes as, on my own, I default to the Frito Pie unless I am really hungry in which case it will be the Chingo Bling, named after local hip hop artist Pedro Herrera - photo follows. This is a marvelous combo plate of a smoked chicken chile relleno, chicken enchilada with salsa verde, pork tamal, rice and beans. It kills!

I recommended to Will, though, that he sample the 3 Amigos enchilada plate sampler. He loved it. My buddy Sydnie had the chicken chile relleno with its crispy, crackery crust. Queso flameado started the meals. There wasn't one dud or mis-step at all. Great food. Vintage Tex-Mex recipes like you might have enjoyed growing up. Great waitstaff. And those fabulous corn and flour tortillas.

This is one of the five places I will always take out of town visitors to, in order to introduce them to the way we do Tex-Mex here in Houston.

Chingo Bling and I at Karancho's for a Houston Chowhounds taco crawl a few years ago:

Be sure to pop up to the 2nd floor to check out my collection of Tex-Mex Memorabilia and also the Billy Gibbons guitar.

This is Chingo Bling's fun song about tacos. Over 6,000,000 views!   :

Chingo Bling Taco Truck Song

More El Real Photos!   :

My favorite to order for a "light" lunch...The Frito Pie:

I got to be there when El Real first opened back in the day (2011). Here are some additional photos from its first weeks of operation. There's Bryan Caswell, Robb Walsh, Dragana Teague, Eric Sandler and other friends in the photos. The chairs came from Felix Mexican Restaurant. That is Bryan's famous baseball cap hanging in the kitchen. And my collection of Tex-Mex memorabilia from that opening week.

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