100 Favorite Dishes

100 Favorite Dishes 2012: No. 87, Pastelitos de Carne at El Jalapeño

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.

I am not wary of fast-fusion restaurants in general. But the practice can go terribly wrong, terribly fast. And I wasn't sure where El Jalapeño would fall along this spectrum when I stumbled into it one Monday night and saw its menu was a mixture of Mexican, Honduran and Chinese cuisine. Luckily, the mix works.

The pastelitos de carne -- a Honduran twist on the empanada -- were my favorite of the many dishes I tried during that happy night of discovery. The reason I like pastelitos so much more than empanadas is the same reason I prefer a Honduran pupusa to a Mexican quesadilla: Both Honduran dishes have a thick exterior -- usually made with coarsely ground corn -- that's just endlessly satisfying to sink your teeth into. The pastelitos at El Jalapeño are no exception, and the beef inside is roughly chopped fajita meat; no anemic ground beef here.

Like most of the other dishes that evening, the pastelitos were topped with the cabbage shreds that are typical of Honduran cuisine along with a spicy, creamy sauce that had an unfamiliar kick to it. That same cabbage was in a slaw called curtido, served alongside an almost equally good pupusa, which was stuffed with a thin layer of salty pork skin and cheese.

The traditional tomato salsa on the side is missing here, but you'll find an ample substitute in the garish orange salsa that comes with the hot corn chips. Its lack of heat was surprising given its habanero-orange color, but the fresh, sweet sauce worked so perfectly with both the pastelitos and the pupusas that I wondered if it hadn't been meant for that purpose all along.

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

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