Houstonians have spent many an hour debating which Tex-Mex joint serves the tastiest salsa and where you’ll find the strongest margarita. You can join in the fun and games after trying just a couple of these recommended restaurants serving Mexican/Tex-Mex fare.
This temple of Tex-Mex was built by Bryan Caswell and Bill Floyd – creators of Reef and Little Bigs – in collaboration with cookbook author Robb Walsh. Housed in the restored Tower Theater, the restaurant serves vintage fare such as puffy tacos and cheese enchiladas topped with chili gravy. 1201 Westheimer, 713-524-1201.
Here’s the thing – the chow at El Tiempo is outstanding – deliciously charred fajitas, pillowy flour tacos, amazing salsa. The margaritas are potent and tasty, which is a rare combination. But it’s expensive. Like, 22 bucks for a half-pound of fajitas expensive. Find the nearest location at eltiempocantina.com.
This is no enchilada joint. The upscale regional Mexican dishes – and the zippy cocktails – are carefully crafted and generally unseen on other Houston menus. Worth a try: the bright snapper-studded ceviche, grilled octopus and sopecitos – a trio of little masa pillows stuffed with rabbit, chicharones and duck. And those are just off the starters menu. 1602 Westheimer, 713-524-7744.
Irma Galvan’s legendary downtown lunch spot is known for her comforting Mexican sauces and stews, her gracious hospitality and her homemade lemonade. Sit down in the tiny dining room and you’re likely to bump elbows with judges, city council members and other movers and shakers. But pay attention to your server. Irma has never handed out menus. Never will. And, if you’re on a budget, ask the price before you order. Irma’s serves high-quality fare, and the prices reflect that. 22 N. Chenevert, 713-222-0767.
In the vast salsa sea of Tex-Mex joints in Houston, Molina’s gets bonus points for authenticity (you gotta try the chili) and atmosphere (the palapa-covered patio is the perfect place to sip margaritas). And speaking of salsa, you’ll be presented with two reds. Insiders know to ask for the green. (You’re welcome.) 4720 Washington, 713-862-0013; 7901 Westheimer, 713-782-0861.
Original Ninfa’s on Navigation
As the name implies, this is where it all started. If you believe the legend, Mama Ninfa was (is) the patron saint of Tex-Mex. In her tiny kitchen, she cranked out the world’s first fajitas. Greatly expanded in recent years to include a real parking lot and large patio deck, the restaurant still manages to draw hordes who wait patiently for tables. 2704 Navigation Blvd., 713-228-1175.
As close as Houston gets to Puerto Vallarta. Sit under the palapas, sip margaritas and nibble the sautéed calamari, cochinita pibil, enchiladas moles or chiles nogada. This is a big, crowded, noisy, wonderful place. Go on off-hours, or wait for a table. 5941 Bellaire, 713-662-8383.
This family-owned Tex-Mex spot on the north side features a cheerful dining room, well-prepared classics such as chiles rellenos, pork tamales in chili gravy and shrimp in a rich chipotle sauce. 10609 Grant Road, 281-955-5667.
It’s simple Tex-Mex fare – enchiladas, fajitas and guacamole – served in a colorful and festive setting for more than 50 years. More than a few Houstonians admit their love of Spanish Village is fanned by the house margarita. The slushy magaritas are tart, lively and – yes – intoxicating. 4720 Almeda, 713-523-2861.
Sylvia’s Enchilada Kitchen
Sylvia Casares Copeland’s gracious hospitality has made her two restaurants popular. Her refined plates feature only the freshest ingredients and surprisingly complex flavors. Among her dozen enchilada offerings: squash and corn, crab and grilled pork with a fiery red sauce. 12637 Westheimer, 281-679-8300; 6401 Woodway, 713-334-7295.
Alison Cook contributed to this report.