Second Coming on Shepherd
Those who have longed for this day can finally rejoice. After a decade's absence, Tila's is back.
Or it will be very soon. The Houston businesswoman whose Mexican restaurant on lower Westheimer was something of a shrine for much of the 1980s has decided to gird her loins and try again -- this time inthe building known as "the dragonfly house" on the Shepherd curve, a mere stone's throw from the Backstreet Cafe.
In the ten years since she left the restaurant business, Tila Leach Hidalgo -- she's thinking of shedding the "Leach" -- has entered into legend. When I first came to Houston, people spoke of her with such reverence, I imagined she was one of the early Texas settlers or, at the very least, had defended the Alamo.
Born and raised in Mexico City, she lived in Paris for six years and was educated at what she calls "a school for rich bitches" in Virginia.
She came to Houston in 1971 and opened Tila's ten years later. Hers was the first Houston restaurant to offer "cooking you'd find in Mexico City," Hidalgo says, and it earned her a rabid following.
Customers became the culinary equivalent of Grateful Dead fans. They were passionately loyal. And they were true. No one went to Tila's just to eat. They went to find salvation.
Then in 1988, and with little warning, the music died.
Hidalgo, who'd been knocking heads with a recalcitrant landlord, had had enough, she says. "It was time to shut the doors."
But oh, the lamentation that inspired. Bad as the collapse of oil prices had been, this was worse.
Still, her public didn't lose hope. "People have been begging me for years to reopen," she says. And now they need beg no more.
A woman stopped by the new premises recently, Hidalgo says, "and she was actually shaking."
"Is it true?" the woman wanted to know. "Tell me it's true."
The new restaurant will seat some 80 people and will house a bar. And there's even better news: The food at the new Tila's will, for the most part, be the food she offered at the old.
It will be more than a dining experience, she promises; it will also be "a fun place to go."
For now at least, the plan is to be up and running sometime in April.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Houston dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.