The First Families of Houston Food: Why We Eat the Way We Eat in H-Town
Photo courtesy Molina's Cantina Raul and Mary Molina
Raul Molina, Sr., came to Houston from Nueva Laredo, Mexico, in the late 1920s to escape the Mexican Civil War. Upon his arrival he couldn't speak any English, but he was able to save money working as a dishwasher and busboy at the downtown James Coney Island. He was eventually promoted to working the counter at Tip Top Coney Island (now closed).
In 1928, Molina married Mary Sarabia, and the two of them begansaving money to open their own restaurant. By 1941, his American dream became a reality, and he opened the Old Monterrey Restaurant at 1919 West Gray. According to the biography on the Molina's Cantina website, there were only five or six other Mexican restaurants in Houston at the time. In 1945, the restaurant was moved to South Main and renamed Molina's Mexican City. Soon after that he opened several more locations, which were eventually called Molina's Cantina.
Raul Molina, Sr. retired in 1977, but his family has continued to run the restaurants that made Molina a name in the Houston food scene. He remained a fixture at his restaurants, greeting customers at the door and checking on tables until the mid-1990s. Molina passed away in 2001 at the age of 91.
Today there are three Molina's Cantinas in Houston. They're recognized for being some of the first Tex-Mex restaurants in Houston, and they were favorites of former president George H. W. Bush. The Houston Press has awarded the restaurant best Tex-Mex several times, thanks in large part to the family atmosphere at Molina's, where employees stay on for decades because they love the place so much.
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