For the next 20 weeks, we'll be rounding up the runners-up to our 2011 Best of Houston® winners. In many categories, picking each year's winner is no easy task. We'll be spotlighting 20 of those categories, in which the winner had hefty competition from other Houston bars and restaurants.
5. Los Tios
There's likely a Los Tios near you; there are plenty of the Houston-based Tex-Mex restaurants scattered around town. And if you grew up here, there's a good chance you grew up eating at Los Tios after recitals or baseball games. Nostalgia isn't the only influencing factor in loving Los Tios, though; its enchiladas are genuinely good stuff. I'm also a fan of the creamy shrimp enchiladas (pictured), which I normally dislike elsewhere; that alone endears Los Tios to me.
Chef and owner Sylvia Casares has alternately been called the Enchilada Empress and the Queen of Enchiladas. Her chili gravy is thin and yet still complex, coating the blissfully basic cheese enchiladas with a richness that's unexpected. Yet it all works, bright sparks of chile de árbol and dusky hues of cumin all coming together in a frantic rush of flavor. On top of the soft cheese and beneath the eye-watering snap of raw white onions, this is South Texas Tex-Mex at its finest and most genuine.
3. La Mexicana
Since 1982, this family-run Tex-Mex joint in Montrose has been serving excellent breakfast tacos in the mornings and menudo on the weekends. But for dinner during the week, its best bet is the Tampiqueña: one beautifully plump cheese enchilada with one cooked-to-order piece of skirt steak (the same steak used for its fajitas). It's terrific medium-rare, and even better when you alternate bites of chili gravy-topped enchilada in between.
Spanish Village evokes everything people love about Tex-Mex, everything we find comforting about the cuisine: a sprawling but cozy set of dining rooms with colored Christmas lights strung from room to room; gooey cheese that wraps your stomach and your heart in warmth (and perhaps cholesterol, but who cares?); simply constructed guacamole salad without any fuss or pomp, served with idiosyncratic bits of carrot and celery stuck on top; and a basic plate of Enchiladas a la Taylor with ground beef, plenty of that same gooey cheese and raw white onions.
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Los Dos Amigos holds court with other old souls Wabash Feed Store, Guadalajara Bakery and Laredo Taqueria as reminders of Washington Avenue's not-so-distant past, and it's held on this long for good reason: The food, especially the enchiladas, seems to get better the longer Los Dos sticks around. And the gooey, surprisingly greaseless cheese enchiladas with a fried egg on top are the best dish here, available on the dinner menu even though most people order them for breakfast. Kicked up with a shot of the vinegar-based red sauce on each table, these enchiladas are truly the breakfast of champions.