February 26, 2022

Bao Shih Yi - A Michael Shum Discovery

 Do you have a favorite place that you absolutely love regardless of people's reviews and ratings? To me, Bao Shi Yi 包十一 is such a precious place that I love even more each time I visit. Bao means Bun, and Shi Yi, Eleven, can you guess the story behind the name?

On Saturday mornings, after dropping off father-in-law for his acupuncture session, we like to take a break and have some Chinese breakfast at Bao Shi Yi. The place is always lively with Chinese patrons on weekend mornings. The place is small but bright and charming. 

I always order their Organic Soy Milk 有机豆浆 because it's the best in town to me, a welcoming beverage to start the meal off properly. They offer Tofu Pudding 豆花 in three options, Salty, Sweet, and Mala Spicy 咸、甜、麻辣. The Sweet Tofu Flower is so silky and delicate that it almost slides off my tongue. It's so enjoyable and fun to have the almost weightless pudding swirls in my mouth before it smoothly glides down. The sweetness level is at the sweet spot for Asian sensibility.

Another perennial favorite of ours is Porridge with Preserved Egg and Lean Meat 皮蛋瘦肉粥, which is a recommended house specialty. It's the ultimate comfort food, with complex flavored Preserved Egg and savory Lean Pork slices, in a container of hot porridge that makes our tummies warm and happy.

The most satisfactory thing to order to accompany the two items mentioned above is Chinese Donut - 鸡蛋油条. The Chinese label implies that Eggs are incorporated into their dough, which explains why it smells and tastes so much better. YouTiao literally translates as Oily Sticks, it's crunchy on the outside and chewy inside, and makes my mouth greasy biting into it, but the oil they used to fry it is clean tasting, so befitting its name and executed perfectly by the restaurant. Their YouTiao is my top favorite in town, no other places wow me as much.

I would never expect to find the best Cantonese style Juicy Cha Siu Buns 爆汁叉烧包 here at a mostly Mainland style Chinese restaurant, but they beat other Dim Sum places in town for me. The skin has the right density and fluffiness when served hot, filled with juicy Cha Siu bites inside. When I take a bite into this childhood favorite Bun of mine, I can taste sweet and savory, delivered in a white spongy bun that's like heaven in my mouth.

Their style of food is not for everyone, but to me, it doesn't matter at all, I love Bao Shi Yi. It's comforting, tasting, and homely to me. Their food gives me a sense of familiarity and solace that is unbeatable. I'm already looking forward to my next visit. Has anyone figured out the answer to the meaning of their name yet? I'm also open to suggestions as to where I can find similar breakfast places. Please share if you have a favorite. — at Bao Shi Yi  Bun House 包十一.

Special Note: There are two locations. My friends and I believe that the Bellaire Blvd. location is superior to the Kirby location. - Jay

Que Huong Bistro - A Michael Shum Discovery

Michael writes:

“ When I first moved to Houston about 30 years ago, the shopping strip at Wilcrest and Beechnut hosted two Vietnamese cuisine pioneers of the city, Kim Son and Que Huong. I become a regular at Que Huong since they opened in 1995. As a poor student because their Com Tam Combo Platter could easily provide a full and satisfying meal for just a few dollars. At one time, my wife’s family went there almost weekly for a gathering, sitting at the big round table on a raised platform at the back of the restaurant that might have doubled as a performance stage. Our visit becomes less frequent when they relocated to Hong Kong City Mall, but we have never stopped going until they closed their business.

A few years ago, Que Huong rose from the ashes at a smaller spot and become today’s Que Huong Bistro. We like to go there for a fix of Com Tam and Banh Xeo. I saw a friend, Lex Nguyen, posted a mouth-watering spread from his family dinner recently, featuring one of my most favorite Vietnamese dishes of all time, which prompted us to visit this evening.

We ordered Goi Cuon for an appetizer. Although it's already premade and served cold, my adoration for the restaurant easily gets them a pass. The Hoisin Peanut sauce, which is a crucial dipping sauce for this popular Spring Roll reconciled this minor infraction.

The plat de resistance is my beloved Ca Kho To, or as I call it, Crack In A Pot. Pieces of bone-in Catfish steaks marinated in Fish Sauce, Garlic, and Shallots, first caramelized in the pot, then slowly braised in Coconut Water and its own marinade, resulting in a sticky sweet and savory sauce that makes me wolfed down bowls of Steamed White Rice like it's out of style. But wait, there's more... the Catfish Steaks are topped with tiny pieces of rendered Pork Fats,  they are like tiny umami flavor bombs that pleasure my mouth. 

