Top 5: Mexican Restaurants

Categories: Top Five

Thumbnail image for ninfa's fajitas.jpg
Pico's Mex-Mex.
If Kevin Shalin's Top 5 Sandwiches was controversial, it will probably have nothing on my picks for the best Mexican eateries in a town where fajitas and 'ritas reign supreme.

Although I have no Mexican blood in my heritage, like many Houstonians, I was raised on a taco- and enchilada-heavy diet. I have been to many of the local favorites, as well as some lesser-known establishments, and I've combined this knowledge with information from almost everyone I've encountered in the past two weeks. While I'm thrilled to extol the wonderfulness of those that made it, there were some close runner-ups that sadly got cut at the last minute (I'm looking at you Tampico). Here are my choices for the best places to tuck into some delicious Mexican food.

5. The Original Ninfa's on Navigation
I was never a big fan of Ninfa's, so when I kept hearing how I had to try the original location on Navigation, I resisted. After finally giving in a few years ago, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it truly has earned its reputation as a Houston institution. The margaritas are fresh and strong, but not poisonously biting. The queso is velvety-smooth and served with heavenly flaky tortilla chips. And the fajitas ? Well, you already know. Chef Alex Padilla is doing a great job of preserving all our favorite traditional dishes while adding in some innovative specials, such as the scallop ceviche, which was refreshingly light.

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Pico's Mex-Mex.
4. Laredo Taqueria
With three locations to choose from, you're usually not far from a great Laredo taco. The hot, pillowy-soft tortillas encase a number of homemade-tasting fillings. And I mean homemade in the best possible way. The fluffy, golden eggs with spicy green chilies are a great way to start of the morning. For lunch, you can't go wrong with the flavorful carne guisada or the more exotic calabacitas taco with tender pork and summer squash. This is inexpensive, delicious comfort food lovingly prepared with no frills.

3. Pico's Mex-Mex
During my informal poll of people's favorite Mexican places, Pico's invariably made the list. It has the holy trinity: good chips, good fajitas, and even better margaritas. Every time I go, I'm amazed by the amount of sizzling skillets and frozen mugs surrounding me. But I also love that in addition to the usual suspects on the menu, Pico's makes really interesting coastal Mexican dishes. The Camarones al Ajillo -- fat shrimp poached in hot, garlicky oil accompanied by French bread -- are a must. And the mole is truly some of the best in the city.

2. Teotihuacan
Probably my favorite way to enjoy Mexican cuisine is in a clean, but casual, diner-style setting. Teotihuacan fits the bill. This place is always busy. Latin families bring their children for nice, low-key dinners, young couples come here on dates, and Gringos hold rowdy parties resplendent with tables full of neon-colored margaritas. All of this leads to a fun atmosphere, but the real draw is the unbelievably weighty portions of inexpensive, skillfully prepared Mexican food. I love to get the grilled meats and stuff them in hot tortillas loaded with creamy guacamole, shredded cheese and spicy peppers. Bonus: After multiple visits, I can even pronounce the name correctly.

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Hugo's.
1. Hugo's
Hugo's really almost deserves its own category, but here it sits at No 1. The space itself is elegant and airy, yet not at all stuffy. Service is impeccable, and the riffs on traditional cocktails are superb. This is the place to get authentic, high-end Mexican cuisine. The Filete a la Oaxaqueña, a wood-grilled beef tenderloin with mole negro and wild mushroom tamal, is excellent. But really, my favorite thing about Hugo's is Sunday brunch. This is where I go when I want to end the week right. The guacamole is chunky, the hot dishes always remain amazingly fresh for a buffet line, and the desserts are sinful. If I had a last meal, it would be a trip through Hugo's brunch line that ended with that ridiculously perfect hot chocolate.



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Location Info

Ninfa's

2704 Navigation Blvd., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Laredo Taco Place

113 Cavalcade, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Pico's Mex-Mex Restaurant - CLOSED

5941 Bellaire Blvd., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Teotihuacan Mexican Cafe

1511 Airline, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

Hugo's

1600 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant


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61 comments
Amger
Amger

Takes me to a happy place...love, love.

pbd007
pbd007

tay-oh-tay-oh-wok-on

Aaron
Aaron

I don't know Ravenhill...I like ET, especially the grilled meats. Noone does fajitas better. You may find comparable, but not better. This isn't my scene, but if you like a little Club MTV with your tex mex on a Thr Fri or Sat night, I think ET on Washington is the place to go. I guess all the hate from the other readers is the price...

