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THE Fabulasa 15!

With more than 400 Mexican restaurants in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, finding the perfect enchilada and the choicest chile relleno is no easy task. After an exhaustive search that left no bean unturned, we’ve found 15 superior places where you can satisfy that Tex-Mex craving.
By D Magazine |

IT STARTED INNOCENTLY ENOUGH. WE JUST thought we’d nose around and come up with a lit-the ol’ list of some great Tex-Mex places.

Problem: Every time we mentioned the little ol’ list to someone around the office, the reaction went something like this:

“Whaaaaaaaat? How come you don’t have Dos Charros, Dos Gringos and Dos Hermanos?”

So the list grew.

“Whaaaaaaaat? Where’s El Area de Noe, El Arroyo, El Asadero, El Gallo de Oro and El Tio?”

It grew some more.

“Whaaaaaaaat? You have got to put La Casa, La Fiesta, La Movida, La Paloma, La Playa and La Jaivita on that list!”

Before long, muchachos, that little ol’ list had multiplied to staggering length. The problem, of course, is that around here, we all have our favorite Tex-Mex place. Our eves light up when we talk about it. At the drop of a chip, we sing the praises of its amazing enchiladas and celestial chiles rellenos. When relatives from Cleveland and Seattle come to visit, we take them there for a taste of the real thing, We are passionate about our place, eager to make converts to our cause. We may not care about the national debt or the ultimate fate of Bosnia. But nobody doesn’t care about Tex-Mex.

Hence our list of great Tex-Mex eateries, los supremos from Piano to Fort Worth. Maybe you’ll see one of your favorites on the list. Maybe you’ll find some new favorites. And if your reaction is “Whaaaaaaaat?”, well, just use the handy form on page 51.

Avila’s

THIS IS FOOD YOU’D COME HOME TO IF YOU could and leave home for if you must, starting with the salsa-eye-wateringly hot, fantastically fine, blended to near-smoothness that’s nothing like the mean green of coarser versions. Guacamole, a cool, cool classic spread on a crisp tortilla, would put out the fire if you could resist slathering the Mistering emulsion on your guacamole-spread tortilla. Beef tacos offer none of the little-meat, lots-of-lettuce deception; the fold is brim-full of good, greaseless ground beef. A plump enchilada is succulently chili-sauced, perfectly partnered with a golden-hearted soft cheese taco cozily blanketed in a grate of yellow and white. Refries are outstanding, semi-mashed, studded with whole-bean lumps. Atmosphere in this immaculate, family-run, homelike place is serenely pleasant, service happy, patrons ditto. The only negative here is the heart-wringing possibility that you haven’t room to eat every bite on your plate. Blame it on that damned addictive salsa.

4714 Maple, 520-2700; 11 a.m.-2:30p.m. & 5-9 p.m., Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. &5-10p.m., Friday; 11 a.m.- 10p.m., Saturday. Beer and wine only; accepts credit cards and checks.

Benito’s

MAGNOLIA AVENUE HAS UNDERGONE A FACE-lift and a resultant upsurge in prosperity in recent years, but it remains anchored by two of Fort Worth’s food icons-the Paris Coffee Shop and Benito’s. Like a familiar old friend, Benito’s is occasionally spruced up and the giant fig tree just inside its front door is pruned every now and then, but the most important thing-the food-doesn’t change. The queso flameado-with or without chorizo-is flamed at your table by a friendly waitress, who sets it down along with fresh pico de gallo and hot flour or com tortillas. Order it first, and then spend some time with the menu, because everything on it is well worth trying.

Enchiladas can be ordered with either mole rojo or mole verde. The chiles rellenos, stuffed with white cheese or beef, are a delight. The fajitas are well marinated, and never so overcooked that the subtle flavors of the marinade are lost. The tacos are big, fresh and filling, and every entrée comes with beans, rice and a complimentary bowl of soup, along with fresh tortillas and pico de gallo.

Service is quick, friendly and efficient. Many of the customers know each other- some, in fact, know each other only from repeated encounters at Benito’s, But whether you’re a regular or a brand-new customer, you’ll be greeted like a long-missed friend.

1450 W Magnolia, Fort Worth, 817-332-8633; 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Sunday-Thursday; 11-2 a.m., Friday; 10-2 a.m., Saturday. Full bar; accepts credit cards, no checks.



