Chef Chat

50 Years of Tradition, Family and Food at Cyclone Anaya's

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Cyclone Anaya's, the family-owned and operated business that's also one of the most iconic restaurants in Houston.  Rico and Vienna, two of five children of Jesús Becerra Valencia and Carolina Berzeny, continue to manage the business and carry on their parents' tradition of serving healthy, good food.

The tale of the wrestler and the beauty queen is well-known here in Houston, but worth telling again. Valencia, known better by his championship wrestling persona, Cyclone Anaya, was the ninth of 11 children. He earned fame and fortune from professional wrestling in Mexico and later in the United States.

He met his wife of more than 50 years, Berzeny, when she was the reigning Miss Houston. They had five children, and now have 11 grandchildren. In 1966, after six years retired from the sport because of a career-ending back injury, Anaya leased an icehouse at 1201 North Shepherd. When he suffered the injury, doctors had told them that "he would never walk again," said Vienna. "However, through God's grace, his faith and incredibly strong will, Papa proved the prognosis wrong."

The Cyclone Anaya's Inn started serving traditional Mexican dishes such as cheese enchiladas and chile con queso on the weekends. "Our father had more of the culinary background than Mom; he actually taught her how to cook," said Rico. Food service extended throughout the week, always closing at 8 p.m. and always closing on Sundays for family time. This tradition remained true for a decade until they moved into a more permanent home at 1015 Durham.

The restaurant was a true family business in which cousins, uncles, nieces and nephews all had jobs, from stocking the napkins and cleaning the tables to washing the dishes. "Grandfather's nickname was 'Chop-Chop' because he was in charge of chopping the onions," recalls Vienna. "Mom's little sister would be on the line with her, in that little kitchen with a tiny pink stove. I've been cooking in the kitchen since I was six," she added.

We asked if the menu has changed very much over the past 50 years. Rico said that his father, who died in 1981, was influenced by many other cuisines, mostly European. "Our mom's family has origins in Yugoslavia, and Dad's background includes the French and Spanish," he said. Because of his extensive travels, Anaya loved trying new recipes in his own restaurant. Rico said that his dad also loved having beer from other parts of the world on the shelf. If he liked it, he served it, anything from a Chinese beer to Foster's.

Today, the menu has expanded to include more seafood items, and Cyclone Anaya's uses sustainable products whenever possible, including free-range, no-hormone chicken. "We are moving toward being more of a farm-to-table Mexican restaurant," said Rico.

Currently, there are seven locations, six in Houston and the surrounding area, one in Fairfax, Virginia, that opened in 2013, and an eighth location, to open in Austin in March 2017. The Austin store will feature a floor-to-ceiling rotisserie wall and an in-house tortilleria. Future plans include expansion into more suburban markets with restaurants that are similar to the Austin location (with in-house tortilla production).

The 50th anniversary celebration continues through the end of the year with a tailgate event planned for the December 4 Texans-versus-Green Bay Packers game. The event will feature a special anniversary brown ale from Saint Arnold, Ale Wagger, and plenty of drink and food specials. A portion of all sales of Ale Wagger will be donated to local animal rescue organizations. Cyclone Anaya's will be grilling tacos at the tailgate. Check out the website for more details.
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Cuc Lam is a freelance food writer for the Houston Press and local pop-up chef. She enjoys teaching cooking classes and hosting dinner parties when she is not writing.