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The Enchilada Empress

Sylvia Casares keeps the crowds happy with her Tex-Mex classics.

To my right, Rafael was already halfway finished with his chicken enchiladas, covered in an emerald-green salsa verde. "These are just like my mother used to make," he said happily. A tangy pop of sour cream worked its magic alongside the citrus-tinged salsa verde to liven up the chicken, and I could see why he was eating so quickly.

His wife's La Kineña enchiladas were less inspiring — overly salted beef fajita meat being the main culprit — but none of us had any problems polishing off our plates. And on the car ride home, Rafael continued his happy raving about our dinner: "That's the way South Texas food should taste," he proclaimed.

And then, after a few thoughtful seconds: "I haven't had Tex-Mex food that good since I moved to Houston."

_____________________
The Refugio enchiladas are a classic.
Troy Fields
The Refugio enchiladas are a classic.

Location Info

Map

Sylvia's Enchilada Kitchen

6401 Woodway Drive
Houston, TX 77057

Category: Restaurant > Mexican

Region: Galleria

Details

11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays, noon to 9 p.m. Saturdays, 11:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Sundays.
Queso flameado: $9
Queso de campo: $9
Caldo de fidello: $8
Refugio enchiladas: $11
La Kineña enchiladas: $13
Mexico City enchiladas: $12.50
The Hebbronville: $19


READ MORE:
A Long Time Coming: Reviewing Sylvia's Enchilada Kitchen
Savory South Texas: Tex-Mex at Sylvia's Enchilada Kitchen


Sylvia's Enchilada Kitchen
6401 Woodway, 713-334-7295.

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A Tuesday evening proved much quieter, with only a few tables in the butter-colored dining room. My boyfriend and I grabbed a table facing the bright-blue, Puebla-style "kitchen" that serves as the centerpiece of the room and ordered that wonderful queso flameado.

Eric hails from another South Texas town, Victoria. And he was just as quick as Rafael to find an old favorite dotting the menu here. When I couldn't choose between the tortilla soup and the fidello, he could barely wait for me to finish my deliberation: "The fidello!" he nearly shouted. Then, quieter, with a sheepish smile, "Yeah, you have to get the fidello."

This old comfort food classic is what Eric calls a "utilitarian meal," made with chicken and thin noodles — although it could just as easily be made with ground beef. It's the South Texas version of chicken noodle soup, and Sylvia's take on it, just barely jazzed up with sweet tomatoes, is an excellent homage to a foodstuff that so many grew up on. It could have used less salt, however, which is a bit of a recurring complaint with the kitchen here.

I didn't have that complaint with The Hebbronville — three mesquite-grilled quail served with spicy poblano grits and corn on the cob — although the birds came out rather haphazardly slung around on one of the greased-up wood-and-steel plates, ruining what could have been a beautiful presentation. Presentation, however, wasn't going to dampen my enjoyment of one of my own childhood comfort foods, as memories of grilling freshly killed quail with my father on weekend summer nights came flooding instantly back with each bite of the tender, dark meat. I alternated between bites of the mesquite-grilled corn — almost identical to the wonderful elote that the No Borders truck serves — and nibbling around the birds' tiny bones, stripping each one of all its flesh.

Eric and I spent most of the meal doing this, trading old childhood memories of growing up Texan and eating the foods that come along with that heritage. He playfully teased that his Refugio enchiladas didn't taste exactly like his mother's, but "like something one of our neighbors would have cooked."

"One of the neighbors you liked?" I asked.

"Of course," he said. "It's a good thing. There's something so familiar about the chili gravy. Not familiar enough to taste exactly like home, but still so close."

This capturing of a memory, of a childhood, of a distinct geographic region within a familiar and well-loved genre, is what keeps people coming back to Sylvia's. It's what has kept them coming back since 1998, and — I suspect — is what will keep them coming back to the new location for years to come.

katharine.shilcutt@houstonpress.com

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35 comments
ftexas
ftexas

Once was enough.

Tumbler_the_Government_Man
Tumbler_the_Government_Man

Isn't that what you are supposed to feed your pet out of? The Press has absolutely -0- credibility when it comes to restaurant reviews. I am sorry. No.

Ok to be fair. These aren't the worst enchiladas. That title would belong to a place in El Paso called Moes. They use flavorless boiled breast meat chicken filler and cream of mushroom soup gravy. Yeech.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

Hmm. Having eaten enchiladas my entire life, I've certainly had some wretched ones. Sylvia's isn't remotely within that category. I really have to wonder about a lot of these comments and their undoubtedly dubious provenance...

Bbhacl
Bbhacl

fyi, marg's should only use well gold teqila, using silver or triple distilled tequila has no taste. furthermore Patron is a Paul Mitchel product and isn't a well made tequila. Grand Marnire is the core of a good Marg.

Jeffk
Jeffk

She serves the most bland enchilada sauce (gravy); no depth of flavor, low heat index, not enough cumin. The best thing they do is breakfast at the Dairy Ashord location. But enchiladas, sorry, ou can get better tex mex at Goode Company.