Casa Navarro

LOCATED IN A NORTH DALLAS STRIP SHOPping center, this wonderful descendant of downtown’slate,lamented EI Taxco (now the site of the Velvet E) offers classic Tex-Mex in true hole-in-the-wall style. Complimentary borracho bean soup, fresh chips, kicky salsa and easy, relaxed service-it’s all a set-up for huge, steaming portions that’ll ruin tomorrow’s cholesterol test, but what a way to go, Hot, buttery enchiladas, down-home tamales, frijoles with that ineffable tang only homemade can deliver, fluffy rice and perfect tacos-all at luncheon-special prices-make this place a godsend for North Dallas types hankering for a Mex-fix. Can’t wait? They’re open for breakfast, too.

11742 Marsh Ln. (in the Park Forest Shopping Center), 357-0141; 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Friday; 9 a.m.-10p.m., Saturday; 9 a.m.-9 p.m., Sunday. BYOB; accepts credit cards and checks.

El Norte

REASONABLE PEOPLE WILL DIFFER ON EL Norte’s decor-wooden boards for a ceiling, specials handpainted on the crumbling stone walls, cheesy plastic flamingos in the flower boxes-but some solidly good food exits the kitchen. Just about everybody starts with a Mexican beer and the queso, with rich white cheese dotted with mild chiles, tomatoes and garlic-heaven in a bowl. The stuffed jalapeno “poppers,” coming about 10 to a plate, were also better than most-the chefs leave the seeds in for some extra kick (whoa!) and they’re served with cooling sour cream and fresh guacamole. Chicken, slow-roasted over mesquite wood, couldn’t be better (not too greasy or dry and perfectly spiced). You can have half a bird with a wonderful bean and com side dish served cold with a sweet vinaigrette that nicely balances the flavor of the chicken. Or try it in some of the Mexican specialties on a combination platter like the thick, extra large chile-sauced tamales. The enchila-da with sour cream sauce was tasty, but the best thing on the plate was the beef taco (which also comes in a ” street vendor” version ) on a crispy burrito-size shell that packed excellent beef with fresh toppings of lettuce, tomatoes and ancho salsa. This is a place to bring the family and feast on the all-you-can-eat special ($9.95 adults, $3.95 kids). For dessert, if you have room, clear your palate with a free snow cone served to “kids of all ages.”

2205 W Parker Rd., Plano, 596-6781; 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Friday; noon-10 p.m., Saturday; noon-9 p.m., Sunday. Beer and margaritas served; accepts credit cards, no checks.



Herrera’s

YOU KNOW FROM YOUR FIRST dip-and-weep taste of salsa that the food here will be terrific– this brew is benchmark stuff, spicy and lumpy, flecked with dark bits of roasted chile skins, served in one of those Little coffee carafes that fit in a room-service cup and nested here in a bowl for pouring and savoring with thin, greaseless chips. A chalupa keeps the yum-to-come promise, spread with well-seasoned retried beans under heaped shredded lettuce. Tama-les are meaty, filled with lean shredded pork in a nubbly masa coaling. Attention to flavorful detail shows itself in the different seasonings of a cheese enchilada’s toothsome meat sauce and a taco’s distinctive beef filling under a lavish grate of yellow cheese. Service fives up to the food quality, as does the spicy decor, an electric play of turquoise trim against hot pink walls, offset by black booths, tables and chairs on black-and-white floor tiles.

4001 Maple, 528-9644; 11 a.m,9 p.m., Monday, Wednesday, Thursday; 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Friday; 9 a.m-10 p.m., Saturday; 9 a.m.-9 p.m., Sunday. BYOB; accepts credit cards, no checks.



Joe T. Garcia’s Mexican Bakery

JOE T. GARCIA’S MEXICAN BAKERY IS NOT AS fancy as its more famous cousin around the corner on North Commerce, Joe T. s Mexican Dishes, but the food is in an entirely different class. This food is world-class Tex-Mex: hot, flavorful, plentiful, And the place is full of Mexican-Americans of all ages-always a good sign of quality Tex-Mex food. Conversations and the clang of dishes bounce happily off the bright-colored walls. Little kids run around as waitresses skillfully maneuver between the tables and the kitchen. Grandmothers tend to toddlers as young mothers nurse babies under discreedy placed shawls or scarves. Daddies and granddaddies engage their kids and others in lively conversation. And everybody engages in serious eating.

