Former D Magazine editor Mary Brown Malouf and I ate our way across town looking for the best one-location-only Tex-Mex joints. We conquered 17 joints in 7 days. Here are our top ten. Yes, we know Tejano was sold after we went to press and no we don’t feel bad leaving Mia’s off the list. Everybody got one shot and the day we ate at Mia’s was not their best. Update: Make that nine, we deleted Tejano.
Let’s begin with two words: processed cheese.
In this age of artisanal, responsibly raised protein, people shudder when they read those words. But you can’t have Tex-Mex—still the most meaningful cuisine to emerge from this state—without it.
We’re all about understanding other cultures and learning to appreciate Mexico’s authentic regional cuisines. Love that stuff wrapped in the banana leaves. Love the million and one moles. But those are, well, Mexican cuisines. Tex-Mex is ours. Its gold standard is the cheese enchilada, and a cheese enchilada requires greasy, yellow cheese. So does a soft cheese taco. So does a platter of nachos. And, of course, chile con queso is nothing but. We’re talking American. We’re talking Velveeta.
Newcomers eager to try Dallas’ most famous cuisine tend to be, if not dismayed, then certainly unsettled the first time a server shoves a platter—“Hot plate!”—of earth-tone glop in front of them. Maybe you had to grow up with it. For sure you have to live with it awhile to love it. But for most of us, Tex-Mex is the taste we crave when we are away and the one that defines “home.” Most of us have a steady relationship with our favorite Tex-Mex place, our go-to joint that makes it just the way we like it. No matter that there’s only one way to make a real cheese enchilada (soften a tortilla in hot, flavored fat, roll it around chopped onions and grated cheese, cover it with thinned chili con carne and more grated cheese). Each restaurant has its own signature flavor. You can argue the superiority of your favorite until you’re azule in the face, but it’s like trying to convince a Philadelphian that Pat’s is better than Geno’s. Or vice versa.