Since it's a chilly evening, we got the Canh Chua with Shrimp instead. The Sweet and Sour Vietnamese Soup truly pairs perfectly with the Caramelized Braised Catfish. The soup contains an ample amount of veggies like Bean Sprouts, Okras, Pineapples, Tomatoes, Taro Stems, topped with a variety of aromatic chopped Herbs. 

With dishes like this, there's no chance that I don't overeat. Even with my stomach happily filled, there are enough left over for a lighter meal, all these for an exceptional value. The lady who served us was so nice that she made special accommodations to our order as we asked for less Chili for the Ca Kho To and less Sweetness for the Canh Cua.

The name Que Huong always has a special place in my heart. Before we left, I made sure to greet and thank the owner, the same kind-looking uncle, for serving excellent traditional Vietnamese comfort food for the past 27 years that I've been a satisfied customer.

February 25, 2022

Asia Night Market on Clarewood - A Michael Shum Discovery

Michael writes:  “ What do you get when you combine the culinary creativity of experienced Chefs and the passion for serving high-quality Ramen? I'm glad to report that you will get the reopening of Night Market, the newest project by Mike Tran, the low-profile restauranteur who has brought us, Mein, Ishin Udon, Ohn, Toukei, Blkdog Coffee. 

When I saw Mike Tran posted a picture of a new bowl of Ramen on Facebook, I get myself to his restaurant as soon as I could. Even being the busy frontman who runs all his different restaurants, Mike was gracious enough to introduce the new place to me. Knowing that I'm such a gourmand, he suggested something different that I don't usually try, the Curry Tonkotsu. 

I know very little about cooking, I just enjoy eating good food. When the hot bowl of Ramen was put in front of me, the aroma from the broth instantly filled the air. I took a bite of the noodle and I'm content immediately. The firmness and texture of the noodle are perfect, simple and basic criteria, but I'm surprised that many noodle places overlook or execute their noodle poorly.

The broth is rich with the Tonkotsu Pork Bone base, the magic is the right amount of different spices that use to create the complete flavor profiles. The rich spicy broth definitely has a kick to it, but it's also well-balanced, nothing too overwhelming or out of place. I enjoy the whole bowl to the last bite because of the ideal al-dente firmness of the noodle and the richness of the broth. My body stays comfortably warm and invigorated by the heat elements of this Curry Tonkotsu, especially in today's chilly weather.

Thank you, Mike, for sending out a Gyoza appetizer, that's very generous of him. It's a delightful tasty appetizer that goes so well with the Ramen. I'm excited to learn that the menu will continue to expand slowly, for example, the Korean ChamPong should be introduced very shortly. It's wonderful to have eaten today's special Curry Tonkotsu Ramen, I'm looking forward to trying the traditional Shoyu Ramen, which is my usual favorite. There is another new option available for those who frequent the variety of offerings by the Mike Tran culinary group.

February 21, 2022

Cajun Vietnamese Connection in Houston

Many many years ago, Houston Press restaurant critic, Robb Walsh, had one of those aha moments when he observed how the Vietnamese community had embraced crawfish and how a new way of seasoning it was evolving in Houston. Product of a couple of historical accidents, it became the de facto way to have crawfish in the Vietnamese community here. Starting around 2001.

The traditional crawfish season begins around the time of Lent. Historically, it was a short season but now, crawfish farming can go from January through August. I remember talking once with Chef Trong Nguyen who told me that his place could get crawfish from the west coast at times when it wasn't available in Lousiana...but that was many years ago that I talked with him.

It began with one place, Crawfish and Beignets. The family members had lived in Louisiana and worked in Louisiana style restaurants there. They brought their knowledge for cooking up batches of crawfish with them when they opened in Houston. But they also did something else.

Instead of doing the final pre seasoning, they laid out batches of different sauces and spices so that the customers could build their own specific seasoning recipe at the table, by adding the ingredients they liked to the bag filled with crawfish. The success of Crawfish and Beignets led to copycat restaurants and before long, this "build your own" became the way it was done in Houston.

Through my friendship with Robb, I ended up being on an episode of Bobby Flay's Food Nation, hosting a crawfish boil in my backyard and talking about crawfish and the Louisiana and Vietnam influences on the Houston food scene. I remember asking Bobby beforehand if he wanted to go over the  questions he was going to ask and he said we'd just wing it. So, when he threw out his questions on camera to me, I kind of had to freeform my answers and come up with something that sounded profound and valid! LOL.