They do an excellent job on all the old favorites (quesadillas. fajitas, Sautas, enchiladas, tamales, burritos), and then add some other goodies as well. Both the flour and com tortillas are fresh and hot. Plus, you’re never allowed to run out of either tortillas or salsa. Nothing is overcooked, and everything is made from fresh ingredients.

While the old favorites are great, don’t overlook the soups. The caldo de res, a homestyle beef soup with carrots, potatoes and squash, is delicious and filling. The frijoles ala charra isn’t your average bean soup-it’s made with Tex-Mex flak and spiciness. (Menudo, the hearty, spicy soup that is touted as a hangover cure, is served on Saturdays and Sundays only).

Breakfast is a work of art here, with chorizo con huevo (Mexican sausage mixed with eggs), or huevos with papas (potatoes), jamon (ham), tocino (bacon) or chicharron (pork-skin) guaranteed to start your day with a jolt of spicy flavor.

Oh, yes, the bakery, It’s in an alcove off the dining room, selling traditional Mexican breads, rolls, sweet rolls-all of which are good. But the real draws here are the meals. When you need a Tex-Mex fix, Joe T.’s Bakery should head your list of suppliers.

2122 N. Main, Fort Worth, 817-626-5770; the cafe is open 7 a.m.-6p.m., Monday-Friday; 7 a.m.-?’p.m., Saturday & Sunday; the bakery is open 7a.m.-7p.m., daily. No alco-hol; checks or cash only.



Las Cazuelas

TOO FUNKY FOR SNOBS, TOO TINY TO HOLD all the troops, this East Dallas jewel serves food that’s far too marvelous to leave out of any list of great Tex-Mex. When we first singled out Las Cazuelas for lavish praise several years ago, the then-unair-conditioned place and its then-rude service inspired one North Dallas reader who trekked in for dinner to question the reviewer’s sanity. Update: White the air is now splendidly cooled and the exterior decor has been brightened (somewhat startlingly, actually), the service is still insouciant, and seating is still limited to four tables and nine stools at the counter behind which the cook works pure sorcery.

Yes, the review’s praise still stands-Tex-Mex doesn’t get any better than Las Cazuelas’ killer salsa (the best this reviewer has ever had) alive with fresh cilantro, onion and tomato essences, delivering a piquance that would have an Aztec stone god smiling through tears of joy. Or than a Mexican enchilada, the tortilla dipped in a ruddy chile wash, wrapped around onion-studded meat filling, and topped with nothing but grated cheese-dry to the eye, divine to the tongue. Or than Monday s special caldo de res, chunky with beef and vegetables, or any day’s burn-your-socks-off chile relleno. (P.S.-The sign on the restaurant says its Mis Cazuelas; the phone book and menu say it’s Las. But this is the place.)

4933Columbiu Ave., 827-1889; 9 a.m.-9p.m., daily. No alcohol; cash only.



Mario’s Chiquita

THOUGH IT’S TOO COSMOPOLITAN TO FIT tidily in the Tex-Mex category, Mario Leal’s Travis Walk restaurant nonetheless offers some of the best basic combination dinners in town-probably for diehard types too driven by their lust for Tex-Mex to try his more upscale Mexico City-style fare. Do that one day, but meanwhile satisfy your common-man yearnings with plates named for women- Patricia, Virginia, Lupita-of, perhaps, remembered equal opulence? At any rate, the dishes here are opulently generous, and graced with exciting little extra touches. The slivered salad atop a puffy taco, for instance, comes dashed with a sparkle of mild vinaigrette that perfectly complements its meat filling. A beef enchilada wrapped in a whisper-thin com tortilla is bathed in a ranchero sauce of surpassing smoothness. A chicken enchilada’s similar skin holds a wealth of shredded white meat under the best sour-cream white sauce that will ever cross your lips. Even the rice is nicer than most, broth-scented and flavorful. And both setting and service are as memorably indulgent as the fare.

4514 Travis, #105, 521-0721; 1130 a.m.- 9 p.m., Sunday-Thursday; 1130 a.m.-10 p.m., Friday & Saturday. Full bar; accepts credit cards, no checks.



