It's the holidays, amigos. That magical time of year when we binge eat for two continuous months under flimsy pretenses and layer up to hide our shame. While this season means turkey, eggnog, and creme bru-lattes in America, it comes with its own unique set of culinary traditions south of the border.
From banana leaf wrapped tamales to a steamy bowl of bright red pozole, in Mexican homes the holidays are a time to cook extravagant, time consuming meals that bring family together and waistlines out.
This year, the Houston Press will be your guide through a Mexican holiday eating tour of Houston. This rundown will cover some of Mexico's essential holiday dishes and tell you where you can find them around the city.
Grab your posada candle and put out the poinsettias, it's going to be a long night.
We're jumping right in. Tamales are the quintessential Mexican holiday food. They conjure nostalgic emotion for anyone who has ever spent the holidays in a Mexican home. Visions of someone's abuela in the kitchen from sun up to sun down, the smell of masa, pork, and spices in the air (the feeling of self-loathing that settles in after 12 hours of eating). It's the Mexican version of dad frying the turkey, with fewer house fires.
The tamales at Molina's Cantina are an institution unto themselves. The holiday rush to order these classic hand-made pork tamales has become something of a Houston tradition. While they are available year-round for $12.95 per dozen, for a limited time during the holidays Molina's tamales are available at both locations for $10.95 per dozen.
Lesser known to inner-loopers, the iconic Fonda Santa Rosa (still known within the Hispanic community as Doña Tere) is a family-owned Mexican restaurant of highly authentic fare. Best known for their tamales, the small kitchen off Sam Houston Tollway offers a variety of styles including Mexico City, Veracruz with red sauce, or Costeño with green sauce. Depending on availability this is one of the few places in Houston also offering sweet, tamales de dulce, for dessert.
For a more refined tamale experience, Houstonians turn to chef Hugo Ortega. Hugo's is the essential Mexican kitchen in this city. The place you take your out of town friends for a little Houston humble brag. Naturally, tamales are a staple of the Hugo's menu (as well as Xoxhi's and Caracol's). Available year-round on both the dinner menu and the brunch buffet, diners can order chicken, pork, fish, or chef Hugo's renown mushroom tamales.
Chiles en Nogada
When one thinks of squashing Mexican food stereotypes, chiles en nogada come to mind. The central Mexican dish, originally created to celebrate Mexican Independence Day, is a master class in flavor complexity and sweet-savory pairing. Like tamales, chiles en nogada are not exclusively a holiday dish, but are commonly enjoyed around both Independence Day and Christmas.
At Arnaldo Richard's Picos on Kirby, the chiles are a staple item on the beloved Mexican menu. The Richard's family recipe is a pork variety; two hearty poblano peppers stuffed with pulled pork, olives, raisins, and fruits, all covered in a creamy walnut sauce and pomegranate seeds. The classic recipe blends a myriad of seemingly contradictory flavors into one cohesive, mouthwatering dish.
Chiles en nogada are available at Picos year-round but are a recommended holiday menu item for the culturally adventurous.
Pozole is OG Mexican food. We're talking pre-Spanish rule. The Aztecs invented it — who knows when — and Spanish monks wrote about it from as early as the 16th century.
Pozole (or Posole) is a stew of hominy kernels and some kind of protein, usually pork. The broth is seasoned with red or green chiles and heavily garnished with onions, cabbage, radishes, salsa, lime, avocado, and more. The old school soup is commonly associated with and enjoyed around Christmas time.
Some of the best pozole in Houston resides deep in Midtown's old Little Saigon, in the small mom and pop Mexican kitchen Luna y Sol. The self described Mex-Mex eatery is best known for its selection of authentic tacos, including the traditional chicarron (winner of Best Authentic at the 2016 Tacolandia festival). Lesser known on the extensive menu is the red pozole. Available year-round, Luna y Sol offers a classic red variety with pork and the traditional fixings, served in a traditional clay bowl for added authenticity.
Another reason to visit our friends at Fonda Santa Rosa is the beautiful green pozole. Available only on Saturdays and Sundays for just $6.95 for a large bowl, the green chile stew is a day's worth of food and calories; not to mention the greatest hangover cure since AA.
Pan Dulce is a simple enough concept to understand. The words literally mean sweet bread. But pan dulce is so much more than dessert pastries and pies.
The term refers to any sweetened dough product, both baked and fried. This means baked conchas, donuts, and croissants. It also means fried churros and empanadas.
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Pan dulce is dessert, breakfast, a midday companion to coffee, or a late night snack with hot chocolate. It's what you offer unexpected guests who drop in for a three-hour conversation. It's what you eat on Christmas Day, New Years Eve, and Dia de Los Reyes.
For an authentic Mexico City pan dulce experience, Houstonians can't do much better than a trip to El Bolillo Bakery on South Wayside Drive off the Gulf Freeway. The authentic pan dulce bakery offers a traditional self-serve experience where customers pick their pastries one by one out of glass cases then present their selections to a cashier.
During the holidays, the popular bakery (with three locations throughout Houston) is best known for its traditional rosca de reyes, a Mexican take on a King's Cake traditionally eaten on Epiphany (also known as Dia de Los Reyes)
Our final stop on the Feliz Navidad Express is with our dear friends at Xochi. Perhaps one of the most authentic, simple, and all around perfect desserts in Houston are the churros y chocolate at chef Hugo Ortega's award winning Xochi. Fresh-made crispy churros with rich Mexican hot chocolate that is literally hand frothed at your table and poured into traditional clay mugs. The dish alone is worth the trip downtown.