100 Favorite Dishes 2012: No. 87, Pastelitos de Carne at El Jalapeño

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Photos by Katharine Shilcutt
This year leading up to our annual Best of Houston® issue, we're counting down our 100 favorite dishes in Houston. This list comprises our favorite dishes from the last year, dishes that are essential to Houston's cultural landscape and/or dishes that any visitor (or resident) should try at least once.

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I am not wary of fast-fusion restaurants in general. But the practice can go terribly wrong, terribly fast. And I wasn't sure where El Jalapeño would fall along this spectrum when I stumbled into it one Monday night and saw its menu was a mixture of Mexican, Honduran and Chinese cuisine. Luckily, the mix works.

The pastelitos de carne -- a Honduran twist on the empanada -- were my favorite of the many dishes I tried during that happy night of discovery. The reason I like pastelitos so much more than empanadas is the same reason I prefer a Honduran pupusa to a Mexican quesadilla: Both Honduran dishes have a thick exterior -- usually made with coarsely ground corn -- that's just endlessly satisfying to sink your teeth into. The pastelitos at El Jalapeño are no exception, and the beef inside is roughly chopped fajita meat; no anemic ground beef here.

Like most of the other dishes that evening, the pastelitos were topped with the cabbage shreds that are typical of Honduran cuisine along with a spicy, creamy sauce that had an unfamiliar kick to it. That same cabbage was in a slaw called curtido, served alongside an almost equally good pupusa, which was stuffed with a thin layer of salty pork skin and cheese.

The traditional tomato salsa on the side is missing here, but you'll find an ample substitute in the garish orange salsa that comes with the hot corn chips. Its lack of heat was surprising given its habanero-orange color, but the fresh, sweet sauce worked so perfectly with both the pastelitos and the pupusas that I wondered if it hadn't been meant for that purpose all along.

The list so far:

No. 100: Chili cheese mac at Jus' Mac
No. 99: Texas turkey sandwich at Spec's
No. 98: Custard at Petite Sweets
No. 97: Caprichos mixtos at Taqueria Monterrey Chiquito
No. 96: Pineapple-wasabi burger at Lankford Grocery
No. 95: Farmer's MKT Pizza at Phoenicia's MKT Bar
No. 94: Potatoes at Money Cat Brunch
No. 93: Breakfast tacos at Sunrise Taquito
No. 92: Hot dog at Tacos D.F.
No. 91: Avocado gelato at Frozen Cafe
No. 90: Chicken sandwich at JerryBuilt Homegrown Burgers
No. 89: Beer-battered asparagus at Hearsay
No. 88: Honey Badger omelet at Kraftsmen Cafe

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In Defense
In Defense

A quesadilla is not the Mexican equivalent of a pupusa--you should try a gordita (a real one, not the business at Taco Bell)


Interesting stuff...I would've driven past this place thinking that I'm not missing a thing. And I'd be wrong. Thanks for the introduction Katharine. There's a lot creativity happening just from happenstance; a location with different ethnicities, or cooks with various backgrounds...those who aren't preening so to speak, but just adapting to the melting pot.

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