Food Fight: Battle Cheese Enchilada

Food Fight: Battle Cheese Enchilada
Photos by Katharine Shilcutt

"Cheese enchiladas served in chili con carne -- not thin, meatless chili gravy, or authentic enchilada sauce -- are the hallmark of real Tex-Mex, according to 78-year-old Fort Worth sportswriter and Tex-Mex expert Dan Jenkins," as Robb Walsh stated in his July 2008 feature "Temples of Tex-Mex."

The gooey, cheesy, occasionally meaty cheese enchiladas served in classic Tex-Mex joints were more often than not the first Mexican (used here interchangeably with "Tex-Mex") that most of us ever ate. And to this day, they remain some of the finest -- albeit not the healthiest -- comfort food around. There are few things better for the soul than a scalding hot plate of cheese and tortillas, accompanied by some savory refried beans, rice and tortilla chips with a bowl of refreshingly spicy salsa. But when cheese enchiladas go bad, they go very bad.

To wit: I once took an extended business trip to Rochester, in upstate New York. The locals there were exceedingly proud of their "Tex-Mex" restaurant, Don Pablo's. It vaguely resembled a Cafe Adobe, except for all the snow falling outside. But that's where the Tex-Mex resemblance ended. The food was the singularly most unpalatable thing I've ever attempted to consume (and I've eaten duck tongues and goose feet), the cheese in the enchiladas simultaneously stringy and gritty and as bland as Elmer's glue.

Luckily, Houston is home to more than a few Tex-Mex places which consistently get cheese enchiladas right, and thank God for that. And this week, we decided to not only investigate cheese enchiladas around town, but to pit two unlikely candidates against one another: a restaurant from our 10 Most Overrated Restaurants list and one from our 10 Most Underrated Restaurants list. The results will probably surprise you...

As it was the No. 5 most underrated restaurant on our list, we had high expectations of Teotihuacan (1511 Airline) from the start. The bright-pink restaurant -- recognizable from space, most likely -- is always pleasantly busy, but never overly so. The crowd inside is roughly the same demographic as its surrounding neighborhood: half blue-collar Hispanic families and workers and half Heights yuppies. Excellent happy hour deals tend to pack the place in the evenings, which becomes as comfortable and warm as your own living room.

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