Todo con Queso

Houston's 10 best Tex-Mex restaurants.

5. Spanish Village

Spanish Village has a long and complex history, as tends to happen when a restaurant is more than 50 years old. Houston used to have two Spanish Village restaurants, born of a feud that lasted for years — one at 4811 Lillian and one at 4720 Almeda. The Christmas-light-covered Almeda location eventually outlasted the Lillian location and is the only remaining Spanish Village today, serving what Walsh once called "vintage Tex-Mex at its finest." The enchiladas a la Taylor are the best example of that vintage Tex-Mex, topped with plenty of chile con carne, chili gravy and raw white onions, while the margaritas and their signature dagger-like ice shards remain the stuff of Houston legend.

4. Molina's

Houston native and Food & Wine magazine executive wine editor Ray Isle (left) spent the last few days eating his way through Houston at restaurants like Pass & Provisions.
Jeremy Parzen
Houston native and Food & Wine magazine executive wine editor Ray Isle (left) spent the last few days eating his way through Houston at restaurants like Pass & Provisions.
Stick with organic to avoid the many pesticides found on these berries.
Stick with organic to avoid the many pesticides found on these berries.

Molina's is famous for a few things: The Jose dip, in which seasoned beef taco meat is blended together with queso. And for being President George Bush's favorite Tex-Mex restaurant, which he visited with regularity for decades. And for being the oldest continually operating Tex-Mex restaurant in Houston, open for more than 70 years. Walsh proclaimed its enchiladas de Tejas to be some of the best in the city, while I'm a fan of the Mexico City combo platter — another Tex-Mex standard — that hasn't changed since the restaurant was founded in 1941.

3. The Original Ninfa's on Navigation

As with Spanish Village, a long and winding road led to the Ninfa's on Navigation we now know and love — and the only Ninfa's that belongs on this list. The 40-year-old Tex-Mex restaurant has its own Wikipedia page devoted to the years of complicated history, but what matters most is this: Ninfa's gave us fajitas and the much-imitated creamy green sauce made with avocados, both after Mama Ninfa Laurenzo's own recipes. "The Original Mama Ninfa's on Navigation is the restaurant that made fajitas famous," wrote Robb Walsh in 2010. "And it's one of the last places where you can eat fajitas that taste like they did in the old days." Current chef Alex Padilla has updated the menu with a slate of adventurous, modern dishes, but the famous fajitas (and homemade flour tortillas, green sauce and much more from the original menu) remain exactly the same.

2. Teotihuacan

This wonderfully festive, colorful and inexpensive neighborhood place has a spacious covered patio, efficient waitstaff and large portions of some of the best Tex-Mex in Houston. As an added bonus, the Teotihuacan on Airline (my favorite of the two locations) is easy to find: Just look for the brightest pinkest restaurant you've ever seen. The green tomatillo salsa, charro beans and thick, handmade corn tortillas are awesome, as are its daily breakfasts. But it's the grilled items like fajitas, shrimp and mixed parrilladas, the cheap but strong margaritas and the singularly spectacular snapper al cilantro that keep me coming back week after week.

1. La Mexicana

The family-run restaurant La Mexicana has been serving Montrose its Tex-Mex since 1982, and the food reflects those years of loving care. You'll find old favorites like entomatadas here that are a rarity on more modern Tex-Mex menus, as well as huge weekend portions of soul-saving stuff like menudo and barbacoa breakfast tacos. If the line gets too long, seat yourself at the bar or grab some tacos to-go; they're made to order and always fresh. For a restorative weekend breakfast, an order of menudo and a breakfast taco will cure anything that ails you. And at dinner, the tampiqueña platter with a cheese enchilada over La Mex's perfectly seasoned, perfectly chargrilled beef skirt steak is the best of both worlds — fajita and enchilada all at once.

Wine Time

Houston Native Wine Celeb Ray Ilese Returns Home
Finds food scene "deeply local while still cosmopolitan."

Jeremy Parzen

My 80-year old mother may not know his name but she knows his face.

"You mean that handsome young man who talks about wine on the Today show with Kathie Lee [Gifford] and Hoda [Kotb]?" she asks when I mention that I'm having lunch in Houston with Food & Wine executive wine editor Ray Isle.

But hey, let's cut Ray some slack: My mother isn't exactly totally up to speed on the highest-profile wine writers in our country today. But she does watch morning television religiously.

Thanks to his monthly columns and frequent appearances on national television, Ray is known to more American wine lovers than any other U.S. wine writer working today. And his work not only reflects the heightened levels of wine connoisseurship in our country, it also shapes and informs the American wine palate on a scale unimaginable even a few short years ago.

Last week, Ray sat down with me at The Pass & Provisions on Taft for a sampling of its menu and a chat about his visit to Texas, where he spoke at the Austin Food & Wine Festival and spent some time catching up with family and eating his way through Houston.

As wine director Fred Jones poured us Godello, Chenin Blanc, and a wonderful expression of Sangiovese from Molino di Grace (Chianti Classico), Ray — who grew up grew up "in West University, and later in the Braeswood/Meyerland area" — shared his impressions of the Houston dining scene.

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My Voice Nation Help

I have two questions: How did El Real make this list? I only went there once, not long after it opened. Perhaps things have changed for the better since then, but when I went, the food was bland and unmemorable. Maybe I should give El Real another shot, but there are too many other good places. Why bother?And speaking of better places, why didn't Spanish Flowers make the list? It's walking distance from Teotihuacan. How could you miss it, let alone not even mention it?