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Southwest on Washington

Anyway you spell TQLA, it's fabulous.

TQLA's dining room certainly looks the part of an upscale, trend-focused Washington Avenue destination, all fiery tones and copper sculptures affixed to the high ceilings. And while certain of the clientele absolutely look — especially on a Saturday night — as if they're heading to Reign or Privilege afterward, the vibe is welcoming and casual.

I've yet to have a waiter who wasn't personable and highly knowledgeable about the menu as well as the tequilas. They're quick and happy to recommend certain margaritas, cocktails or flights, excitedly pointing out the draft system which keeps at least seven tequilas on tap at all times, chilled to 5 degrees Fahrenheit. A flight is the easiest — and cheapest, at just under $14 — way to experience this system, especially if you're seated in the large bar area. I do wish that TQLA would keep less obvious choices on draft — Don Julio, El Jimador and Corzo are all fairly common — as a means of really encouraging patrons to branch out and consider tequila as something more than just a shot taken off someone's bare stomach. But I do appreciate seeing locals like Riazul on draft, just as I'm happy to see brews like Saint Arnold and Southern Star at traditional bars.

Appetizers are the way to go when sitting in the bar, and the rich guacamole fresca is a favorite. Calamari La Paz has potential — even more so when swiped through the eye-rollingly good ancho chile sauce that comes with it — but the squid are lost under too much batter. Order the light, fresh, unfussy guacamole with its roughly diced squares of avocado and tiny burn from the serrano chiles hidden throughout. It's a wonderful pairing with the twin salsas that come with the paper-thin tortilla chips: one bright green and citrusy, the other dusky and sweeter than expected thanks to the ancho chiles and tamarind within.

The pumpkin seed-crusted salmon will make your week.
Troy Fields
The pumpkin seed-crusted salmon will make your week.

Location Info

Map

TQLA

4601 Washington Ave.
Houston, TX 77007

Category: Restaurant > Mexican

Region: Heights

Details

See a slideshow from TQLA's kitchen.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays through Wednesdays; 11 a.m. to midnight Thursdays through Saturdays.

Guacamole fresca: $8.95

Calamari La Paz: $9.95

Shredded pork carnitas tacos: $10.25

Ensenada chicken enchiladas: $11.25

Pumpkin seed-crusted salmon: $16.95

Bert's green chile burger: $13.95

Apple crisp: $7.95

TQLA

4601 Washington, 281-501-3237.

And while I have some concerns that TQLA might not be taken as seriously as it should because of its name, and because of its location, I'm somewhat selfishly all right with this: It means I won't have to fight a crowd at night when I'm craving a stellar bowl of guacamole and thoughtful, high-quality, skillfully executed Southwestern food.

katharine.shilcutt@houstonpress.com

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17 comments
Cece
Cece

Man, I just seriously can't believe that you guys think that TLQA is good. It sucked, big time! I was excited to go check it out since it was a good review. Wow! The food tasted like, you know, you know (SHIT). I didn't even eat there chips and salsa because the salsa was like take it away from where I'm sitting so it won't take up my space. Pretty bad. The bar could have been enhanced some and I don't know it just was bad. I think the people that liked the food just don't know any better.

Lily
Lily

Wow! I am really surprised this place got a semi good review. I have been about three times and have always been dissapointed. I always ended up eating a few bites off my plate, then taking dinner to go from les givrals. The tequila selection is excellent but they have no idea what they are doing with some of their food on the menu. The calamari was not great, along with the blue corn fried oysters.. and I was very put off by the over chili powdered empanadas. They should focus more on their tequila and turn it into a bar/lounge, since the bar is always crowded, or get a new menu.

Guisyferri
Guisyferri

Nicely written and informative, though I still confess to feelings of backward time-travel when I see the word "Southwestern Cuisine". Who knows, maybe the old excesses and foibles of SW cooking have vanished a decade later, and TQLA is now a harbinger of a recycled trend gone right.

If so, I suppose that Washington Ave is the place to be, as the fashion quirks tend to be regurgitated from the 60's, 70's or '80's, worn proudly without irony.

On the other hand, TQLA might have considered the Woodlands, as that burg is young enough to have never lived through the first wave, and would consider it a complete novelty.

Aaron
Aaron

If they are now doing something right with their waitstaff, they must have learnt something or they had turnover. Been there twice, great food, lackluster service with little knowledge of tqlas. Glad to hear that has improved.

Has the soundtrack in there improved? Have they fixed the spelling errors on the dinner and drink menus?

guest
guest

What's a carburetor? My last three vehicles have come with fuel injection! ;-)

Jodie E
Jodie E

I had the same trepidation you did, Katharine but we have truly fallen in love; It is a go-to place for us. Mad for the chips and salsa, guac and queso (with or without the chorizo); love the chicken enchiladas (and don't mind the chunks o' moist chicken) and I appreciate the not-crazy portion sizes. We've tried most of the menu (sans dessert) and have yet to be disappointed. Drinks are great as has been service and I think the prices aren't bad at all. Don't fear The Washington ... go!

OST
OST

Our server was fantastic. They're doing something right when it comes to training the waitstaff. Can't wait to go back and try other tequilas and entrees.

Ann
Ann

TQLA is our go-to place. We've tried most of the menu items and were never disappointed. The food and presentation, drinks and service have been so good that I wonder why it's not crowded. I hope your review changes that, I'd hate to see them go away! One of the best guacamoles in town, the mushroom tamale is great, the bowl of beans delicious, even the chicken tortilla soup packs a kick. Case and Hanna have been excellent servers, suggesting tequilas and giving us history lessons. TQLA has a lunch menu now and Sunday is happy hour all day in the bar. We also love the free parking in the garage which is a rarity on Washington. Oops, almost forgot to mention the Quattro Leches cake (with coconut milk), pretty awesome.

Craig
Craig

Shredded chicken is for poor people. Be happy you got the chunks.

Fatty FatBastard
Fatty FatBastard

Good write up. I was shocked at how much i enjoyed this place, as well. My favorite tequila has been one that was aged in a barrel that originally housed scotch. I will be trying their burger and guacamole very soon. I've yet to be disappointed at what I've eaten there.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

So, you didn't actually eat the food? And the only comparison you could draw between the food you didn't eat and any other substance on earth was comparing it to feces? Man, why don't you have MY job?! Great review!

Ann
Ann

To each his own. We eat out a lot and we've eaten at TQLA numerous times because we like it. We prefer TQLA's food over El Real, the new "it" spot. At least TQLA has flavor as well as good chips & salsa.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

That quatro leches was one of the few things I disliked, but I'm not a big fan of overwhelming coconut flavors. Otherwise, yes - I, too, always wonder why it's not crowded there. The place is fab.

Feldman
Feldman

I never tend to think of social class when it comes to the ease of cutting my food. I guess this falls under, "use a knife and fork you poor heathen."

Annie
Annie

The only problem with this place is that it's in the Heights. I guess I'll just pack my bags and go!

Fatty FatBastard
Fatty FatBastard

Annie... Please pack your bags and go.

That said, I think Blaze wins.

 
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