100 Favorite Dishes

100 Favorite Dishes 2012: No. 53, Mexico City Plate at Molina's Cantina

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.

Since it's the oldest continually operating Tex-Mex restaurant in town -- having just celebrated its 70th anniversary last year -- there's a good chance that most Houstonians have their own favorite dishes at Molina's Cantina. Robb Walsh's, for example, is the plate of Enchiladas de Tejas that are covered in Molina's signature chile con carne. When you taste the chili-drenched cheese enchiladas, it's easy to see where the inspiration for the Enchiladas #7 at Walsh's own restaurant, El Real Tex-Mex Cafe, came from.

My personal favorite at Molina's is the Mexico City plate, which has remained on the restaurant's menu -- virtually unchanged -- since 1941. It's only $12.50 and features three separate plates of food, so come hungry when you order this classic. The first two parts of the dinner arrive at the same time: a queso-drenched puff of fried masa on one plate and a beef taco with guacamole and a lettuce-and-salsa-topped bean tostada on the other plate. And here's where things get messy...

You have to understand that I've been systematically destroying and rebuilding these two plates since childhood, and that there are some things about yourself you can't ever change. (I do the same thing to the Combination Plate No. 3 at Los Tios, coincidentally.) Everything on both plates gets dumped onto the larger of the two, then crunched and mashed together until you have the best taco salad on earth: refried beans, three types of fried corn masa, lettuce, guacamole, queso, seasoned beef and salsa (with extra salsa from the table thrown on top for good measure). It usually horrifies my tablemates, but it's so good that I can't help myself.

After the taco salad comes the third and final plate of the night: a cheese enchilada and a chili con carne-topped pork tamale flanked by rice and more refried beans. Molina's chili and its cheese enchiladas are already legendary, so the Mexico City dinner is the perfect way to enjoy them both along with a few of its other specials. If you're going big, I recommend getting the dinner along with some Jose's Dip -- the restaurant's signature queso with spicy ground beef mixed in -- because it tops your taco salad well and you'll want to enjoy it with one of Molina's ultra-smooth house margaritas on the rocks.

Got out-of-town guests and want to show them how Houston Tex-Mex has been done the right way for over seven decades? The Mexico City dinner at Molina's is the way to go.

The list so far:

No. 100: Chili cheese mac at Jus' Mac No. 99: Texas turkey sandwich at Spec's No. 98: Custard at Petite Sweets No. 97: Caprichos mixtos at Taqueria Monterrey Chiquito No. 96: Pineapple-wasabi burger at Lankford Grocery No. 95: Farmer's MKT Pizza at Phoenicia's MKT Bar No. 94: Potatoes at Money Cat Brunch No. 93: Breakfast tacos at Sunrise Taquito No. 92: Hot dog at Tacos D.F. No. 91: Avocado gelato at Frozen Cafe No. 90: Chicken sandwich at JerryBuilt Homegrown Burgers No. 89: Beer-battered asparagus at Hearsay No. 88: Honey Badger omelet at Kraftsmen Cafe No. 87: Pastelitos de carne at El Jalapeño No. 86: Pancakes at Union Kitchen No. 85: Wild boar and crab pizza at Boheme No. 84: Breakfast croissant at BB Donuts No. 83: Pretzel at Anvil Bar & Refuge No. 82: Short rib sandwich at Shepherd Park Draught House No. 81: Grilled shrimp po-boy at Pappadeaux No. 80: Dahi puri at Shiv Sagar No. 79: Aporreado at Los Corrales No. 78: Oxtail francobolli at Aldo's Cucina Italiana No. 77: Tonkotsu at Cafe Kubo's No. 76: Spinach danish from Angela's Oven No. 75: Pupusas at El Petate No. 74: Pheasant dog at Sammy's Wild Game Grill No. 73: X-Tudo burger at Friends Pizzeria No. 72: Esparragos gratinados at Tintos No. 71: Gua bao at Yummy Kitchen No. 70: Geisha dog at Happy Endings No. 69: Oyster po-boy and gumbo at Goode Co. Seafood No. 68: Ceviche at Sirena Seafood No. 67: Caldo de mariscos at Taqueria Arandas No. 66: Banana pudding at Pizzitola's No. 65: Fried catfish and gumbo at Cafe-A-La No. 64: Soft-shell crabs at Banana Leaf No. 63: Macaroni and cheese at Vic & Anthony's Steakhouse No. 62: Torta burger at El Gran Malo No. 61: Black bean burger at Ziggy's No. 60: Parillada at Pampa Grill No. 59: Peanut butter and jalapeño jelly burger at Wicked Whisk No. 58: Eggplant involtini at Giacomo's Cibo e Vino No. 57: Lone Star dog at James Coney Island No. 56: Sushi at Sushi Miyagi No. 55: Palestinian chicken at Al Aseel No. 54: Roast beef sandwich at Local Foods

Follow Eating Our Words on Facebook and on Twitter @EatingOurWords

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Katharine Shilcutt