As far as we can tell, Tex Chick Restaurant at 712½ Fairview in Montrose is the only Puerto Rican restaurant in Houston. That's impressive, considering the incredibly diverse ethnic dining scene in Houston. It's also an opportunity, as we recently discovered during lunch there, to explore a fantastic niche in the rich culinary culture of the Caribbean.
Tex Chick is not new. It's been around since 1982, is family-owned, and has received several Best of Houston® awards for Best Mom and Pop Restaurant. We've lived in Montrose going on 15 years and have driven past it literally hundreds of times without noticing it. It is as close to a "shack" as you can get, a tiny place with only four tables that crowd a small, adjacent kitchen.
Walking in to Tex Chick is like walking in to a Puerto Rican family's living room. On our first visit, the owner and several Puerto Rican ex-pats were chatting and playing dominos. There's no such thing as dining anonymously at Tex Chick -- you immediately get drawn in to the festive, family-like atmosphere. Maps and pictures of Puerto Rico festoon the walls.
The menu is on a sign board above the kitchen. Not being familiar with Puerto Rican cuisine, we asked the owner what to get. After sizing us up, he recommended the relatively safe fried pork with rice and beans (carne frita, arroz y habas). Clearly, our appearance does not reflect our adventurous palate. But no worries -- we're happy to start with the basics of any new cuisine.
The carne frita was excellent. Nothing spectacular, just a good, filling plate of Puerto Rican/Caribbean comfort food. As we ate, the room began to fill with a lunch crowd and the ladies in the kitchen got to work in earnest. Of particular note was the creation of the mofongo. Mofongo is a Caribbean dish made of fried green plantains which are mashed up and mixed with olive oil, garlic and pork cracklings or bacon.
Among other dishes, the mofongo is served with the bacalao, or salt cod. This alone will guarantee a return visit for us.
There's a bottle of unlabeled green sauce on every table. This is a delicious, homemade jalapeño sauce that goes great on everything. Don't let the jalapeño seeds floating in it fool you -- it's actually quite mild and incredibly tasty.
A note on the prices at Tex Chick. When people talk about the place, they inevitably bring up the cost of the dishes. Indeed, plates are in the pricey $12-15 range. For some people, that will not be considered a good value.
On the other hand, Tex Chick offers authentic, handmade, family-style Puerto Rican food in one of the most restaurant-dense areas of Houston. Frankly, we'd rather that they charge more for their food to guarantee they stay in business.
It is a familiar refrain that all of Houston's mom-and-pop restaurants are closing and being replaced by generic chain restaurants. Well, here's a chance for Houstonians to put their money where their mouth is -- Tex Chick may be pricey, but it is one of the most unique restaurants in Houston and worthy of our continued patronage.