This year leading up to our annual Best of Houston issue, we're counting down our 100 favorite dishes in Houston. This list comprises our favorite dishes from the last year, dishes that are essential to Houston's cultural landscape and/or dishes that any visitor (or resident) should try at least once.
It's true that El Real Tex-Mex Cafe has had many a stumbling-block since opening earlier this year, but how could it not? It's a juggernaut of a restaurant, with many moving parts to corral and an all-star team behind it that naturally draws a lever of hyper-scrutiny not often experienced by restaurateurs in Houston.
But for the misses I've experienced there, I've experienced just as many hits. And the Tex-Mex burger -- not, surprisingly, the puffy tacos or lard-infused enchiladas -- is El Real's biggest hit. I first encountered the burger here at EOW, where Christina Uticone reported on it as an off-menu item. By the time I'd gotten to El Real to try it for myself, it was happily on the menu, keeping company with other new dishes like the Chingo Bling.
El Real is one of those places that actually cooks your burger to order; I'd honestly expect nothing less from Robb Walsh, though. And my burger came out a perfect medium-rare, just as requested. The thick, sloppy patty was rich and meaty, its juices adhering all of the other ingredients together: Fritos, roasted poblano peppers, a smear of lardy refried beans, red tomatoes, caramelized onions and a sprinkling of queso fresco. It's a blissful marriage between old-school Tex-Mex and new-school monster burgers, and even this thin-patty connoisseur thinks that it's a marriage made in heaven.
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The list so far:
No. 100: Dumplings at Heights Asian Cafe No. 99: Mixta Pizza at Friends Pizzeria No. 98: Veggie tacos from Radical Eats No. 97: Bean pie from Conscious Cafe No. 96: Swiss chard crepes from Giacomo's Cibo e Vino No. 95: Eggs Mia Bella at Mia Bella No. 94: Mulligatawny soup at the Queen Vic No. 93: Helado de Lúcuma from Pollo Bravo No. 92: Black bean burger from Natachee's No. 91: Chupacabra pizza from ERA No. 90: Roast chicken from El Norteño No. 89: Eggs El Salvador from Brasil No. 88: Frank the Pretzel from Eatsie Boys No. 87: Caldo Tlalpeño from Tacos del Julio No. 86: English pea soup at Brasserie 19 No. 85: Falafel from Zabak's No. 84: Buttermilk-fried pork loin with fried eggs at Canopy No. 83: Grillades and grits from BB's Cajun Cafe No. 82: Haemul dolsot from Seoul House No. 81: Pandan waffles at Parisian Bakery III No. 80: Pita bread and hummus at Phoenicia No. 79: Goat pepper soup at Peppersoup Cafe No. 78: Melon and Texas feta salad from Beaver's No. 77: Hot Italian beef from BB's Beef & Hot Dog No. 76: Bacon-avocado burger from Facundo Cafe No. 75: Pancakes from Fountain View Cafe No. 74: Hobnobs from Fluff Bake Bar No. 73: Chu chee eggplant from Nidda Thai No. 72: Sausage sampler from King's Biergarten No. 71: Shawarma from Abdallah's No. 70: Moules-frite at the Broken Spoke No. 69: Hong Kong-style French toast at House of Bowls No. 68: Sashimi sampler at Sushi Miyagi No. 67: Baleadas from Honduras Mayan No. 66: Snow ice from Star Snow Ice & Teriyaki No. 65: Boudin balls from MerCheri's No. 64: Miso ramen at Umai No. 63: Grim burger at Lankford Grocery No. 62: Dabeli at Bansuri Indian Food Corner No. 61: Wine and cupcakes at 13 Celsius No. 60: Pâté de France from Spec's No. 59: Steak and eggs from Ninfa's on Navigation No. 58: Breakfast pita at Niko Niko's No. 57: Vegan curry at Cafe TH No. 56: Samosas at Shiv Sagar No. 55: Ceviche at Latin Bites Cafe No. 54: Wicked Philly at Pappa Geno's No. 53: Pork chop at Perry's Steakhouse No. 52: Soft-shell crab at Pico's Mex-Mex No. 51: Sno-balls at MAM's House of Ice No. 50: Whole catfish at Saigon Pagolac No. 49: Nova fish box at New York Bagel & Coffee Shop No. 48: Sojok mana'eesh at Cedars Bakery No. 47: Pho ga at Pho Ga Dakao No. 46: Sicilia salad at Trevisio No. 45: Dahi puri at Sweet 'n' Namkin No. 44: Hot dogs at Moon Tower Inn No. 43: Real guacamole at Yelapa Playa Mexicana No. 42: Akaushi short ribs at Soma Sushi No. 41: Country-fried chicken livers at Haven No. 40: Seafood gumbo at Cajun Town Cafe No. 39: Tacos at Karanchos No. 38: Crepes at Melange Creperie No. 37: Gua bao at Yummy Kitchen No. 36: Guanciale burger at Plonk No. 35: Snapper al cilantro at Teotihuacan No. 34: The Houstonian at James Coney Island No. 33: The Montrose at Amy's Ice Cream No. 32: Lobster bisque at Philippe No. 31: Tacos de cabeza y orejas at El Ultimo No. 30: Oyster stew at Danton's No. 29: Fried oysters at TQLA No. 28: Banh mi at Cali Sandwich No. 27: Captin's fried chicken at Zelko Bistro No. 26: The Brisket House Special at The Brisket House No. 25: Menudo at La Mexicana No. 24: Chargrilled oysters at Wild Cajun No. 23: Breakfast tacos at Revival Market No. 22: Sticky toffee pudding at Branch Water Tavern