"Well, Jay, the Louisiana influence here is really strong, how did that come about?"

(Me, thinking to myself, "Well, Bobby, you didn't want to do another Tex Mex in Houston show so you were looking for some different angle.")

(Me, out loud, "Well, Bobby, the entire Gulf Coast is Oil and Chemical refineries and so many Cajuns came over to work in the industry, and they brought their food recipes with them and Texans took to it really fast.")

And so, here begins a list of where one can find the authentic Cajun Vietnamese experience in Houston, especially during crawfish season (courtesy of recommendations from the Facebook group, Chow Down in Chinatown - Houston).

Angry Crab

Cajun Craven, 12141 Beamer Road

Cajun Crawfish No. 1, 13480 Veterans Memorial Drive

Cajun Fuze

Cajun Kitchen

Crawfish Cafe (garlic butter with Thai basil option is most popular), 11209 Bellaire Blvd.Cajun Kitchen, 6938 Wilcrest Drive (PBS - Mind of a Chef)

Crawfish and Beignet (if still open?)(Maria Tran and family may have started the craze)

Crawfish and Noodles, 11360 Bellaire Blvd. 

Crawfish Pot & Oyster Bar, 9820 Gulf Freeway

Cajun Stop, 2130 Jefferson Street

Drunken Oyster

FRSH Seafood Market

GiAu Bar 'n Bites

Jolynn's Crawfish, 10834 Beechnut Street

Kau Ba

LA Crawfish, many locations

Lotus Seafood

Mike's Seafood

Mo City Crawfish (Missouri City)

Nick's Crawfish Bar

Ocean Crawfish

Reel Seafood & Wings

Saigon House

Tasty Cajun

Wild Cajun, 6533 Wilcrest 

Yummy Seafood and Oyster Bar

88 Boiling Crawfish & Seafood, 1910 Wilcrest

Here is what Robb Walsh wrote about the phenomenon (Houstonia Magazine and Houston Press):

"Back in 2008, I was perplexed by a Los Angeles Times story that claimed the trend began with the Boiling Crab restaurant, which opened in Orange Country in 2004. My earliest memory of Vietnamese crawfish goes all the way back to 2002, when I wrote a story about the Hong Kong City Mall, where, to this day on Saturday afternoons during crawfish season, long tables in the middle of the food court are topped with mountains of crawfish and large groups of mostly Vietnamese diners sit around eating mudbugs, drinking beer, telling jokes, and whiling away the afternoon. 

Two stalls in the food court, one called Crawfish & Beignets, the other Lucky Number 9, sell boiled crawfish by the pound and have condiment stations where diners create elaborate dipping sauces. On my first visit, when I asked for beignets at Crawfish & Beignets, the lady behind the cash register, Louisiana transplant Maria Tran, told me she no longer sold beignets, gumbo, or anything else on the menu, because nobody ordered it. The only food for sale was crawfish by the pound with optional corn and potatoes. 

Those aren’t the only Vietnamese crawfish outlets that were already here in 2002, either. There’s also Cajun Corner in Alief, where the original owner, Quon Nguyen, sold crawfish fried rice and Vietnamese noodle soups along with the boiled crawfish. When Nguyen told me she’d worked in a restaurant in Louisiana before she moved to Houston, I thought she meant she worked in a Vietnamese crawfish restaurant there. Recently, however, I called up a few Louisiana food writers to ask them about it, and they all said they knew about the Vietnamese crawfish restaurants opening around the country but had never seen such a place in the Pelican State. 