Aaron
Aaron

Just because El Sol is in the hood does not make it good food. A lot of people sure go there though. I haven't had something really good there, just filling.

HVR
HVR

Anyone know what became of LJ?

Pesina
Pesina

My vote's for Yuriria, a taco truck on I believe Fry and Saum? Every time I eat there I wonder why any other Mexican restaurant can't do as good. Do they not care as much? Do they lessen the quality for the gringos? Yuriria is far and beyond the best place for a taco, torta, quesadilla, and more. No one's ever seemed to mention it though, it must be too far for most. Mostly construction workers, etc. eat there on their breaks. A worthy place though, and no matter what other Mexican restaurant or truck I try (and I've tried many), they come out on top.

H_e_x
H_e_x

Listen, I'm sorry they don't have a top five bridges to lure children to ground up their bones, I really am. I guess some people don't appreciate the delicate bouquet of flavors and aromas that children's bones have.

Oh Brother
Oh Brother

You're claiming everyone on here doesn't know what Mexican food tastes like and I'm the troll? M-kayyy

Winelush
Winelush

El Tiempo? Ack. It tastes old, I never understand the appeal of this chain. Horribly expensive. The top 5 Geri listed are much better value.

MamaJuice
MamaJuice

I am surprised Tacos La Bala in Bellaire didn't make the list. They are cheap, consistent and delicious. I went to Fiesta En Guadalajara recently and was not disappointed! It reminds me of my beloved Corpus Christi Mexican comida. I truly think the meat at El Tiempo is succulent and flavorful but it is indeed pricey. Great top five. Love them all! How about top five tortillas or queso. I am just not happy with most Houston tortillas.

LetitiaRam
LetitiaRam

Yes! I miss that Vallone interior Mexican place!What was it called?

Great location! Great brand! Must have been the poorly executed food. Or the soggy chips.

stacey
stacey

tacos taconmadre are the best tacos in houston! (i-10 and wayside is the closest one to downtown)

and i love hugo's and the original ninfa's for plates and drinks.

el tiempo on washington, both the cantina and the market are sooooo good.

laredo taqueria on washington is alright.

chapultepec is straight up nasty.

StephenV
StephenV

Great list! However, I feel Sylvia's is missing...

ec
ec

Menudo here is bland and so is the salsa. Tortillas...see above.

ec
ec

El Jardin is consistently better than any of these. At least they don't give you greased out tortillas that get hard before you finish eating them. That appears to be common at places that white people like.

Geri Harris
Geri Harris

Really? Because every time I go to Teotihuacan and Laredo especially, I would say my whiteness puts me in the minoprity. Is it Casa Garay where no one speaks Engligh? Not quite, but not too far off either some days.

Geri Harris
Geri Harris

I like El Tiempo, but is on the expensive side and not always worth the extra green when we have so many better, cheaper local options.

Geri Harris
Geri Harris

You got me. This was all a big marketing scam by the team that mutually manages Laredo, Hugo, and even Teotihuacan. LOL!

Geri Harris
Geri Harris

Thank you Albert that is exactly what I was going for.

Tstclair
Tstclair

Damn straight....you speak the truth.

Geri Harris
Geri Harris

Yes, but with Hugo's and Pico's the Tex Mex title wouldn't really fly.

Geri Harris
Geri Harris

I am so not a fan of Chapultepc. Tried it more than once and was disappointed every time. Great selection of tequilas, but that's about it. El Sol can be good.

Geri Harris
Geri Harris

Thanks Kevin! And that is a good place. Excellent point!

Geri Harris
Geri Harris

Good to know. I've never heard of it. Is it pretty traditional Tex Mex?

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

He's working on a new restaurant with an old Houston restaurateur, the last I heard.

Geri
Geri

Never heard of it, but now I'm intrigued...

Patrick825
Patrick825

"Listen, I'm sorry they don't have a top five bridges to lure children to ground up their bones, I really am."

Well, Geri DID ask for suggestions for new top five lists so maybe one day...

Aghastronome
Aghastronome

I went to ET last Friday. I lamented, again, the loss of La Jalicience (El Cheapo Burrito) and nearly fell off my chair at the prices. The quality was mediocre, at best.

Jay Francis
Jay Francis

As dull and unspectacular as the food is at Spanish Flowers, they have an excellent flour tortilla recipe. When we have parties we will go pick up several dozen tortillas. For corn tortillas, my vote goes to Sylvia's Enchilada Kitchen. The persons that make their corn tortillas know what they are doing.