Martin’s Cocina

IF THE FERGUSON ROAD END OF TOWN IS NOT on your automatic-pilot map, this place should put it there-the food’s that good. That off-the-beaten-path, too, in some ways: The kitchen does magic things with seafood (shrimp especially) and offers an entire separate low-fat listing of under-1,000-calorie entrées (four different baked chiles rellenos, for instance) along with classic dishes and combos. There’s no skimping here-the most basic combination plate starts with a lettuce-topped chalupa, its toasty tortilla thickly spread with fresh guacamole. The platter that follows holds a massive enchilada, a queso-bathed cheese taco and an overstuffed meat taco as greaseless as that crunchy marvel ever gets. Oddly, rice and beans are not included with all Tex-Mex plates, but can be had as a side order that’s as wonderful as the rest of the meal. Dynamite pico de gallo is serranospiked. Eat hearty? You bet you will, and well-Martin’s deserves wider recognition than that of a mere neighborhood favorite, which it clearly is.

7726 Ferguson M, 319-8834; 11 a.m.-10 p.m.. Monday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m., Friday; 8:30 a.m.-W:30 p.m., Saturday; 8:30 a.m.-10 p.m., Sunday. BYOB; accepts credit cards and checks.



Mia’s

FOR 14 YEARS, THIS VENERABLE INSTitution has dished up definitive Tex-Mex food to loyals who stand in line on Tuesdays, when owner Ana Enriquez satisfies their lust for her incomparable chiles rellenos, Other days, they make do with a menu of house specialties, combo plates and sides that read like standard Tex-Mex on paper, but on the palate translate into transcendent fare. Try the bean soup, a truly noble amalgam of pintos with minced chiles, bacon, onion and cilantro accents, miles richer in flavor than prissy, upscale black-bean concoctions. Fork into a cheese enchilada crowned with honest beefy chili, or a soft cheese taco’s tenderly molten heart. Ladle the bracing house salsa onto a bean-spread chalupa or a beef-filled taco, and savor the texture contrasts of greaseless tortilla shells and fine-ribboned lettuce. Service is cheerful, the setting is no-frills comfortable, and long-loyal habitués will tell you: You might pay more other places, but you won’t get better food.

4322 Lemmon Ave., 526-1020; 11 a.m.-10 p.m., daily. Beer and wine only; accepts credit cards, no checks.



Monterrey

THE SETTING’S GARDENLIKE AND FRESH AS paint, the service sweetly attentive if somewhat language-challenged, and the food-well, the food in this fairly new family-run Lakewood establishment is kissing-close to flawless, and fresh, fresh, fresh. The only nit we could pick is the menu’s dearth of combinations-to sam-ple the Tex-Mex basics, one must order some a la carte sides or prepare to share more than one dinner, which is no hardship: An enchilada plate holds two generous wraps of cheese or beef, richly seasoned and sauced, plus outstanding rice and refries. A tamale ordered separately comes as a tender masa pillow plumped with lean pork under hearty chili sauce. A special recommendation if room allows is the house ceviche, a heady marinade of white fish in an infusion of lemon, onions, garlic and cilantro-a sensational summer cooler as braeing as any this city offers. The menudo, too. rises above the ordinary. This place definitely deserves repeat visits.

1611 Greenville Ave., 821-2026; 8:30 a.m.-9:30 p.m., Monday-Thursday; 8:30 a.m.-11:30 p.m., Friday & Saturday; 8:30a.m.-9 p.m., Sunday. Beer and wine only; accepts credit cards, no checks.



Nuevo Leon

DON’T START WITH FAJITA NACHOS HERE unless you plan on taking home your lunch or dinner-the huge, cheesy slabs will satiate even a teenager’s bottomless appetite. Dig into warm chips and warmer salsa, and get ready to gorge-Nuevo Leon makes some of the most flavorful Tex-Mex around. Tender chicken enchiladas with verde sauce and beef enchiladas with chilorio are fresh and not at all greasy; taco macho is 10 inches offender flour tortilla stuffed with cheese, avocado and your choice of beef, chicken or pork fajitas, carni-tas pastor or barbacoa. The peculiar floor plan is off-putting at first; service is spotty but always good-natured,

12895 Josey Lane at Valley View, 488-1984; 11 a.m.-230 p.m. &5-9p.m., Monday-Friday; 10 a.m.-10 p.m., Saturday; 10 a.m.-) p.m., Sunday. Full bar; accepts credit cards, no checks.



Piano Tortilla Factory

YOU KNOW YOU’RE IN FOR A GOOD MEAL when you start off with tortilla chips that really taste of corn, and queso and complimentary salsa with enough zip to get your nose running. A half-order of buttery-tasting crispy quesadillas slathered with a side of guacamole, and a taquito or two filled with tender stewed-type shredded pork make good appetizers to share. Combination plates, each served with cumin-scented rice, beans and tortillas, offer the best chance to explore the menu. Just keep the Kleenex handy. Sweets (good cinnamon cookies) in the bakery case stand ready for dessert.

