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Chipinque Cuisine

You can't go wrong with margaritas and crab quesadillas at Santos The Taste of Mexico

I also tried the carnitas, but the pork was too lean. Carnitas have to be fatty to get crisp. You're better off ordering them at a carnicería than a fancy restaurant. And Santos The Taste of Mexico is a fancy restaurant. It was designed to serve the community around Westheimer and Beltway 8, where there probably isn't much of a market for authentic fatty carnitas, chicharrones, menudo or barbacoa.

The restaurant is artfully decorated with lots of expensive Mexican pottery. I was impressed by the giant Talavera planters that hold potted palms and other tropical plants. The floors are saltillo tile, and the walls are painted a lovely butter color. I would probably eat here all the time if I lived closed by. I just wouldn't order anything off the mesquite grill.

Over lunch with Jay Francis I joked about "The Taste of Mexico" name and the silly menu headings. Tex-Mex restaurants have always claimed their food is authentically Mexican, I reminded Jay. It's a tradition that goes back to Felix Tijerina, who served spaghetti with chili gravy. His slogan was: "For the finest in Mexican foods."

The enchiladas de al carbón at Santos are excellent...and red.
Troy Fields
The enchiladas de al carbón at Santos are excellent...and red.

But the section headers at Santos The Taste of Mexico are especially hilarious. Jay thought the nachos were the funniest. There were all the cheese, beef and chicken nachos you'd expect, under the title "Nachos de Linares." Linares is a village near San Luis Potosí, Jay observed. It's a good bet there has never been a restaurant that served nachos there.

I thought Quesos de Hidalgo, the section heading for the chile con queso, was even more inane. What cheese is from Hidalgo? The menu said they used Monterrey Jack with two "Rs," as if Jack cheese came from Monterrey, Mexico. Monterey Jack was invented by Franciscan monks in Monterey (one "R"), California. But we were really stumped by the one that read, "Quesadillas de Chipinque.

"Where the hell is Chipinque?" I asked Jay. He had never heard of it either. So we asked the waiter.

"Chipinque is a state in the south of Mexico," our waiter, who said he was from Mexico City, told us.

"No it isn't," Jay replied. Jay Francis proceeded to name every state in the southern half of Mexico and challenged the waiter to tell him where Chipinque fit in. (Jay is handy to have around sometimes.)

Suddenly, the waiter remembered that Chipinque was actually a small village in the state of Guerrero. He later returned with a third story -- Chipinque was in Monterrey. I looked it up later -- Chipinque Park is in the mountains above Monterrey.

All I'm saying is that Santos The Taste of Mexico could do better. Why not claim that the chile con queso contains the fabulous Velveeta de Hidalgo, a processed cheese that was being made before Columbus landed? Or that the restaurant's spectacular quesadillas de jaiba de Chipinque are made with the rare mountain crabs of Monterrey, which can only be harvested with a flashlight or under a full moon? If you're going to bullshit, at least be creative.

Richard Santos, the owner of Santos The Taste of Mexico, was part of the Ninfa's and El Tiempo gang. But I think he would be better off with an invented biography. I am thinking "Former Lieutenant Governor of the Southern Mexican state of Chipinque" would be perfect.

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