DEFCON Dining: Lupe Tortilla

Fresh on the heels of my personal DEFCON Dining Waterloo, my wife made the questionable decision to allow the kids to invite a friend out for dinner. I'm sure all the parents out there are keenly aware of the dangers imposed by the inclusion of other people's children. Even in the best of circumstances, they can't be trusted. You haven't trained them.

This time, not only were we including a wild card, it was a kid from whom we can regularly expect trouble. A common refrain at my house, when my kids have been playing with this particular neighborhood chum, is "what did X do this time?" You can imagine my trepidation in wrangling the crew in the car for dinner.

The phrase "any port in a storm" can certainly hold true in DEFCON Dining, and that tenet may well have saved us, this time. We'd been intending to dine at Spaghetti Western, hoping that the combination of laid-back, family friendly vibe and simple food would get us in and out without major incident. When we couldn't find a parking space, we headed elsewhere.

The kids were starting to whine, hungry and disappointed at the lack of noodle options on display, and I decided that timing was of the essence. I whipped into the next restaurant parking lot I passed, which just happened to be the Lupe Tortilla across the street. It had been years since I'd eaten at Lupe Tortilla. The last time, I'd been dining at their Southwest Freeway location, lured under the auspices of a "play date." My memory was largely one of mediocre food with sand in it, one of the pitfalls of dining anywhere that has an attached playground.


Prior to that, I'd had some positive experiences with Lupe food. Before she went vegetarian turncoat on us, one of my sisters-in-law had traditionally done a Tex-Mex Christmas Eve, with fajitas and trimmings picked up from Lupe. I remember a clean, meaty flavor, simply accented by strident lime and dusky black pepper. I recall finding some appeal in that combination of boldness and austerity.

With that in mind, I ordered the happy hour special Carne Asada for $12.95. The steak was tender, showing the tell-tale perforations of a jacquard at work. It was also unfortunately mealy, with an unpleasant fattiness that coated the roof of my mouth. Instead of bright, assertive lime, there was only a mild sourness. No trace of black pepper was there, filling in the background. Of interesting note were the salsas. One tasted like watery borracho beans, the other like a fresh and chunky, surprisingly un-gross version of Taco Bell's Fire Sauce, its predominant flavor coming from dusky chili powder.

Despite the disappointing food, we had a decent time. The other happy hour drinkers out-shouted my kids, pitchers of margaritas creating a boisterous atmosphere on the oddly carpeted patio. Without the lure of a sandbox, the kids stayed at the table, happily drawing on their paper menus, and deciding what to have for dessert, which was included in the kids' meal price. The lure of chocolate in exchange for good behavior can be a mighty motivational tool, and they didn't need to know that it was already guaranteed.

So I think I've learned something here. While I won't bother with the sandbox-outfitted Lupe, I just might hazard another venture to this one, in a pinch. I'll just make sure to do it at happy hour. It's nice to dine somewhere the adults around you can be expected to behave about as well as your kids. It's all about perspective, after all.

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Nicholas L. Hall is a husband and father who earns his keep playing a video game that controls the U.S. power grid. He also writes for the Houston Press about food, booze and music, in an attempt to keep the demons at bay. When he's not busy keeping your lights on, he can usually be found making various messes in the kitchen, with apologies to his wife.
Contact: Nicholas L. Hall