There are three guys at the bar, one in scrubs, one in a button-down, one in a black shirt who won't stop fiddling with an empty shot glass, clicking it against the bar, the sound like that of an off-tempo tap dancer. They're wasted and talking about Milli Vanilli versus Vanilla Ice and a friend who's on a date "with some girl." I myself am drinking a margarita the size of a potted plant, the cohort is having a martini, and we're downing a bubbling-hot ramekin of shrimp-bedecked quesos flameados, the incredible melted jack cheese "casserole" that stretches to infinity if you don't have a professional show you how to wrap it between two spoons and place it niftily on your tortillas, in this case flour. In this case, there is no professional.
They aren't the best tortillas I've had in Houston so far. The bacon fat tortillas at State of Grace and the brisket lard tortillas at The Pitroom seem far superior, though I suppose in a rather gringo way. But what do I know? I'm fresh off the boat from New Orleans, where, shockingly, there are really not that many great late-night eats in town, not as many as you'd expect, anyway — Lucky Dog, Verti Marte, Bud's Broiler. All shameful acts of midnight snacking.
"Well, there's no good late-night food in Houston," pretty much everyone has told me since I moved here in January. But it's 12:07 a.m on a Thursday, and I'm pretty sure La Tapatia, on Richmond and Woodhead — the dining room rather packed for this hour — beats every late-night spot in New Orleans.
The best enchiladas de mole poblano I've ever seen have arrived in front of me at the bar. They're basically presented on a plate that's actually a serving platter, a sea of chicken enchiladas shrouded in cheese and dark mole, edging up to the promising shores of refried beans and rice and pico de gallo, a topping of avocado making a strange C and O shape as in Come On. Eat this already.
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It's a steal at $9.95. I can't imagine having to eat this alone, but thankfully I don't have to. I can't imagine this isn't the best drunk food in town. Granted, I have just finished my Barbie hot tub of frozen marg and the cohort is ordering a second martini, probably the last request the bartender here was expecting.
"This is the dish in town everybody loves but nobody ever talks about," says the cohort as we stuff our faces. Indeed, the chicken enchilada is tender, slightly salty and mole-sweet, comfort food at its best, the avocado lending a healthier aspect to it all, the way salsa does to deep-fried chips.
There is finally some quiet. The bros next to us filter out the door toward an Uber. Fútbol streams on one of the jumbo flat screens. A player has just scored. He's ripped his shirt off and is praising the heavens. I stuff another bite of enchilada in my mouth. I know exactly how he feels.
1749 Richmond, 713-521-3144, latapatiahouston.com
Hours: Sunday to Thursday, 8 a.m. to 3 a.m.; Friday and Saturday, 8 a.m. to 5 a.m.
What's the best late-night spot in Houston? Where should we go next? Leave a comment and tell us about your favorite.