Filling the Gaps at Fiesta en Guadalajara

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I've lived in Houston for 22 23 years. It took me 16 of those to visit the Rothko Chapel for the first time. I didn't eat at Ninfa's on Navigation until I'd counted myself a Houstonian for nearly a decade. I still haven't eaten at Frenchy's. The list of glaring omissions goes on and on. Before you boot me from the city for civic negligence, or at least refuse to continue allowing me to write about Houston food, let me assure you that 2014 2015 2016 is the year I start fixing keep struggling to find the time to fix this problem. I'm making a list of places. Places I should have been by now. Places even I can't believe I haven't visited. This is the year I get (re)acquainted with my city. Maybe you'll find a few from your own list in these posts. I encourage you to follow suit.

I was going to say that my family often finds itself in a Tex-Mex rut, but that's not entirely accurate. It's more like we've spent the time developing a relationship with a place, learning the ins and outs of its menu and our moods, getting in a groove that's just too pleasant to get out of. It's nice to have a place that's yours; where you know you can go after a really crappy day at work and drown your sorrows in a margarita and a commiserating plate of enchiladas; where everybody might not know your name, but you feel like maybe they could. That's the kind of Tex-Mex "rut" we get into. It's a good kind of rut. 

Of course, ruts, grooves and other assorted furrows are the antithesis of FtG, no matter how comfortable they may be to settle into. When the typical "where should we eat" tango finally settled into a Tex-Mex two-step a while back, I decided to get out of that groove and back into this one. I flipped through the mental "why haven't we been here yet" file and settled on Fiesta en Guadalajara. 

Things got off to a shaky start with parking. Fiesta en Guadalajara has a moderately large lot, but devotes much of it to valet. I can't stand valet. Especially unnecessary valet. We debated going elsewhere. We debated kicking over some cones and defying the attendants. Finally, a few spots opened up in the plebeian section, and we pounced. My brother-in-law may have kicked over a cone in silent protest as we walked toward the festively lit entrance. 

Amid the twinkling lights and palm fronds of Fiesta en Guadalajara's front patio, vendors hawk jewelry and leather goods. It feels less like a restaurant and more like a pint-sized open air market. That vibe follows you inside, where children dart between the tables selling small bouquets of flowers or candied apples, competing with roving mariachi for space and attention. 
Our large party was seated in the back, edged up against the bar. Despite the hostess' warnings that the crowd might get rowdy, eyeing our clutch of kiddos, we didn't have any issues with noise. We did have a bit of trouble with service, feeling a bit forgotten in that far-flung and semi-obscured table. A warm, tomato-y salsa appeared after a while, mild and comforting. Scooped up with excellent chips (sans the greasy sheen and fry-o-lator funk that plagues too many baskets), the salsa kept the masses calm while we waited for guacamole (smashed tableside, it needed salt and lime, both of which were provided on request). The guacamole kept things calm while we waited for margaritas (the peach version my wife ordered was a brain-freeze cannonball, but not half bad). 

I went for a Texas Combo, pairing one cheese enchilada with a tamale and a crispy beef taco. My wife and her sister both ordered the Enchiladas de Rancho. They did so despite my  warnings that these were not the enchiladas they were looking for. It's not that the dish sounded bad, but that I was pretty sure they were after something more in the "oozing yellow cheese of questionable provenance" vein. They were. I ended up switching plates with my sister-in-law. She's pregnant, and is temporarily exempt from the "hey, you ordered it" rule. 
I actually enjoyed the Enchiladas de Rancho, dusky with their red chile dredge. The tortillas enfolded gentle, lightly squeaky queso fresco, with more on top. Fried potatoes for earthiness and fried carrots for a savory-edged punch of sweetness made for a unique plate, and one that offered its own pleasures. Those pleasures were significantly different than those more commonly afforded by Tex-Mex enchiladas, so I can understand some sense of disappointment. 

Ultimately, I was pleased with the trade. The Texas Combo was hit-or-miss (she gave it back after a few bites - the pregnant exemption again). The cheese in the enchilada was cold and congealed, but the tamale was surprisingly good, light and tender under its mild blanket of gravy. The beef taco was cafeteria perfection, all simple salt and grease with a wonderfully shattering shell. I do wish more of the cheese, lettuce and tomato had stayed within.

While I think I was the only one who really enjoyed the food, I think everyone agreed that they liked Fiesta en Guadalajara. It's too cheerful a place not to like. I think we'll be back, though I don't think Fiesta en Guadalajara is going to work us into a new groove. 

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