Wrestling with Gourmet Tex-Mex

Don't let the upscale decor at the new Cyclone Anaya's trick you into ordering the lobster enchiladas

The "enchiladas Anaya's" at the new Cyclone Anaya's on Durham come smothered in a fabulous sauce of ancho chiles, slow-cooked onions and sautéed mushrooms. I can't say I've ever eaten mushroom enchilada sauce before, but the concept is brilliant -- and so is the flavor.

The two oversize enchiladas are stuffed with your choice of broiled, marinated chicken or fajita beef, or one of each. I got both, and I'd give a slight edge to the beef, though I really liked the chicken, too.

The menu said these "gourmet enchiladas" came rolled in red tortillas, and I was disappointed when mine were served with regular-colored tortillas instead. In the old days, many Tex-Mex restaurants used red tortillas for enchiladas, which made the "hot plate" of yesteryear much more festive-looking than the modern brown-on-brown combo platter. The red dye No. 3 scare of the late '80s killed the tradition. Even though safer dyes have since been invented, red tortillas have become rare.

Stick with what the place does well, like the enchiladas 
Anaya's, ceviche and margaritas.
Troy Fields
Stick with what the place does well, like the enchiladas Anaya's, ceviche and margaritas.

Location Info


Cyclone Anaya's

800 W. Sam Houston Parkway N.
Houston, TX 77024

Category: Restaurant > Tex-Mex

Region: Outer Loop - NW

Cyclone Anaya's

1710 Durham
Houston, TX 77009

Category: Restaurant > Tex-Mex

Region: Heights

Cyclone Anaya's

309 Gray St.
Houston, TX 77002

Category: Restaurant > Tex-Mex

Region: Downtown/ Midtown


Hours: 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays; 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturdays.

Chile con queso: $5
Ceviche: $10
Enchiladas Anaya's: $12
Betsy's tamales: $10
Carne asada: $18

1710 Durham, 713-862-3209

I did see some bright red and green fried tortilla strips in the migas at Cyclone Anaya's on a Sunday-morning visit, however. Froot Loops have got nothing on this dish in the brightly colored breakfast department. I'm hoping this Cyclone Anaya's is going to revive a lot of colorful old Tex-Mex traditions, since the restaurant is a colorful old tradition itself.

The original Cyclone Anaya's was an incredibly popular Tex-Mex joint a little farther down Durham toward Washington Avenue. It was opened in the '60s by a professional wrestler who fought under the name Cyclone Anaya. His wife, Carolina Anaya, was a wonderful Tex-Mex cook and a former beauty pageant contestant.

The new Durham location revives an old Houston tradition. The restaurant is beautifully designed with a brick interior and retro lighting fixtures. Oversize booths line the walls, all of which are decorated with posters of Cyclone Anaya posing in his wrestling garb, and wrestling posters and newspaper stories chronicling his bouts.

Cyclone was born Jesus Becerra Valencia. He won a wrestling medal for Mexico in the Pan American Games. Borrowing the family name Anaya from his mother's side, he fought as a professional under the name Apollo Anaya in Mexico City. He was lured to Chicago in the '30s, where promoters changed his name again, this time from Apollo to Cyclone.

When an injury ended his career in the ring, he and Carolina opened Cyclone Anaya's near the corner of Durham and Washington in 1961. It was among the best-loved Tex-Mex restaurants in Houston until the neighborhood slumped. The restaurant closed in 1994.

Cyclone Anaya, known to his friends as Chuy, had two sons, Chuy Jr. and Ricardo. Chuy Jr. runs the restaurant called Terlingua Texas Border Cafe at Studemont and Washington, a few blocks away (see "Cyclone Season," by Robb Walsh, July 7). Ricardo and Carolina own the new Cyclone Anaya's, as well as the one on Woodway. They plan to open a third location on West Gray.

It's good to see an old favorite make a comeback -- especially one that was as wild as Cyclone Anaya's. One of the most colorful traditions at the old place was a margarita that was prepared in your mouth. You had to turn around and face away from the bar, then bend over backward until the bartender could stuff your face with ice cubes and pour in the tequila and mixers.

The menu lists margarita specials, but there's no mention of mouth margaritas, and oddly, none of the prices are shown. "How much do the margarita specials cost?" I asked the bartender, who introduced himself as Mike.

"They're all different prices; which one do you want?" Mike asked. So I started naming margarita after margarita and making him look them up. I wasn't trying to be a dick. How am I supposed to know which one I want if I can't compare prices?

To shut me up, Mike finally said they run from $8.50 to $12. Shots of tequila are $7.50. No wonder they don't print the prices. A lot of people would get up and leave.

"So, Mike, do you make the margaritas in people's mouths?" my dining companion asked. We were willing to do the contortions -- for old time's sake. But Mike looked at us like we were crazy.

"They used to do that at the old place, but no, we don't do that here," he told us.

I think the new Cyclone Anaya's aspires to a higher place in society than its wild and woolly predecessor. And I'm not sure the original fun-loving Cyclone would approve.

The best food I sampled at Cyclone Anaya's was generally the simplest. The guacamole was freshly made and pleasantly chunky. The nachos were each carefully made by hand. The chile con queso was silky and spicy with that incomparable American cheese flavor. And the ceviche, made with fish and shrimp chunks, garnished with avocado slices and served in a big martini glass, was spectacular.

Our favorite plates included "Betsy's tamales," three big thick homemade tamales with lots of meat in the filling, topped with chili con carne, cheese and raw onion with rice and beans on the side. I also liked the carne asada a la Tampiqueña, which features fajita meat tossed with roasted peppers, onions and mushrooms served on a plate with an enchilada, some guacamole, rice and your choice of charro beans or refrieds.

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