Next Thursday marks the 101st anniversary of the El Fenix downtown location. To honor the marker, they’ll be offering their cheese enchilada plates for $1.01 (which, I’m sure, is more than they cost in 1918). All day, dine-in only, 10am to 10pm, to the accompaniment of a mariachi band and the Anita N. Martinez Ballet Folklorico. It’s no surprise that the Facebook event post lists, as of this post, 1.3K people interested.
It’s worth thinking, too, before you wolf down the chile con carne and Spanish rice and pool of beans, about the role El Fenix has played in the Tex-Mex landscape. Ford Fry and Jessica Dupuy’s cookbook Tex-Mex, published earlier this year, gives El Fenix the distinction of being on the map of classic dish creators—for its “guacamole salad,” which we now refer to by another name. It was part of a generation of restaurants, opened by family dynasties like the Cuellars, that brought in the standards and hallmarks of a cuisine that borrowed from a deep Tejano tradition and turned it into comfort food.
In fact, when I spoke with Pasha Heidari about opening Las Palmas, the retro-leaning, throw-back love letter to Tex-Mex that the Heidari brothers opened several months ago in Uptown, awash in queso flameado, Wagyu steak fajitas, and chimichangas, he spoke immediately of El Fenix, citing its history, before moving on to his favorites in various other Tex-Mex spots.
Tex-Mex history runs deep in Dallas. El Fenix’s Faustina and Miguel (“Mike”) Martinez are part of that. We looked into this a number of years ago in the magazine. Check it out. Then plough into cheese enchiladas. We know you’re (apparently) going to anyway.
Bonus: Trivia buffs will appreciate the fact that the term “Tex-Mex” was first used to casually refer to a railroad line, the Texas-Mexican Railway, chartered in 1875, when Texas was only 30 years out of its independence streak (before which, of course, it was Mexico).