“I have been waiting for a decade for the first Vietnamese crawfish restaurant to open in Louisiana,” said New Orleans food writer and historian Rien Fertel, “but it hasn’t happened—as far as I know.” Which means that the Vietnamese crawfish restaurant phenomenon started here in Houston, the city where food trends from all over the planet learn to adapt to American retail reality. When the Louisiana crawfish boil met the Chinatown strip-center restaurant, a new, easily cloned hybrid was born.Vietnamese crawfish is spicier and a lot more flavorful than the Cajun variety. The liquid is usually old-fashioned Cajun boil, with lemongrass stalks and other aromatics added in. But it’s the Vietnamese preoccupation with sauces and flavorings that really distinguishes it. Back in 2002, at Cajun Corner and at the food court of Hong Kong City Mall, I was fascinated to watch Vietnamese customers create their own dips. I’d eaten a lot of crawfish in Louisiana, but I’d never seen anyone dunking them in anything. At the Vietnamese joints, some customers used lime wedges, salt, and pepper mix to make the traditional Vietnamese dip called muoi tieu chanh. But the kids more often used squeeze bottles of ketchup and mayonnaise, Louisiana hot sauce, and ground cayenne to make a hellish sort of cocktail sauce. And that was only the beginning.Vietnamese crawfish continued to evolve. At Hank’s Cajun Crawfish on Bellaire, owner Tony Bu put the crawfish in clear plastic bags and tossed them with hot margarine flavored with lots of dehydrated garlic and additional spices of your choice, a preparation that may have started in California at the Boiling Crab back in 2004. A few years later, Trong Nguyen, owner of Houston’s Crawfish & Noodles, upped the ante by using expensive French butter and fresh garlic. Today, Cajun Kitchen in Bellaire Chinatown is taking the trend to another level by offering crawfish cooked in exotic Thai seasonings.

Houston has become a hotbed for new food trends because the city’s cheap retail space makes it easy for small operators to try something new—and because adventurous diners are eager to devour any sort of deliciousness from any corner of the globe. The wilder, the better. "

February 16, 2022

San Dong Noodle and Dumpling - A Houston Tradition


Many years ago, a friend to one of our parties brought frozen dumplings from San Dong Noodle, then located in the Diho Center. He showed us how to drop the dumplings into boiling water, and how they were ready when they floated to the top. He taught us how to make a dipping sauce with ginger, rice vinegar and soy sauce. A couple of weeks later I made my first trip to San Dong. At that time I sensed that the staff at the register were a little uncomfortable speaking English and I found that I could pop around and chat in Spanish with the kitchen staff in order to learn the differences in the dumplings and what could be ordered. I had many meals there and when Robb Walsh and I first met, it was the first place I thought of to take him to. All of these years later, it is still a favorite spot for dumplings, along with Northern Pasta, and several others that the extraordinary food explorer, Michael Shum has introduced me to. Today, he and I met up at San Dong, each of us going for the dumplings in a rich beef broth soup. I remarked at one point "This broth would be perfect for a French onion soup!". We talked about the Guillermo del Toro movie, philosophy, ethics, as is our style. Here's a photo of the dumpling soup from today. #17 on the menu. Around $9.00, and a real bargain.

Plan to buy several bags of frozen dumplings to keep in your freezer for emergency meals, snacks or parties.

San Dong will have bottles of rice vinegar and soy sauce so that you can make your own dipping sauce, so plan to also try some pan fried dumplings while you are there.

February 12, 2022

Rice to Meet You Cantonese Restaurant- A Michael Shum Discovery

 Michael writes:

“ The bustling crowd is chatting lively in my native tongue of Cantonese, the aroma of familiar food permeates the air, this place makes me feel like I've returned to one of my childhood places.

The Ginseng Chicken Soup 花旗参炖竹丝鸡汤 makes its grand entrance, it comes with the Special Combo Clay Pot Rice 双拼煲仔饭 that we ordered. The slight bitterness of the herbal root tickles my tongue, reminded me of homemade Soup that takes time and patience. The proper Dark-skinned Chicken is not spared to make this nutritious soup, believed by my culture to nourish the body, and in this case, warm my soul too.

The sizable bowl of Spicy Beef Brisket Noodle 牛腩汤面 comes out next. In my constant search for the ideal bowl of Beef Noodle Soup, I have missed digging into my own roots, shame on me. The waitress helped us pick the right broth, this one has just the right amount of spiciness. The noodles are so smooth and slurpable, I wonder what magic this is. Needless to say, the Beef Briskets are "forking tender", nice to bite on, yet fall apart easily, this is mainly due to the skill of an experienced Chef. The Bok Choy and Pickled Mustard Greens are like little jewel trinkets on this fantastic bowl of high-quality noodle soup at a super value. 

I dare to nominate their Popcorn Chicken 盐酥鸡 as the best version of this dish. Fried with clean oil and in precise crispiness and texture, these Chinese-style Karaage deliver to my mouth the taste of saltiness, pepperiness, sweetness, to summarize in one word, Umami. I challenge anyone to not order this again upon the next visit. 

