My head hurts just thinking about the latest plot development in the long-running Spanish Village soap opera. First there was the split between Larry Pico, the veteran owner of the Christmas-lit Tex-Mex landmark on Almeda, and the Medina family, who had bought the rights to the name and menu when Pico retired. After a lease dispute with landlord Pico, father John and son Joe Medina relocated to Lillian Street in the Heights. Pico's handpicked new operator at the Almeda restaurant didn't work out, so the venerable Pico had to come out of retirement and run the place himself. Since the Medinas owned the Spanish Village name, he called it L. Pico Village, but the menu and the legendary margaritas were the same as ever.
By whatever name you called them, Houston had ended up with two Spanish Villages. Unfortunately both struggled along in diminished condition; faithful customers from four decades were confused and torn. Some drifted away. Both restaurants were often unsettlingly depopulated. It grieved folks who had come to depend on Spanish Village for a raucous Friday-night fix of gooey, unrepentently retrograde Tex-Mex, processed cheese food and all. Of course, the folks who never got the point of Spanish Village -- poor, benighted and snobby souls -- could not have cared less.
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But Spanish Village connoisseurs got a start recently when a new Spanish Village sign was raised over the Almeda location, sacred for its funky porch and massive concrete tables inlaid with broken tile. On further inspection, the laminated L. Pico Village menus appeared to be overlaid with tape designating the place, once again, the Spanish Village. Beloved waiter Lionel, a longtime Almeda fixture who lately had been employed at Lillian Street, was back on the original premises.
What gave? It turns out that after a serious difference of opinion, John and Joe Medina had parted company. John was back on Almeda in place of the elderly Larry Pico, who was only too glad to retire (again); son Joe, who had trademarked the Spanish Village name (without his father's knowledge, says John),was consulting a lawyer.
What a mess. For now, Houston has dueling Spanish Villages. Devotees can only hope that they don't duel themselves out of existence. As for me, I'm going to take two aspirin, pray that a professional mediator will step in on a pro bono basis and hope for the best.
Spanish Village, 4811 Lillian, 802-2921; and Spanish Village, 4720 Almeda, 523-2861.