The Rest of the Best: Houston's Top 10 Tex-Mex Restaurants
7. El Real Tex-Mex Cafe
Photo by Troy Fields A plate of cheese enchiladas at El Real.
The real draw of El Real isn't its late-night hours nor its cavernous dining room nor even its patio perched on a busy stretch of Westheimer: It's the fact that the restaurant -- partly owned by Tex-Mex historian Robb Walsh -- is committed to preserving the cuisine in both the dishes it serves and the memorabilia it houses in a mini-museum upstairs. This is your father's Tex-Mex, in the best possible way: Beans are made with lard, tortillas are made fresh in-house and cheese enchiladas are smothered in chunky, beefy chile con carne.
6. Lopez Mexican Restaurant
The original Lopez in 1978 and its expansion into a newly-constructed space in 2003.
The cult of Lopez has strong, deep roots in southwest Houston, where the family-oriented Tex-Mex temple has been serving combo plates and queso since 1978. That's when Mexican immigrant Rodrigo Lopez -- who first came to the United States in 1962 -- opened the restaurant he still runs today with his wife Bertha, sons Jonathon, Jose and daughter Ana. What's so mesmerizing about Lopez is how the well-oiled machinery of the place can serve so many people in one evening while still turning out top-notch plates of enchiladas and tamales to every single diner. It will either make you avoid the restaurant at peak hours or seek it out to be a part of the fun, frenzied action. Pableuax Johnson once wrote of Lopez that it "epitomizes the old-school Tex-Mex family restaurant. Clean, fast and loud, it's not a homey, family-run cocina but a family-friendly fallback built for high volume and informal charm."
5. Spanish Village
Photo by Katharine Shilcutt Enchiladas a la Taylor at Spanish Village.
Spanish Village has a long and complex history, as tends to happen when a restaurant is more than 50 years old. Houston used to have two Spanish Village restaurants, born of a feud that lasted for years -- one at 4811 Lillian and one at 4720 Almeda. The Christmas-light-covered Almeda location eventually outlasted the Lillian location and is the only remaining Spanish Village today, serving what Walsh once called "vintage Tex-Mex at its finest." The enchiladas a la Taylor are the best example of that vintage Tex-Mex, topped with plenty of chile con carne, chili gravy and raw white onions, while the margaritas and their signature dagger-like ice shards remain the stuff of Houston legend.
Photo by Katharine Shilcutt Parts one and two of the three-part Mexico City plate at Molina's.
Molina's is famous for a few things: The Jose dip, in which seasoned beef taco meat is blended together with queso. For being President George Bush's favorite Tex-Mex restaurant, which he visited with regularity for decades. And for being the oldest continually operating Tex-Mex restaurant in Houston, open for over 70 years. Walsh proclaimed its enchiladas de Tejas to be some of the best in the city, while I'm a fan of the Mexico City combo platter -- another Tex-Mex standard -- that hasn't changed since the restaurant was founded in 1941.