The name of the restaurant is Rice to Meet You 煲来饱去, their plat de résistance is Clay Pot Rice 煲仔饭 with a wide range of selection.  It's not the type I had back in Asia, where actually Clay Pots with burnt bottoms, cooked in Charcoal burning stoves, and I would be a complete dick to expect that at a restaurant in a shopping strip within the city limit. With that disclaimer out of the way, let's get down to business. 

You must read and follow the instruction conveniently stationed at every table to fully enjoy the Clay Pot Rice. Once the sizzling pot is put down, the squeezable red bottle of special soy sauce should be ready to be deployed. Drench the hot steaming rice generously, and I do mean, generously, with this low sodium soy sauce, and quickly give it a mix. Stop now and sit back, let the scorching surface of the Clay Pot, the Rice that has been infused with flavors, and all the ingredients and proteins work their magic to please your mouth in a few minutes. If the God of Clay Pot favors you, you'll be blessed later for your patience, with the reward of crispy rice stuck to the pot called Fan Jiao 饭焦. Be polite and share those treasures with the table, don't kung fu each other for them.

The choice of protein is easy, at least for me, I must have the Cantonese Cured Pork Belly that also comes with Chinese Lap Cheong 腊肠, it's blasphemy to not have it in a traditional Bo Zai Fan. These Cured Meats diffuse all their aged flavors, juices, and fat into the White Rice, making every bite an enjoyable exploration of complex flavors. We pick Mushroom Chicken 香菇滑鸡 as the 2nd choice of this Combo Clay Pot Rice. The Chicken has a silky smooth texture and the earthiness of the Chinese Mushroom enhances the whole clay pot of rice. 

I don't really like to type this much, but the love of my Cantonese heritage compels me to share this joy I have today at lunch. Cantonese food is more subtle in flavors, we like to have ingredients as natural seasoning instead of heavy salt or spices. I appreciate this type of cooking because I feel I need to participate in detecting all the delightful nuances in the food instead of overwhelming seasoning that forces me to taste. For the time my wife and I spend enjoying this Cantonese-style lunch, I feel like I am back in my childhood home.

February 11, 2022

Taste of Caribbean- A John Nechman Discovery

John says: 

"My friend Phaedra Cook of Houston Food Finder posted a request recently for non-chain restaurants around IAH. Having grown up in the area and with a mom and brother who still live there, I had to strain to come up with a list of places. You really have to dig, but the Humble-Spring-Aldine area has some gems. "

" One I love just west of I-45 is Taste of the Caribbean (13331 Kuykendahl), a combo market/store owned by a sweet Trinidadian couple. One dish from Trinidad called doubles, which in its most transcendent form (i.e. made by moms in kitchens and sold by their kids from backpacks at markets around Trinidad) is one of my favorite of all snack foods. When I'm in this area (often, because the Houston Immigration office is nearby), this is where I go when I need a doubles fix. A doubles (never called a double) consists of 2 pieces of gorgeous eggy dough called bara, which is filled with channa (curried chickpeas) flavored with a fragrant herb called chado beni, all topped with kuchela (like a mango chutney), and some pepper (word to the capsicum-wary--I always ask for "slight peppa!"). Taste of the Caribbean makes one of the better doubles in Houston."

“ I was obsessing for doubles after listing this place in my reply to Phaedra's post, but to my dismay, the kind old gentleman running the kitchen didn't have any when I went by.  So I made due with a plate of his excellent oxtails with a Jamaican-style meat pie on the side. He told me to call him an hour early next time, and he'd make sure to have my doubles ready.

This tiny place used to serve a pretty decent buffet with plenty of Trini specials, including roti, aloo pie (samosas), beene balls (sesame seed mix), dasheen pork (a riff on a Chinese dish), pholourie (fried split pea dough balls), callaloo (greens), and much more. Because of Covid, they are only doing take out now. If you're up in the far north of Harris County or with time before a flight out of IAH, a plate from Taste of the Caribbean will be light years more delicious than anything you'll find at the Airport.”

- John Nechman (2022)

February 1, 2022

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

This year, I decided to start exploring Houston, in hopes of locating Tex-Mex restaurants that were keeping the recipes that I remember from my youth alive.

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 Spanish Village on Almeda (established 1953), I thought that I would put together a list of favorite 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 is the only place that I know of that still do these...but, I am talking with Spanish Village to see if they might be interested in figuring out the recipe with me; I'm pretty sure that it is critical to use yellow corn nixtamal as, when I tried to make them with white corn nixtamal, they absorbed too much oil and got soft after a few minutes).

