DEFCON Dining: Spanish Village

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For a long time, Spanish Flowers was my family's go-to Tex-Mex joint. It was one of the first Houston restaurants (of any variety) that my parents visited while house-hunting from South Bend, IN nearly 20 years ago. When my older brother went off to college, it became a holiday tradition to hit the Heights-area eatery immediately upon retrieving him from Hobby airport. It quickly became our definition of Tex-Mex, for better or for worse.

Several years back, Spanish Flowers underwent significant renovation, expanding the restaurant's seating capacity and deflating its quality. There is, of course, the possibility that my estimation of the food declined as my exposure to better Tex-Mex far expanded, with the correlation to the restaurant's changes being mere coincidence. I maintain, though, that Spanish Flowers once served some pretty good food. The fresh, garlicky salsa and tart Enchiladas Verdes particularly stick in my mind as having once been excellent.

A few years ago, several years already past my disillusionment with Spanish Flowers, I was introduced to Spanish Village. I'm not sure exactly how I had maintained such lengthy ignorance of this venerable purveyor of chili-doused enchilada plates, but I'm certainly glad it proved vincible. I'm sure that, at this point, you're wondering how these two story lines converge. I'm not exactly sure why, but ever since my first visit, Spanish Village has always felt like what I wish Spanish Flowers still was, and like a more perfect version of how I remember it being.

Now, I'm embarking on a quest to make Spanish Village my own family's Spanish Flowers. The go-to destination when nothing but chili gravy will satisfy a craving; a place to gather with family and be a little too loud, enjoying each-others' company amid the Christmas lights. It's fitting the bill nicely.

The kids love the cement patio-furniture seating, front porch feel of the dining room, not to mention those twinkling decorations, contentedly chowing down on thin, mild queso, and cheese enchilada plates sided with musky refried beans. Mostly, they're just biding time and placating their parents so that they're allowed their share of the simple and satisfying dessert of sugar candy topped (when available) with fresh strawberries which accompanies the meal, gratis. I can understand why; the candies are a superlative example of how perfect a single bite can be, their strident sweetness balanced by the lush, fruity acidity of the berry.

Me, I always opt for the Special Enchiladas-A-La-Taylor. These are not your ordinary enchiladas. Swathed in a thick layer of cheese and chile con carne, these are beguilingly spiced pinnacles of Tex-Mexcraftsmanship. Rich cheese and chili is tempered by the fresh bite of onions, whose sweetness plays well with the festive seasoning that gives these enchiladas their character.

I spent my first meal at Spanish Village puzzling through the spices, then badgered the proprietress to give me the secret. She refused, initially, but relented slightly as I began grilling her as to the accuracy of various guesses. I can't tell you all of the ingredients, but I can verify the presence of mace. On our most recent visit, I opted to top Taylor with the addition of a pair of perfectly fried eggs. That's pushing things, but in a very good way.

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