1009 E. 18th, Piano, 423-6980; 6:30a.m.-7 p.m., Tuesday-Thursday; 6:30 a.m.-8p.m., Friday & Saturday; 6:30 a.m.-4 p.m., Sunday. No alcohol; cash and checks only.



Rodolfo’s

RODOLFO’S MENU OFFERS 18 DIFFERENT combination plates, plus 18 other “specialties of the casa” and six breakfast options, for a total that possibly exceeds the number of chairs available for diners in this tiny, self-proclaimed “hole in the wall” in Oak Cliff. Start with home-fried chips, huge crispy half-tortilla rounds and a full-bodied salsa. To get the most out of the Rodolfo’s dining experience, try the non-numbered Big Tex-Mex dinner or the number 0 (yes, they start their numbering with zero here), The Big Tex-Mex offers a cheese enchilada, a tamale with chili sauce, a meat taco, a soft cheese taco, rice, beans and half a praline for dessert. Service on our most recent visit was a little on the slow side, and the praline never materialized at all, which was just as well-who had room for it? On the Big Tex-Mex, the cheese taco and cheese enchilada were both silky, the beans creamy and the tamale a perfect marriage of nongreasy meat and just-on-the-edge-of-crumbly com shell. The number 0 plate features a Rodolfo’s specialty, Idaho enchiladas made of, yes, mashed potatoes, pleasantly spiced and available with your choice of seven different sauces, including mole, green chile and our favorite, the homemade loca sauce. And not only do they offer the wonderful Mexican import beer Negra Modelo, it’s a bargain at $2,35 a bottle.

2002 S. Edgefield, 942-1211; 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. & 5-9:30p.m., Monday-Friday; 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Saturday. Beer and margaritas served; accepts credit cards and checks.



Uncle Julio’s

YES, THIS IS PART OF A CHAIN, BUT FORT Worth knows its Tex-Mex, which is why locals named Uncle Julio’s “the best” in a 1995 poll. This food is great Tex-Mex-neck and neck, in our estimation, with Joe T.’s Bakery.

Uncle Julio’s trademark “look” features recycled lumber, signs, doors, pieces of fences and old toots-most bought from Fort Worth’s own Hearne Wrecking and Lumber-that helps create the comfortably disheveled and laid-back atmosphere necessary for full enjoyment of Tex-Mex food. The number of hard surfaces in the place results in a lot of noise, but judging from the lines out the door nearly every night of the week, this bothers absolutely no one.

But enough of that-let’s talk food. Plan to arrive very hungry, or you’re going to end up taking food home. Portions are generous as well as delicious, starting with the appetizers: The queso flameado can be had with chorizo, with peppers, mushrooms and onions or with mesquite grilled chicken or beef-which can transform it from an appetizer to pretty near a full meal. The ceviche royale is cold, tasty and also plentiful, and I’ve seen many women make a meal of the quesadillas. There are lots of combination plates to choose from, but you can be confident that whatever mixture of enchiladas, tacos, tamales and flautas you pick will be deliciously spicy. The trademark salsa has just the right amount of cilantro and the chips are fresh, hot and not greasy. Customers can watch tortillas being made by a Rube Goldberg-esque machine in the front of the restaurant-and then eat them.

5301 Camp Bowie Blvd. at West Freeway, Fort Worth, 817-377-2777; 11 a.m,-10:30 p.m., Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-11:30 p.m., Friday & Saturday. Full bar; accepts credit cards, no checks.

Whaaat? How the @#!%#@! Could You Leave Out…

Three opinionated Tex-Mexophiles defend their favorite places.



Las Brisas

IT IS AN ABSOLUTE SIN THAT ROSITA’S CAFE ON Maple, where the Sunday Mexican brunch will truly make you cry, was not included on this list. But it is high treason for Las Brisas to be left out. In my opinion, you have Joe T Garcia’s (the original) by itself, alone at the top. Then you have Las Brisas and Rosita’s and several other Fort Worth dives, Then follow some lesser attempts at true Tex-Mex.

The key to Tex-Mex greatness is that humble foodstuff, lard. I love lard. I love lard in the form of chicken-fried gravy used to cover whatever sprouts the wife has steamed that night. I love lard in the bacon grease and cream Daddy Jack uses to construct his lobster potato pancake. But most of all I love the (probably pork) lard used for cooking at Las Brisas.