Here is a link to this article, as originally written for and published in Phaedra Cook's Houston Food Finders:

Houston Food Finder - Houston Retro Tex-Mex Link

Las Hadas
2428 Center Street, Deer Park, Texas

I really liked, and recommend you order the biggest combination plate on the menu in order to sample a little bit of everything. Although the rice wasn't as light and fluffy as I would like it to be, I thought the frijoles refritos were really good. The beef (picadillo) in the taco tasted cleaner and less greasy than in a lot of places. And the combo plate has real chile con carne gravy instead of the typical chili gravy.

Spanish Village Restaurant
4720 Almeda Road

With new ownership, and a new ownership, with the classic recipes prepared well, and with the closing of Fiesta Loma Linda, Spanish Village is my default go-to Mexican restaurant in Houston. As of March 2022, they have changed the way they make sauces. Now made in small batches. The larger batch prep of the past, that often led to burned tasting chili gravy, burned taco shells, burned tortilla chips, has been fixed with the newest management. One can see, from the menu, that there is a more serious focus on fajitas in place of the traditional combination plates. Birria, shrimp tacos and caldo de camarón have been added to the menu.

La Plaza
1803 Bingle Road

Established in 1964 and serving classic Tex-Mex. A bowl of chile con queso arrives at your table with the menu. Go for the combination plate #1.

El Penjamo
6110 Lyons Avenue

My father's first store, a little 5 & 10 Variety Store, was on Lyons Avenue and my earliest memories are of this area in the 50's. On a recent visit, I discovered three Mexican restaurants along the street. El Penjamo has a menu featuring the dishes from Northern Mexico and the carne guisada plate looked really good. However, I was here for the Tex-Mex offering and ordered the #1 which was pretty amazing. Check out the color of the cheeses. Looks like they used one of those nacho cheeses for the queso and standard cheddar for the enchiladas. The meal begins with a small bean and fideo soup.

El Potosino
Galena Park, Texas) on Clinton Drive

The restaurant was established in 1970 and the recipes are the same as then so we are talking about a time machine, time warp of about 50 years. Classic old school Tex-Mex.

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

Los Tios is a Houston institution and currently the only place 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

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

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

Mi Sombrero offers classic Tex-Mex dishes and like Don Teo, serves the Garden Oaks and Shepherd/Ella area of Houston. For my taste, a little on the salty side. But hey, it's Tex-Mex.

Fiesta Loma Linda - (NOW CLOSED AS OF 2018)
2111 Telephone Road

(We are sad to advise that, after 62 years, Fiesta Loma Linda closed in May of 2018):
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. 

Lopez Mexican Restaurant
11606 Wilcrest Drive

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

OMG. 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

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.

Old Mexico (Northside)
3306 Hopper Road

This is about as old school as you can get. Red tortillas for the enchiladas, salsa and queso served with chips, classic rice and beans. Yep. You will want to get the enchilada plate here. Note: there isn't a sign outside so you may actually pass by Old Mexico the first time that you try to find it.

A Gastro Obscura Article from 2016 on the taco:

The Texan Who Invented Chili Powder Also Accidentally Created the American Taco


An American hard shell taco. (Photo: Luca Nebuloni/flickr)
For many Americans, a taco looks like this: a U-shaped deep-fried corn tortilla shell filled with seasoned ground beef, shredded iceberg lettuce, cheddar cheese, and maybe salsa or chopped tomatoes. It’s emoji-level recognizable, an ’80s and ’90s childhood staple. But the taco’s detractors have been taking aim in recent times. “A few years back, like watching a favorite childhood movie and noticing how terrible it really is, I finally realized that hard taco shells are a sham,” wrote Serious Eats food writer J. Kenji López-Alt in a 2011 post reminiscing about the less-than-stellar taco nights of his childhood. Anthony Bourdain has repeatedly lashed out at Taco Bell and Tex-Mex for sullying the true Mexican taco with dirty American ingredients. 
Like General Tso’s chicken or a meatball parm sandwich, it seems logical that the American taco has no real relationship to its original culture. A carnitas taco served on a paper plate in Mexico City—that’s authentic. A ground beef taco served by a Taco Bell in Indianapolis, well, that’s something else. Something worse.
But where did the American taco really come from? And what does it say about us?

