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
My carnitas dinner came to the table on a sizzling comal at Los Dos Amigos, a homey old Tex-Mex joint on Washington Avenue. You see a lot of chicken and beef fajitas served with sautéed onions and peppers on a flat cast-iron skillet, but this was the first time I had seen carnitas served that way. It's a nice idea.
And if you ask me, the fried pork chunks taste a lot better on hot-off-the-griddle flour tortillas with garlicky guacamole, caramelized grilled vegetables and piquant green salsa than chewy beef or dried-out chicken strips. I'm not saying I'm swearing off of beef skirt, but I do think carnitas make an excellent variation on the old sizzling comal theme. We also sampled some fajitadillas, beef fajitas cooked into a quesadilla, cut into six wedges and served with creamy refried beans and sour cream.
I was surprised by how empty the restaurant was at seven o'clock in the evening. The place had been packed on my previous breakfast and lunch visits. Not that it takes much of a crowd to fill the tiny space. There are half a dozen tables covered in plastic tablecloths, several booths along the wall and a six-seat Formica counter in the L-shaped dining room.
5720 Washington Ave.
Houston, TX 77007
6 a.m. to 11 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays;
7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays.
Breakfast tacos: $.99 Breakfast specials: $3.25 Lunch specials: $5.75 Enchiladas and eggs: $7.25 Carnitas "Los Dos Amigos": $8.75
They don't serve frozen margaritas at Los Dos Amigos, and there isn't any beer either, which is probably why we had the tiny restaurant pretty much to ourselves at dinnertime. When we walked out to our car afterwards, I noticed that the parking lot two doors down the street at El Tiempo, the popular fajita and margarita restaurant run by Mama Ninfa's family, was overflowing. El Tiempo is a great restaurant, and they are justly proud of their family's place in Houston Tex-Mex history.
Los Dos Amigos, which opened 32 years ago, has a lot of history behind it, too. But the humble eatery serves an older variety of home-cooked Tex-Mex geared to a Hispanic audience. The rapid gentrification of Washington Avenue is turning restaurants like Los Dos Amigos into relics.
When Los Dos Amigos first opened 32 years ago, the sign above the building was red. The color has washed away over the years, and now you can barely read the sign. Los Dos Amigos is one of many restaurants on Washington Avenue that were built to serve the nearby Mexican barrio, but the neighborhood has changed.
In the summer of 2000, I ate my first huarache (an oversize handmade tortilla piled high with toppings) at La Bamba Meat Market at 4115 Washington. The restaurant was the subject of one of my earliest reviews for the Houston Press. I was charmed by the Washington Avenue neighborhood. And I was sad to see La Bamba close its doors a few years later.
Then, in 2006, I wrote about the odd combination of old Mexican meat markets like Matamoros and upscale wine bars like Cova that could be found on opposite corners of Washington Avenue ["Where Carnitas Meet Foie Gras," March 16, 2006]. I suppose I should have anticipated that the blend of old and new wouldn't last forever. Matamoros Meat Market was taken over by El Tiempo late last year and given a face lift.
Catalan, Max's Wine Dive, Cova, Soma, El Tiempo, Molina's — the list of new restaurants on Washington Avenue goes on and on. And there are some exciting new projects on the drawing boards. This is fast becoming our most vibrant dining district, and I count myself a denizen. I only wish we could hang on to some of the old flavor of Washington Avenue while we enjoy the new stuff.
Earlier this month, the 40-year-old family-run Guadalajara Bakery and Tacos at 4003 Washington Avenue announced it was closing. The old building will be torn down to make way for new development. And the Chavez family has said they won't be reopening in another location.
You have to wonder how long Los Dos Amigos, Laredo Taqueria and the other old-fashioned Mexican restaurants on Washington are going to be around.
On Saturday mornings around nine, the waitresses push a couple of tables together in the front part of Los Dos Amigos to make room for the "Old Gringos," a bunch of gray-haired Americanos in golf shirts who settle their sports bets and tell tall tales over coffee and huevos rancheros. Don't go with a hangover — there's a lot of laughter at that early hour.
Breakfast at Los Dos Amigos features hand-cut potatoes, homemade flour tortillas and silky refried beans. My daughter loves the huevos con papas. She prefers her eggs over easy, and she likes to dip her home fries in the refried beans. Don't embarrass yourself by asking if the tortillas and beans are made with lard. Of course they are.
Breakfast tacos are 99 cents, and the breakfast specials are $3.25 until ten o'clock. Last time I ate breakfast there, I got three enchiladas topped with two fried eggs and raw onions for $7.25. The eggs on enchiladas aren't on the breakfast menu; they're listed with the entrées. But if you ask me, it's the desayuno de campeones.
For lunch, I usually get the $5.75 daily special. On Wednesdays, it's enchiladas suizas, three chicken enchiladas in a white cheese-and-sour cream sauce with beans and rice. I don't recommend the "summer dinner" or the combo plates, which are served with crispy tacos or chalupas — the tacos are made with preformed tortilla shells, and they taste like cardboard. But that's hardly a problem that's unique to Los Dos Amigos.