Thursday, October 25, 2007

On Tex-Mex

Don't miss this N.Y. Times' article on the importance of Tex-Mex cuisine in Texan culture. The article even cites Robb Walsh, the excellent if snobbish food critic of the Houston Press. Excerpt:

So what is the essence of Tex-Mex? I drove 200 miles east on Interstate 10 to Houston to try to answer that question.

San Antonio lays a legitimate claim to high-end Tex-Mex (if there is such a thing) and Dallas leans Anglo with its fajitas and frozen margaritas. But in Houston, Texas’s largest city, the cuisine is part of the fabric of everyday life. Perhaps that is because more than 37 percent of Houston’s residents are Hispanic, according to United States census figures from 2000.

“I discover a new Tex-Mex gem every week,” said Mr. Walsh, who is the restaurant critic for the Houston Press.

Neon signs flicker above pastel storefronts promising excellent Mexican food in virtually every block of the city. The trick is to figure out which places will deliver on that promise.

Here are a few guidelines: 1. It has to be family-owned. 2. A ramshackle space with added-on rooms is a positive. The most successful Tex-Mex restaurants started small and expanded due to popular demand. 3. It’s best if the patrons in the dining room look like the face of democracy. You want a mix of gringos and Hispanic customers; professionals and laborers.

Alison Cook also discusses one of my personal Tex-Mex faves, Spanish Village, which also happens to be open 24-hrs/day. I particularly like their sandwiches, as I am a sandwich nut.

(h/t bH)

UPDATE: D'oh! Kevin Whited helpfully points out in the comments that I am thinking of Spanish Flowers, not Spanish Village. Proof of just how much Tex-Mex there is in Our Fair City.


Unknown said...

Yeah, Houston's big Tex-Mex hit in that article is El Jardin...and I've shamefully never been there! So, you'll see me there next week with all the other NY tourists.

Also, since when is Robb Walsh "snobbish"?!? He's the best food critic I've read and always willing to put the taco stands up there with the white tablecloth terms of restaurants that's the opposite of snobbish to me.

Epicurus said...

Hey Cynthiamonster,

I also like Robb Walsh and think he is one of the best food critics out there. But I think there's a pretty consistent strain of snobbery in many of his columns. In some sense, it's hard to imagine such a good food critic "not" being a food snob.

But, that's JMO, of course, and your disagreement is welcome.

Kevin Whited said...

Alison Cook also discusses one of my personal Tex-Mex faves, Spanish Village, which also happens to be open 24-hrs/day.

Actually, I think you have in mind the Heights-area Spanish Flower, which is open 24 hours.

Spanish Village, which is off Almeda south of Midtown, is not open 24 hours. But it does serve up some of the best enchiladas and frozen margs... my goodness.

Cipher said...

My opinion of Alison Cook's sense of taste has just taken a nose dive. Spanish Flower used to be AOK a few years ago, although they've never made good beans. (Which is my personal thermometer for Tex Mex).

I used to love that place, it was reliably good, but then they started using that neon Sysco guacamole, which is anathema, and enough reason to never go back. And then things just started to slide all over.

Spanish Village though was wonderful last time I was there, if a little tawdry at the edges. Really good enchiladas, great margaritas.

anonymouseater said...

Walsh is more of an anti-snob snob. His favorite foods are populist foods like chicken fried steak, barbecue, and Tex Mex. And he is the leading American food writer in all three categories.

The NYT article mentiones El Mirador in San Antonio, which has been my favorite Mexican restaurant for years. But it is a gourmet restuarant -- nowhere close to my definition of Tex Mex.

The NYT article uses too broad a definition of Tex Mex. To me, real Tex Mex is the old-style, bland, cheese and meat-dominant food that most Mexican restaurants served in the mid-20th Century. There are only a handful of true Tex Mex survivors in Houston: places like Felix, Spanish Village (not Spanish Flower), and Molinas. Real Tex Mex is pre-Ninfa's, pre-fajitas. It is not my favorite kind of Mexican food, but it is a classic Texas cuisine, worthy of preservation.

Anonymous said...

I thought the same thing about it being Spanish Flowers not the other. Which leads me to a fourth criterion: cops should eat there a lot. Cops know cheap and good, and there are always cops eating at SP (Mexicatessan on the NW loop wasn't as good, but had HUGE meals, so cops were there)

Anonymous said...

I agree with anonymouseater's defintition of Tex Mex, and although I love and follow many of his recommendations, Robb Walsh tends to be snobby with Spanish phrases and his definition of "original" Mexican food.. Furthermore, he's not nearly as fluent in Spanish as he pretends to be. I clearly recall him mis-describing tacos to be made of something they were not, as he is not a native spanish speaker, although he fancies himself to be (nearly) one. Don't take my word for it, read him yourself. Having said that, god bless him for discovering 'hole in the wall' places that are gems. My opinion, Houston has much better mexican food than San Antonio, Austin, or any major city in CA. No contest

New place suggestion for the blog host - try the parilla platter for 2 at El Patio midtown across from Specs. I've been there twice with the wife, and last time we brought friends. Unbelievable amount of well prepared, delicious fajitas, ribs, shrimp and guacamole for like $25.99, certainly enough for 3, possibly 4 people.. and yes, those margaritas still taste like they use everclear, so watch yourself.