Menudo: It's Not Just for Hangovers

Over a bowl of menudo during a recent lunch at Mucho Mexico -- the subject of this week's rather unfavorable cafe review -- Jay Rascoe and I ruminated about our favorite spots in town for menudo, the ruddy, fatty soup that's filled with hominy and honeycomb-like pieces of tripe. Neither of us particularly cared for the menudo at Mucho Mexico; there was so much broth and so little tripe or hominy, and the broth itself was overly fatty and under seasoned.

Rascoe, better known as food blogger and personality Guns and Tacos, told me that his favorite menudo in town is at La Mexicana (1018 Fairview), the little Mexican joint in Montrose that's been around since 1982. Living within walking distance of La Mex, I've eaten there plenty of times, yet never ordered the menudo. Why? Because everything I've had there save the heavenly breakfast tacos on grease-sheened flour tortillas has been a mess.

But if anyone knows good menudo, it's Rascoe, who once made a sport of the stuff. "I used to hit a different spot every weekend morning," he told me over lunch. "This was way before I got into food blogging. I just did it for fun." And of all the shady spots on Chimney Rock or joints with people obliteratingly hungover in booths on a Sunday morning, it was La Mex he liked best throughout it all.

So I headed there this past Saturday to check it out for myself.

La Mex serves breakfast all day long, but it only serves menudo on Saturdays and Sundays. Like at the most authentic Mexican restaurants, the bowl of thick, red soup comes with a small dish (seen above) containing Mexican oregano, raw white onions and chili pequin. You're free to doctor your menudo up any way you see fit, but my personal preference is to dump the whole bowl of fixings into the broth and follow it up with a generous squeeze of fresh lime juice.

Indeed, the menudo at La Mex verged on transcendent. My Mexican dining companion kept stealing bites of it from across the table, then dipping the rest of his tortillas into the broth when he was done with his own breakfast. "This tastes just like grandma's," he enthused.

And although menudo has a reputation for being a hangover cure (with that much lovely grease in the red broth, how could it not be?), it's visions of Grandma's house that menudo brings to mind for many more people. Making menudo is time-consuming, an activity usually done with family and for family meals. That's one of the reasons it's also associated with the weekends, when there's more time to devote to things like cleaning tripe or deboning cows' feet.

Of course, these days it's just as easy to make menudo from things like canned hominy (a/k/a posole) and the pre-cleaned tripe you find in grocery stores, but the soup still takes about two hours to cook. And it's even better if you can freeze it and heat it up the next day -- trust me on this. But if you're aren't up for a marathon menudo-making session at home, I can now wholeheartedly recommend La Mex as a great destination for the breakfast food along with another Houston favorite, Pico's Mex-Mex in Bellaire.

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