Stay away, white wine and brie crowd. Back way off, you high-dollar Javier’s aficionados. With all that tasting, stirring, tasting and sampling, it’s a wonder that cook Saul Gonzales stays so trim. His chiles rellenos, stuffed with potatoes instead of rice, are a Tex-Mex masterpiece.

And the prices: In some local Tex-Mexeries, you should add a gun and a mask to the cashier’s uniform. Yet at Las Brisas, 21 of the 39 entrees and appetizers are priced under $5, including their world-class hangover-cure menudo at $4.95. The converted gas station opens at 6 a.m. with a $2.75 breakfast and all it does is get better every hour the beans and rice and meat simmer. Thank you Lard, for Las Brisas.

7101 Harry Hines Blvd., 630-0699; 6 a.m. 7p.m., Monday-Thursday; 7 a.m.-7 p.m., Saturday; 8 a.m.-8 p.m., Sunday. Beer and wine only; accepts credit cards, no checks.



Tom Stephenson formerly owned the Greenville Avenue Country Club ana the Lakewood Polo and Hunt Club.

Cuquita’s Restaurant

TO EXCEL, A TeX-MEX RESTAURANT MUST meet two tests. First, menudo (tripe soup) should be served on weekends. Second, Spanish should be the main language heard. Cuquita’s passes on both counts-and does a whole lot more. Interior decor is bright, clean and comfortably homelike. Once a residence, the restaurant has recently been expanded and redecorated, and its parking area enlarged to accommodate increasing crowds of regulars. The food is homelike too-com tortillas are handmade, and freshly prepared guacamole comes to the table in the gray lava-stone molcajetes in which each portion is made. The menu features all the familiar traditional savory dishes-fajitas, mole, tacos, enchiladas and flautas-plus such lesser-known classics as liver and onions and beef tongue. The pozole here (a pork and hominy soup) is as fine as the menudo, and a chile rel-leno alone is worth a visit.

Best of all, the prices fit a councilmember’s salary-nothing is more than $8.25, Service is friendly and efficient, the atmosphere is casual (children are welcome) and yes, Cuquita’s is gringo friendly, as well as accommodating to all comers: For late diners, the place stays open to 4 a.m. and for late risers, serves breakfast all day.

2325 N. Henderson, 823-1859;,8 a.m.4 a.m., daily. Beer only, checks and cash only.



Dallas City Councilman Chris Luna, who comes from a long line of Mexican food lovers, fondly remembers his mother’s mole and menudo.



El Fenix

MY SIX-FOOT, 280-POUND resume, in conjunction with some experience in the hash-slinging industry, suggests I have an appreciation for good food, Tex-Mex being at the top of the column. Like most native Texans, my first solid food was a dissolving tostada chip dripping with con queso-and that brings me to my point. We rate Tex-Mex as good or bad according to our place of origin. People from San Antonio turn up their noses at Dallas Tex-Mex, while Dallasites are indignant when served chili with kidney beans in Chicago (try it in London!).

If you’re not from the area the food springs from, you probably don’t know what it’s supposed to taste like anyway. It’s like me asking where might be the best place to get haggis, wee nips ’n’ bashed ’tatties while in Scotland, kielbasa in Cleveland, or gefilte fish balls in New York City. You could send me to the Kielbasa Pack ’n’ Sack store or Mickey Moe’s Ptomaine Tavern, and I wouldn’t have a clue.

If I recommend a place, it’s usually based on consistency-the same taste every time. That’s why I suggest El Fenix as a safe bet. I’ve been eating there since the 1950s, when they were in a rustic little white building on McKinney in an area known (to Anglos, anyway) as Little Mexico, They aren’t clever with presentation, The place isn’t filled with empty Corona or Carta Blanca beer cases or tricked out to look like an old border cafe; no year-round jalapeno-shaped Christmas lights. El Fenix isn’t trendy, though they were the first to have tortillas handmade on the premises. But 75 years of whippin’ chili should qualify as authentic. And I can count on the Saltillo plate tasting just like it did back in 1958. 1601 McKinney Ave., 747-6643 or 747-1121; 11 a.m.-8:30p.m., Monday; 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m., Tuesday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-10 p.m,, Friday & Saturday. Full bar; accepts credit cards, no checks.



George Toomer, author of Before I Forget and American Extremes, has been a food critic and restaurant marketing consultant for more than 20 years.

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