First of all, it’s a mistake to believe that the iconic hard shell taco is something that clueless white people invented. “Both Americans and Mexicans would love to believe that the hard-shell taco was a travesty of an invention by clueless gabachos. But that’s simply not the case,” says Gustavo Arellano, perhaps America’s foremost scholar on the taco. Arellano is the writer behind the advice column “Ask A Mexican,” the author of Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America, and also the editor of the OC Weekly newspaper in his native Orange County, California.
“Mexicans have been eating what we now call tacos since time immemorial,” says Arellano. “The idea of stuffing something into a tortilla—we’ve been doing that since there were tortillas, so we’re talking thousands of years ago.” But Mexican cuisine is incredibly regional, being almost as varied in climate and geography as the U.S., from deserts in the north to the tropics in the south, the Sierra Madre mountain range in the west to central valleys. And Mexican cuisine is a product of varied influences the same way American cuisine is; the many different Indian populations; the Spanish conquest; waves of immigrants from North, South, and (especially recently) Central America; French, German, and Jewish immigrants from Europe during World War II; Lebanese and other Arab immigrants who brought meat-on-a-spit traditions.
All of these blended together and were filtered through the ingredients that people had at hand. There are old ways of doing things, and newer ways. But they’re all Mexican, and for Arellano, “good” and “bad” are largely unrelated to “old” and “new.” The term “authentic” is entirely meaningless.
Taco shells. (Photo: Helen Penjam/flickr)
Tacos, says Arellano, were until the 1800s generally more popular in central and southern Mexico, where more common fillings would be pork, chicken, seafood, or vegetables. But the taco’s popularity increased in the 19th century in the north, and northern Mexicans had a different meat of choice. “All of northern Mexico is beef country,” says Arellano. “Sonora, Baja California, Nuevo Leon, Chihuahua, that’s where beef is king.” That was as true north of the border as south. “Putting a whole bunch of ground beef on a flour tortilla is a cowboy tradition,” says Robb Walsh, a Galveston-based food writer and authority on all things Texas, from barbecue to Tex-Mex. (He also, coincidentally, went to the same elementary school as Arellano before moving back to Texas.)
There are a few different types of beef tacos; carne asada, grilled hunks of beef, is most common, but lengua, tongue, along with a few other offal cuts especially from around the cow’s head are also easy to find. Ground beef, though, of the type you’d find in Taco Bell? That would be most recognizable in northern Mexico as picadillo.
Picadillo is a dish consisting primarily of minced or ground meat and is found in pretty much every country Spain ever had a hand in, from Mexico to Cuba to the Philippines. It varies from country to country and region to region; in Caribbean cuisines, especially Cuban, Dominican, and Puerto Rican, it’s often cooked with raisins and olives and served with rice. In Mexico it varies in form, sometimes served as a soup, sometimes cooked with less liquid with potatoes (sort of like a hash), and sometimes even drier and less saucy and served in a taco.
Crispy tacos, too, exist perfectly authentically, whatever that means, in Mexico, and have for quite a long time. Sometimes they’re called tacos dorados, or golden tacos, and if the taco is first rolled into a cigar shape before frying can be called a taquito or sometimes a flauta, depending on size or just local terminology. “They’re often made with potatoes and eaten during lent,” says Arellano. The main differences between tacos dorados and a Taco Bell taco is that the filling may be slightly different, and will be fried to order (and sometimes fried whole) rather than placed in a pre-fried shell. But really, they’re not all that different.
Fajitias in a packet: Old El Paso mix on sale. (Photo: Quinn Dombrowski/flickr)
In 1914, the recipe widely cited as the earliest known recipe for tacos was published, by Bertha Haffner-Ginger in a book called California Mexican-Spanish Cookbook. Her recipe describes the taco as follows:
“Made by putting chopped cooked beef and chile sauce in tortilla made of meal and flour; folded, edges sealed together with egg; fried in deep fat, chile sauce served over it.”
This would not easily recognizable as a taco today; I think most would identify this dish as an empanada. But the parts are all there, setting the stage for Old El Paso and Taco Bell.