Pura Vida
Pura Vida

It's spelled "fideo". Arabic has nothing to do with the spelling. في الحقيقه (fahrealz), dude.

Ed T.
Ed T.

Katharine - one minor nit to pick. The location on Westheimer and Dairy Ashford is actually Sylvia's *second* location - she actually started in a strip center on Westheimer and Windchase (it was one of the "A-list" lunch places for a group I worked with, when I was at the former Chevron facility on Hayes Rd.)

~EdT.

MatthewsDD
MatthewsDD

As Mai's is to Vietnamese, Sylvia's is to Tex-Mex.

AA
AA

So Mai's has really bad Vietnamese food?

August948
August948

Since Mai's is pretty mediocre compared to most Vietnamese places along Bellaire, that doesn't say much for Sylvia's.

the_birds
the_birds

I think the "Fidello" on Sylvia's menu is spelling error. Its always been "Fideo" like it says on the red and yellow box of Vermicelli, not pronounced "Fi-da-yo," but "Fi-da-o." We grew up on the stuff and I've known what the box looked like since I was 5.

I wiki'ed it too and there is only an entry for Fideo.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

I've seen both sopa de fideo and sopa de fidello in the past. Fideo are the noodles themselves, which have an interesting history on their own (brought over to Spain by Arabs and adapted further from there). The word comes from the Arabic for noodle -- fidawsh -- and when a word gets adapted like that over the years, there are so many different spellings that result from the adaptation. I love culinary linguistics. :D

LW
LW

Oh good, I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who had an unimpressive meal here. I'd ordered one of the plates that had four kinds of enchiladas and all of them were pretty blah. I can't remember which enchilada it was, but one had red sauce that tasted like lightly salted water. Just salted water, no other flavorings. I thought it might've been a fluke, but haven't been willing to pay the prices for another shot at mediocrity.

ypman
ypman

I personally have never had a bad meal at Sylvia's. Having spent quite a bit of time in the south Texas Valley it is one of the few places in Houston I can find authentic Tex-Mex. I sometimes believe on these boards once an establishment becomes popular, it also becomes popular to bash them.

ShitThowingMonkey
ShitThowingMonkey

I am hereby calling for a vote to never use the phrase "authentic tex mex" again.

Rexster1505
Rexster1505

Everyone get ready for Ms Caceres (sp) vitriolic reply like the one she did in the Chronicle a few weeks back. It's everybody's fault but hers

A377614
A377614

With so many better options in Houston, Sylvia's overpriced and mediocre food is pretty far down my list.

TQro
TQro

Homemade fideo is easy and awesome. My kids regularly ask for it in their thermos' for lunch. Sometimes with an addition like shredded chx, ground beef, stew meat, whole pinto beans, or potato chunks... and sometimes just plain fideo.

Feldman
Feldman

I kinda like Sylvia's. If friends wanted to go, I wouldn't say no. Their top shelf margaritas are really nice, stay away from the house 'ritas though.

AA
AA

Absolutely without a doubt the highest price to pay for the worst enchiladas ever.

Beelargus
Beelargus

Have to agree with most comments here. I'm a native Texan. Been eating this kind of food all of my life. I just don't get it. Each time I've tried Sylvia's, I was seriously let down. Also, the worst margarita I've ever had --- it was like lemon Crystal Light.

Rexster1505
Rexster1505

High priced, over valued, overrated. They'll nickel and dime you for everything. I emailed them after our last "visit" Never got an answer.

Fatty FatBastard
Fatty FatBastard

Laredo's serves Fidello tacos. An interesting mix to say the least.

VatoGato
VatoGato

never been a fan her west location sucks

Larry D
Larry D

Tried this place several times, never figured out the high praise. A bit pricey for average enchiladas. Nothing special.

ShitThowingMonkey
ShitThowingMonkey

Can't get into this place -- never had anything besides enchiladas in three visits, but the enchiladas are more expensive and just not as good as a few other places.

GinaLee
GinaLee

I'm salivating now! Where can we find Sylvia's cookbook? I've been searching for years for a great Tex-mex one. Thanks!

E. Nassar
E. Nassar

For an excellent Tex-Mex book, pick up Robb Walsh's. It's a fantastic and fun read with solid recipes and history.

Hogarth
Hogarth

I think lard is what you first think of when you see tortillas that have that appearance of being made with lard. They very well be made with vegetable oil, but they use alot so it looks "lard-laced."

I'm sure it's an honest mistake.

Nate
Nate

Sylvia says "1.) We do not and have never cooked with lard."http://www.29-95.com/restauran...

But the tortillas are "lard-laced"? Huh.

Now I want some cheese enchiladas. Mmmmmm.

E. Nassar
E. Nassar

hmmmm....never cooked with lard at a tex-mex joint?? What a shame. I doubt I'll visit Sylvia's any time soon then.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

See Hogarth's comment above. He hit the nail on the head.

Nate
Nate

Lard laced definitely sounds more appetizing then vegetable oil laced. At least to me. Then again, some people are freaked out by lard...

 
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