When I was fresh out of grad-school, I took a trip to Washington DC with my sister Dianne and my Dad. While there, I reconnected with an old friend, who was now living in Georgetown. She insisted that we come by her place in and around lunchtime one day, so she could take us to lunch at one of her favorite restaurants. Now, this was someone who had lived in Dallas. And this was someone who was raised in Texas. The place she wanted to take us was a Georgetown-area Tex-Mex Restaurant. It was a place she and her knew husband had found, and they were thrilled with it.
“You gonna love it,”she told us.
So, we all went. It was one of the worst meals of my life. I mean that sincerely. It was really horrid.
We should have known better. In Texas, there are those who question whether you can actually get good Tex-Mex north of Austin.
Admit it, you like Tex-Mex. You probably call it “Mexican Food,” and that’s OK. But what you know as “Mexican Food” is really a Texas original. Mexican Food –or “Interior Food” as we call it here– is a totally different animal. But, if you’re going out to eat, and there’s beans, rice, a taco, an enchilada, and a tamale, on your plate; that fine food conglomeration was created from the synergy of Texas and Mexican cultures. It’s really a border food, created first in the border lands of the Rio Grande Valley. It migrated North throughout the state, and has now made its way all over the country and the world.
You can learn more about it here.
There are LOTS of variations on Tex-Mex. Let’s be clear, Chi-Chi’s is NOT good Mexican Food. I shudder to imagine the poor life-lessons these children are learning from this field trip. And Tex-Mex continues to evolve. Thirty-five years ago, nobody had heard of a Chicken Fajita, or even a Frozen Margarita. (In fact, linguistically, there is actually no such thing as a Chicken Fajita. The word has taken on a life of its own…just a part of the evolution of Tex-Mex)
There seems to be a kind of Tex-Mex that originates from Austin. Or, at least there seem to be a lot of folks from Austin who open Tex-Mex places in Dallas. Pete Dominguez specializes in “Austin-style Tex-Mex.” His “Casita Dominguez” was about five minutes from my first apartment after grad school. And Dennise and I would probably eat there once a week.
The great Matt Martinez comes from a long line of Tex-Mex royalty. His father being the proprietor of “Matt’s El Rancho” in Austin, and his own signature place being “Matt’s Rancho Martinez” in East Dallas. It’s about five minutes from our log house…and when we lived there we probably ate their once a week. (Are you detecting the trend?) Matt has brought a flair to Tex-Mex cooking. While staying with the basics, he delivers them with a lot of class and taste.
But probably our favorite Dallas Tex-Mex place is Herrerra’s. We’ve never once actually lived close to one, so we will drive quite a ways to get to one. (For those of you who don’t have a lot of Tex-Mex places, this is kind of like driving past five or six churches to get to the one you like…). There are the locations down off Maple…there’s also one in Addison and Richardson now. Herrerra’s is no-frills, classic, bed-rock basic, Tex-Mex. From the radioactively green Margaritas, to the bean soup and seriously greasy enchiladas, it’s the real deal.
I you happen to visit the state, here are some starting places for your culinary enjoyment.
When in Dallas, be sure and visit:
Matt’s Rancho Martinez
Casita, or Casa Dominguez
Herrerra’s (any location)
El Fenix (we admit to actually liking it…)
Chuy’s (Eric likes. Dennise doesn’t…take that for what it’s worth…)
Cantina Loredo (You’re venturing away from the one, true, and apostolic Tex-Mex here…but the quality is quite good…)
When in Austin, visit:
Matt’s El Rancho
Chuy’s (the original on Barton Springs)
When in San Antonio, visit:
Let me be clear, all these places I’ve mentioned are the real-deal. I could be stranded on a desert island with any of them, and be fat and happy…literally. And I’ll be happy to make additions to this list, as my stomach and your comments warrant.
After decades of obscurity here in our state, Tex-Mex food has rocketed to international acclaim and notice. It’s changed the way we eat, even if you don’t live anywhere near Texas. As food writer Robb Walsh has noted:
Thanks to Tex-Mex, salsa has replaced ketchup as America’s favorite condiment. Tacos and tortilla chips have reached a level of popularity rivaling the almighty hamburger and french fries. Chile peppers have become a national obsession, and the popularity of guacamole has moved the avocado from total obscurity to the front row of the produce section. (1)
But let’s be clear, the real-deal ain’t no “Chi-Chi’s.” And we ain’t talkin’ no “New Mexican Food” either; with that green and red chili sauce that destroys the taste buds, and deadens the enjoyment of everything it covers. We’re not talkin’ Taco Bell either.
But there IS such a thing as the one, true, and apostolic Tex-Mex. We take it for granted down here.
And if YOU like it, then whether you realize it or not, there’s one thing you like about Texas.