The story of most American adaptation of new dishes in the 19th and 20th centuries relies on two processes: preservation and mass production.
In the late 19th century, the Mexican-influenced dish of choice in the U.S. was chili con carne, not the taco. In Mexico, dried chile peppers are and have always been a major part of the cuisine, but are sold whole, to be toasted and rehydrated or otherwise prepared as the cook desires. The chief innovation that made the American taco possible was chili powder, a store-bought item not found in Mexico.
An 1894 advertisement for chili powder. (Photo: Internet Archive/flickr)
Chili powder was first sold in 1894 by its inventor, Texan-by-way-of-Germany Willie Gebhardt, for use in chili. “What people don’t seem to appreciate is that getting ingredients back then was not as easy as it is today,” says Arellano. “Today you go to your local Latino supermarket and you can get whatever. Back then, you had to improvise.” Gebhardt was unable to find the chile peppers he wanted year-round, and so bought a huge stockpile of the peppers, which were probably ancho, and ran them through a meat grinder a few times to pulverize them. He later began selling the powder already made—a huge convenience for anyone wanting to make the then-trendy chili. (German immigrants in Texas also tended to wrap their own sausages in tortillas, an early Mexican fusion cuisine, as Arellano told SF Weekly.)
The other ingredients—cumin powder, tomatoes, iceberg lettuce, ground beef—have connections to parts of northern Mexico, but to suss them out would be to ignore the real reason they were used: that’s what was readily available in America at the time. Cheddar cheese is hardly ever found in Mexico, but in the U.S., it’s the second-most-popular variety, after mozzarella. And it was already being used often in Texas, especially in concert with ground beef, in the hamburger. So, sure, cheddar cheese. That’s what’s here, why not?
The ultimate American expression of the taco: Taco Bell. (Photo: Mike Mozart/flickr)
The next major step in the development of the American taco was fast food. “Glen Bell, of Taco Bell fame, he got the idea for Taco Bell after watching the McDonald brothers get insanely rich in San Bernardino, California,” says Arellano. Bell had a hamburger and hot dog stand right across the street from a popular Mexican restaurant, and by 1951 he had reverse-engineered the taco and began selling it, including the tacos dorados popular in southern California. But, inspired by the McDonald’s ideas of interchangeable parts made in advance, Bell came up with a new idea. “Glen Bell is credited as coming up with the pre-formed taco shell,” says Walsh. And that turned out to be a turning point for the fast-food industry.
Arellano doesn’t think there’s much more to the comparison of hamburgers and tacos than that, but I can’t help seeing massive similarities between the two. These are both ground meat-based dishes served in starch out of drive-thru fast food places, making them perfect for on-the-go eating. They’re both commonly served with lettuce, tomato, onion, and cheese. They’re constructed the same way; all that needs to be done is to cook the meat and assemble everything else in the right order. “Picadillo has been part of Mexican cooking forever,” says Walsh. “I’m sure that is an older tradition than Sloppy Joes.” That’s true, and explains the origins of the food, but for an American in 1965 who wants to try ethnic food, the roots of the dish wouldn’t be clear at all. What I think they’d see is basically a hamburger in a different, more fun form. Arellano disagrees.
“Intellectuals have always underestimated Americans when it comes to Mexican food,” says Arellano. But Mexican food remains in the pantheon of foreign foodstuffs that by now are just…American food, along with elements of Italian and Chinese cuisines. “Americans have always sought out what they thought in that moment to be authentic Mexican food,” says Arellano, whether that was chili con carne in the 1880s, tamales in the 1930s, hard-shell beef tacos in the 1960s, or Mission-style burritos in the 2010s. He sees the American love of new foods, including Mexican, as an earnest attempt to explore and try new things—it’s just that, sometimes, only certain elements of those new foods are available.
Taco Bell’s breakfast menu. (Photo: Mike Mozart/flickr)
Regardless, the American taco became unavoidable by the 1960s: you could get it at a fast-food joint, or you could buy a kit from brands like Old El Paso or Ashley’s. These kits would include seasoning packets, sometimes ground beef, the tortillas (which disturbingly were sometimes sold in cans), and a mold so you could fry the shells in place. This spoke to 1950s and 1960s Americans: the taco dinner was cheap, sort of exotic but sort of familiar, and everything was basically premade.
Arellano recommends taking the taco, American and Mexican, for what it is, and not what those Arellano calls “authentistas” would like it to be. “Mexicans and Americans have romanticized Mexican food as being somehow more true and pure than American food,” he says. “And Mexican food is really the original mongrel cuisine. And that’s what makes it so delicious.” Really, there’s no part of the American taco that would preclude it from being tasty—nobody says you have to use a premade seasoning packet of stale, bland spices, or a brittle, prepackaged taco shell. Giving as little care to basically anything as Americans often do to the taco will result in lousy food, whether it’s Sloppy Joes or boeuf bourguignon.
In other words: get off the hard-shell taco’s back.