If you have never been to the Mi Tienda (H.E.B.) in Pasadena, it is well worth the road trip for corn tortillas, licuados, grilled chicken and more. This is a facility that does not use Maseca for tis tortillas (the Fiestas use Maseca). They slake and cook their corn from scratch for the masa and it is fascinating to view the giant masa making operation at the back of the store.

Aaron
Aaron

Fiesta En Guadalajara is a great TexMex joint.

Geri
Geri

I'm with you Mama. Tortillas are a big deal. I was already planning a top 5 chips and queso, but I like your idea of doing something concerning the tortillas themselves, because I am picky when it comes to a well made tortilla.

Aaron
Aaron

Los Changos? I don't know, seems every business in that spot fails. Some locations are just graveyards.

Guest
Guest

They were unable to meet the massive ranch dressing needs of their clientele fast enough. It won't happen again.

ec
ec

Casa Garay is average. Someone recommended this to me and I left disappointed.

Thenonymous
Thenonymous

The best description would probably be "Tejano". There is some Tex Mex, there is interior Mexican, there is border food.

No frills. Reasonable prices. Tacos al pastor straight from heaven.

Pesina
Pesina

I hate that I haven't found anything better since I live so far from the place. They have great fresh lemonades and horchatas too. Best burrito I've ever had, ditto for the milaneza torta...they're far north down Fry in the parking lot of a gas station, and they've got a cute little setup with picnic tables and a tarp-like thing.

MamaJuice
MamaJuice

Jay thank you very much for the info! I have been wanting to visit Mi Tienda and will defiantly check it out. To be honest I have avoided Spanish Flowers but will pick some up next time I am in the neighborhood.

Would you perhaps know of any Mexican/Tex Mex restaurants that cater? I am getting married in October and my fiance and are planning on a Tex/Mex feast. We started looking into Picos, Tapatia, El Tiempo and Papasitos online but if you know of any other place I would really appreciate your input! Thank you so much!

MamaJuice
MamaJuice

I grew up in Corpus Christi where good tortillas are a birthright, especially tortillas de harina. So many of my C.C. transplant buddies living in Houston feel the same way. On many a tipsy night we will debate over who has/had the best tortillas in C.C. town. When I visit I always bring about twenty packs home, freeze them and give them away to my friends, neighbors,hairdresser, yardman,etc. Its amazing what a pack of really great tortillas can do for you! It's Karma in a bag. Please do a top five tortilla Geri! If you need any help I'm your girl!

TQro
TQro

For those who aren't aware, there are plenty of tortillerias in Houston. Esp., on the east side. I think most ppl already know about the one in Pasadena, but I've never been to that one. Too lazy to get in my car and drive.

TQro
TQro

Fresh corn tortillas are cheap to make, quick, and easy. Sometimes, I mix the ingredients the evening before, make the balls, press them, and layer them btwn sheets of wax paper or parchment paper and store them in an air tight container in the fridge overnight. The other option is to buy the fresh corn tortillas daily from any of the local tortillerias. Mmm, I remember as a kid walking into the tortillerias, buying a kilo or two, running home, opening up the package to let the fresh smell of ground corn and steam out, pulling one out, dashing salt (just salt), rolling it up, and smiling away on the front porch.

Geri
Geri

It certainly wasn't my cup of tea, but in terms of being a place where actual Mexicans eat it, you can't argue that this place is geared towards anglos. No one there even speaks English.

Kyle
Kyle

Taconmadre is pretty darned good. Try Taconmadre.

MamaJuice
MamaJuice

Well for starters I would think they would have to be a flour tortilla top five and a corn tortilla top five. I think you could even technically brake down the category into "South Texas"style (which I know best) and "Mexican" style which are the kind that are a lot thinner, stretch somewhat and are usually smaller.

Just a few ideas to rate the tortillas:

Taste....do they stand on their own with out the help of fillings? Do you want to cram them in your mouth regardless of whatever else is on the table?

Texture...if it is a South Texas style tortilla, is it chewy, lightly dusted with flour, loaded with Charley Brown goodness?

Freshness....Nothing pisses me off more than to eat a late lunch/early dinner and find a dried up Frisbee in my red tortilla basket.

Which leads me to consistency. Are they churning out the same quality product throughout the day? There are many a tales in Corpus Christi of people who will eat breakfast at one place but never dinner because the tortilla lady in the PM doesn't make them as good.

Hope this helps and let me know if you need a good tortilla huntress!

MamaJuice

Geri
Geri

Give me some suggestions :)

Geri
Geri

Okay now I'm hungry :)

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