When it comes to fajitas in Houston, many Houstonians seem firmly divided into two camps: Those who hold Lupe Tortilla's lime-marinated strips of steak to be the best around, and those who maintain that Ninfa's on Navigation is where the fajita was born and where they'll go to eat their own last plate of skirt steak before they die. Everything else is just chatter.
But when I started hearing increasingly loud rumblings that Alicia's Mexican Grille was positioning itself to take the fajita crown from these two stalwarts, I took notice. So did Eater Houston editor Eric Sandler, who began to wonder if he should consider Alicia's for an upcoming list of the city's best fajitas after hearing the same rumors himself. Being the serious investigative journalists that we are, Sandler and I headed out to the newest Alicia's in Katy -- the fifth of its locations around town -- to discover the truth once and for all.
We even brought along a third party, whose love of the fajitas at Lupe Tortilla is so great that it surpasses his fervent distaste for children and lures him back to the Tex-Mex joint time and time again. I'm firmly in the Ninfa's camp, and Sandler went in with an open mind. Did we find the best fajitas in Houston? The short answer is no. But there's more to it than that.
As it turns out, Alicia's has done a very clever thing. It's perfectly replicated the flavor and set-up of the traditional Lupe Tortilla's fajita platter (only missing the refried beans), but has duplicated it in a completely different setting. Gone are the silly, borderline offensive menu descriptions and the gaggles of unsupervised children that are -- sadly -- the hallmarks of most Lupe Tortilla's around town.
In their place is a very nice -- if a bit, um, manufactured -- restaurant that is more upscale than spots like Guadalajara, Escalante's, El Tiempo, Chuy's, Pappasito's or any number of other Tex-Mex chains across the city. Alicia's is family-friendly and welcoming, it's also the type of place that manages customers' behavior and expectations by virtue of its muted tones, soft-voiced servers and pleasantly adult vibe. It's very much the kind of restaurant I would send my parents to for a nice, mostly quiet Tex-Mex meal (if only they would venture away from the La Fiesta at Wilcrest and I-10 just once).
In that sense, I can see why so many people have crowed about Alicia's fajitas. It's the same group of people who venerate Lupe Tortilla's, but want some shinier wrapping around their whole restaurant experience. And in that department, Alicia's absolutely delivers.
Further, Alicia's is an ideal option for a large range of diners, making it easy to take large groups or picky eaters (i.e., most peoples' families). In addition to its copycat fajitas, it also serves goofy items like shrimp-stuffed jalapeños on a bed of french fries (with sides of Ranch dressing and ketchup, naturally) as well as solid, old-school dishes like cheese-filled Tejano enchiladas with a respectable chile gravy. The green sauce is a watery knock-off of the Ninfa's stuff, but the red salsa is good -- if a little garlicky.
I do wish the margaritas were better, however, as the one that I sipped on lightly throughout the night was so sweet as to make dessert unnecessary. A top-shelf margarita should go a lot lighter on the pre-fab sweet-and-sour mix and a lot heavier on the tequila. Then again, this is the suburbs -- no one really needs to be tossing back a handle of Cuervo and meandering back down Grand Parkway late at night.
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As we left, Sandler asked: "So, we're in agreement? Alicia's is a perfectly serviceable Tex-Mex place?"
Yes, we are in agreement. Alicia's might not have the best fajitas in town -- or, depending on your perspective, it may have the greatest -- but above all else it's a perfectly serviceable restaurant. And sometimes that's all you need.