By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Minh T Truong
By Molly Dunn
By Brooke Viggiano
By Kaitlin Steinberg
By Molly Dunn
By Molly Dunn
By Eating Our Words
The bright red hot sauce that they smother the fried eggs with at Doña Tere Mexican Restaurant on Beechnut looked like your average ordinary ranchero sauce. I was hungry, so I took an extra big bite. The wave of molten heat moving south down my gullet widened my eyes way better than the coffee.
Served beside some creamy refried beans, the huevos rancheros looked familiar but tasted foreign. The owners are from Mexico City, and they do things a little differently. If you're accustomed to Tex-Mex, there are a couple of other points of departure that you should be aware of if you visit Doña Tere. For example, instead of flour or corn tortillas, Doña Tere serves a basket of baguette slices with their Mexican breakfasts. Don't knock it until you've tried it. Refried beans and French bread is a marriage made in...Mexico City?
Another oddity is that while Doña Tere has a breakfast menu, they don't open until nine-thirty. And don't bother arriving at opening time, because they won't have any coffee ready until closer to ten. I'd say it's more of an almuerzo (early lunch) than a desayuno (breakfast).
Houston, TX 77036
Region: Outer Loop - SW
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Tamales: $1.25 (to go $2)
tamales: $2.85 (to go $3)
Sopes: (2) $4.95
Eggs any style : $4.95
Chile en nogada : $15.25
The coffee is scented with cinnamon and made in a giant percolator. They also serve the pre-Hispanic sweetened corn drink called atole along with the chocolate version that is known as champurrado. Drinking the thick corny gruel is a fascinating culinary experience, but it's definitely an acquired taste.
I also sampled the chilaquiles on the breakfast menu, which were made with tortillas and tart tomatillo sauce topped with bland Mexican white cheese. Honestly, they were a little dull, especially compared to the sensational tamales I got on the side.
The Oaxaqueño was my favorite; it was a giant chicken tamal in a banana leaf with so much creamy masa that I could have made a meal of it. The Costeño, another giant banana leaf tamal stuffed with chicken, onions and a tomato sauce, was also good, but not as impressive as the Oaxaqueño. These deep-in-the-heart-of-Mexico tamales aren't like the petite tubes of meat and masa we call tamales in Texas. And they aren't cheap either — the Oaxaqueño and Costeño go for $2.85 each.
Doña Tere Mexican Restaurant is part of the Doña Tere tamal empire. So predictably enough, the best things to eat here are tamales and other things that are made out of masa (corn dough). They have sopes (discs of masa), huaraches (shoe sole-shaped masa ovals) and chalupas (masa boats) on the appetizer menu, all served with a rotating selection of toppings. I had the sopes covered with refried beans, green sauce and strips of bright-red, grilled, marinated chicken for lunch one day. They were terrific.
There are only eight tables in the cheerful little restaurant, each covered with a bright, plastic floral-patterned tablecloth. Mexican cut-paper pennants flutter from the rafters. The menu hangs above the front counter, which has been painted bright blue and yellow. You walk up to the register to order and to pay. Next to the register, there's a refrigerated display case full of Mexican soft drinks and mineral waters.
The owner of the place is a handsome Mexican guy who stops by every table to chat. I complimented him on the sopes. "This is the only truly authentic Mexican restaurant in Houston," he told me. I wish I had a dollar for every time I have heard that since I started this job.
The first time I set out to review Doña Tere Mexican Restaurant on Beechnut, I was distracted by a carnicería in the same shopping center called Supermercado Teloloapan.
Inside the spotlessly clean market, I found a taquería with a steam table and some shiny stainless-steel counters with stools where you can sit down and eat. They were having a special on the lunch plate. It included two meats, rice, refried beans and four fresh cooked handmade tortillas. Regularly $4.99, it was on sale for $2.99.
It was too good a deal to resist. I skipped my plans to eat at Doña Tere and got some excellent carnitas in green sauce and spicy pork al pastor at the meat market. When the owner of Doña Tere started talking about having the only authentic Mexican restaurant in town, I wanted to walk him over to the carnicería next door.
One evening, when we went to Doña Tere for dinner, a basket of fried tortilla chips and a bowl of hot sauce were brought to our table while we looked at the menu. The chips were so hard, I carried them back to the counter and told the proprietor they were too stale to eat.
"That's because we fry our own chips," he said. "We don't buy tortilla chips in plastic bags."
"When did you fry them, yesterday?" I asked.
"No, early this morning," he said.
"Well maybe you ought to buy the kind in the plastic bags, so people would be able to eat them," I said. But his English wasn't good enough to pick up on my sarcasm.