Lupe's, Inside the Loop
What is it about that west Houston neighborhood phenomenon, Lupe's Tortillas (318 Stafford Street, [281] 496-7580), that has won so many devotees over the years? I can't think of many Houston eateries whose customers regularly and gladly endure hour-plus waits for elementary Tex-Mex dining, but the denizens of affluent nearby subdivisions such as Barker's Landing and Memorial Thicket seem happy to populate Lupe's porch rockers every night of the week.

Perhaps the appeal is the welcome excuse to just sit, rock and sip Lupe's potent, fresh lime margaritas; or maybe it's the kid-friendly techniques Lupe's employs to entertain the rug rats of frazzled two-income families. There's a sandbox filled with real beach sand in the summer, and sometimes shaved ice "snow" in the winter, and even a special kids' bar stocked with sweet cold drinks.

Whatever it is, those who dwell inside the Loop will soon get a chance to judge for themselves: Lupe's Tortillas plans to open a second location at Kirby and U.S. 59. The demographics augur well for the site, conveniently close to the similarly affluent, child-rearing epicenters of West University, Southhampton and Bellaire, and smack in the middle of the Kirby mesquite strip.

The manager-to-be of the new location, Nick Incrapera, promises to duplicate the good-clean-fun ambiance of the original Lupe's as much as possible, right down to the tin roof, metal folding chairs and, of course, the sandbox. The new space will be a smallish 5,000 square feet, seating maybe 175 people both indoors and on the outside deck, so lines at this door, too, are practically assured.

As for food, "We're gonna stick to the basics," Incrapera says. Although Lupe's reputation is built on its unpretentious enchiladas and burritos, this response may be a bit disingenuous: Incrapera, a born-and-raised Houstonian, is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in New York. That's where he met Judson Holt, the son of Lupe's owner, Stan Holt. (All the Holt children practically grew up in Lupe's kitchen.) Four months ago, Incrapera caved in to the younger Holt's none-too-subtle pressure to join the Tortilla team, and the rest, he hopes, will be history.

As of this writing, the Lupe's site, between Scottsdale's and Academy, is still under construction, but Incrapera hopes to finish in time for a mid-July opening. The end of July is more like it, says Paul McElroy, who's partnering with the Holt family in its new venture and overseeing the buildout. "Don't expect too much fanfare at first," warns McElroy. "We want to make sure we're ready and don't disappoint our fans."

-- Margaret L. Briggs

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Margaret L.Briggs