Friday, October 26, 2007

Tex-Mex -- real deal recipes

This could start a fight.

You think you've found the perfect Tex-Mex enchilada? So do million of Texans

But, this Holy Grail, the perfect enchilada does not exist. Not in one spot. Fortunately for us, the real deal can be found in family-owned restaurants scattered across Texas. A few reasonable imitations can be found outside Texas, rarely.

You won't believe this, but the best reporting I've ever read about the enchilada tour was written this week by Joe Drape in, of all places, the New York Times. It took him ten years (about par for a non-native) but Drape understands the power and value in the eight dollar plate of cheese, chili, tortilla, onions, beans and rice.

Here's a sample of Drape's understanding of our ambrosia:

Among food snobs, the Mexican vs. Tex-Mex argument has been raging for decades. It is a wrongheaded debate, according to Robb Walsh, who wrote “The Tex-Mex Cookbook: A History in Photos and Recipes” (Broadway, 2004).

“Tex-Mex isn’t Mexican food,” said Mr. Walsh. “It is an American regional cuisine. So why do we have to apologize to Mexico for it?”

Mr. Walsh said the late food writer Waverley Root got it right when he described Tex-Mex as “native foreign food.”

Good stuff, huh?

Drape goes on to describe the best way to size up off-the-path family restaurants. We call them institutions and shrines. He also touts places to eat in San Antonio, Houston and Dallas. Or, as he calls it, the tamale triangle.

Despite this heaping of glory, Drape does have his short-comings. He failed to explore whether enchiladas go better with Texas beer, Dos XX, or iced tea.

After we clean up, we'll discuss BBQ and the relative values of mustard-based sauce versus tomato. Prepare your arteries.


Ken Martin said...

None of the cited authors have any sway over my opinion of where to consistently get the best Tex-Mex. That would be Chuy's, an Austin-based chain.

Of course I might be biased, as Chuy's on North Lamar Boulevard in Austin is where we got married, right in front of the Lincoln Continental Nacho Bar. It came as a complete surprise for us when on our wedding night Chuy's gave us two bottles of champagne--which they don't normally sell--and a lava lamp with an engraved placque: "Congratulations on winning the Chuy's You did what, where? Award. Commemorating their marriage at Chuy's No. 2, May 20, 1988."

Name me another restaurant that would do that--and serve up a mouthwatering selection of Tex-Mex, to boot.

The South Plainsman said...

For a family owned Tex-Mex restuarant, you couldn't beat LaLa's in downtown Lubbock It was a storefront operation, that lasted for over two decades, and the food, cooked by LaLa, was excellent. It was nothing pretentious, and did not serve alcohol, but the place was wonderful. LaLa and Conrado Cavasos owned it and ran it, with almost all family doing the work.

It was a great place for the lunch crowd, but was also a favorite hangout in the evenings for Democrats. Any Democratic candidate coming to town had to go there to be properly introduced, and they had many Democratic functions there over the years. They were even very nice to this itinerant Republican.

I enjoyed very much kidding Conrado about the one Republican poster he put in the window some years ago. His excuse was that the guy wasn't really a Republican. He was right, of course, and the guy lost. It was a Congressional race, and the incumbent Democrat lost also. Too bad.

The place is deserted now. After some family tragedies, including the loss of a daughter who worked there, Conrado and LaLa closed the restuarant and retired. They are fine folks, and are missed. So is the great Tex-Mex. Godspeed, old friends.

Anonymous said...

I'll have to vote for Don Pablo's and El Chico's. Why? Because they bought a lot of my company's grapevine baskets.You have to know I ate there a lot.--- Goose

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