See that rock by your feet? Pick it up and throw it. Yep, you just hit a Tex-Mex place. Tex-Mex is Houston’s most iconic cuisine, and while there are roughly a billion restaurants where you can stick your face into a vat of queso, it’s often the same ones you hear about over and over again (Ninfa’s, El Tiempo, etc.). Next time you want to drown your sorrows in frozen margs, think outside the box of Velveeta by dining at these unsung, yet still perfectly homey Tex-Mex spots instead.
With three locations in Houston (plus one in Waco), this mini-empire isn’t talked about often. But it does draw in loyal fans that have been staying local since 1986, and that’s thanks to solid Tex-Mex classics at seriously good prices. Chicken and steak fajitas for two come out sizzling on a hot comal, running you a mere $25 to $30 on a regular day. Look out for specials because the prices can get even better at lunch and happy hour when you can get a gargantuan chimichanga for less than a Hamilton or a loaded nacho bar and flautas for FREE on select days.
This unassuming hole-in-the-wall may not be the very the best Tex-Mex restaurant in town (mainly because it’s more like a diner), but it does dish out cheap, vintage Tex-Mex 24 hours a day, seven days a week -- and for that, the late-night institution earns our respect. After the bars close, there’s nothing like soaking up your bad decisions with some more bad decisions in the form of greasy, cheesy classics like smothered cheese enchiladas and carne guisada burritos. For best results, add fiery salsa and an egg.
Shady Acres (& Memorial)
Expect no frills beyond the metric ton of gooey cheese and rusty red chile gravy slopped over your borderline flawless enchiladas here. Trust us, those are exactly enough frills for one sitting when you add in seriously stiff margs. The bare bones restaurant feels like it’s been around forever, and if you count 1979 as forever, it kinda has. May it live long and prosper.
Montrose (& other locations)
This homegrown mini-chain started as a humble cafe back in 1989. Ten years later, the restaurant made its way into the Guinness World Records for crafting the biggest fajita taco ever made. Today, La Tapatia has grown to five locations, all of which knock it out the park with no-joke stiff margaritas and greased up classics, from giant jalapeños stuffed with beef and cheese and wrapped in bacon to a nine-count of absolutely smothered enchiladas.
Museum District/Midtown/Third Ward
While this throwback has been satiating Houstonians Tex-Mex cravings for over 60 years, it often doesn’t get the respect it has earned. Forget the PYTs and see why this local stalwart has stood the test of time, which you can do through velvety, dreamy queso and chile-gravy-coated Enchiladas-A- La-Taylor, a house favorite. Even the fried chicken is on point (because yes, they make fried chicken, too). The dining room is adorned with old family photos and colorful Christmas lights, a slightly tacky yet comforting touch that is old-school in the best possible way.
River Oaks (& other locations)
Don’t knock this Elvis-obsessed spot just because it’s a chain (an Austin-bred one, at that). Their original green chile and jalapeño sauce is as addicting as it is fiery, and the rest of the menu takes you on a journey through New Mexico, through border towns, across the Rio Grande Valley, and into the deep Texas South. At the very least, you should hit up Chuy’s happy hour for free queso served straight from a "nacho car" alongside salsa and hot and fresh chips.
Heights (& Montrose)
The cheesy name doesn’t do this Tex-Mex spot justice, but at least it suggests that the concept is a little bit healthier than the overly greased, queso-smothered offerings you’ll find at most counterparts. Freshly made nopal (cactus) tortillas, refreshing salsas, and "skinny" favorites like flautas de pollo and fish tacos allow you to shamelessly indulge (and have that second frozen marg).
Don’t let its outside-the-loop location stop you, this Pasadena institution has over 40 years of history behind it for a reason. That reason? It’s damn good. The wonderfully tacky spot claims its famous Don'KeyRitas will “kick your ass!," and loyal patrons seem to agree. Slurp ‘em down, Sharpie your name on the graffiti wall, and go nuts on stretchy queso flameado or chile con queso that you can (and will) add fajita meat to, plus sloppy enchiladas and drunken frijoles. You’re also having fried ice cream for dessert, so don’t get too stuffed.
La Mexicana is often overlooked on many of the city’s “best” lists, and it turns out, that’s OK -- you’ll find the house packed on Saturday and Sunday mornings either way. Practice your Spanish as you make your way through el menú, which is complete with Tex-Mex and Mexican platos like chile con queso, carne asada, and overstuffed, jumbo-sized burritos. You can also hit the breakfast taco bar in the front of the house to grab flat, fluffy tortillas sporting chorizo con huevos and papas y jamon, plus some of the most excellent, silkiest refried beans in town on the side, and trust us, you want them.
Sign up here for our daily Houston email and be the first to get all the food/drink/fun in town.
1. Don Carlos Cantina416 76th St, Houston
2. Andy's Home Cafe1115 E 11th St, Houston
3. Tony's Mexican Restaurant2222 Ella Blvd, Houston
4. La Tapatia Mex Cafe1749 Richmond Ave, Houston
5. Spanish Village4720 Almeda Rd, Houston
6. Chuy's2706 Westheimer Rd, Houston
7. Skinny Rita's Grille4002 N Main St, Houston
8. The Don'key5010 Spencer Highway, Pasadena
9. La Mexicana1018 Fairview St, Houston
Don Carlo’s Mexican Restaurant in Houston's East End serves authentic Mexican and Tex-Mex food. The menu includes all your favorite classics, including a variety of tacos, burritos, enchiladas, fajitas, tamales, and more. This spot also offers some dishes you might not have had before, like caldo de res (beef and vegetable soup) or the mariscada empanizada (grilled filet of fish, shrimp, and shrimp soup).
This no-frills cafe is night owl central. Not only is it open 24/7, but it's also been dishing out some seriously tasty (and cheap) Tex-Mex since 1977. Get chile-gravy-smothered cheese enchiladas, and add an endless cup of Joe if you need to pull an all-nighter.
Tony’s Mexican has a casual strip mall vibe, but what else is appropriate for a enchilada-slinging, gravy-slathering, frijoles-flinging Tex-Mex mecca? And with twelve enchilada varieties (from sautéed shrimp & crab to pulled pork to mushrooms & spinach), it’s not like crowds are coming for the decor, anyway. Also on offer are quesadillas, chalupas, tacos and flautas served up in gut-busting combos alongside staple rice and beans amid sombrero-adorned walls. Nachos are best noshed on when paired with margaritas that kick harder than any pack mule.
This Mexican chain received a nod from the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest fajita EVER created. How big? 15ft long, 29in wide and 747lbs of sizzling savory satisfaction. (Fitting for a state as big as Texas, no?) You’ll feel record-breaking big too (or maybe just pleasantly full) after sampling the chicken, beef, or shrimp fajitas, gooey enchilada platters or quail served hot off la parrilla. Early risers go for a selection of breakfast tacos (spicy scrambled eggs, Mexican sausage) and huevos rancheros, while evening crowds come craving margaritas.
Spanish Village has been serving Mexican favorites in the Third Ward since 1953. Times have changed, but the food hasn’t at this longstanding eatery, playing hosts to mayors and governors over the years in a ramshackle space with an offbeat charm. Perennial strings of Christmas lights hang around an enclosed wraparound porch, illuminating terra-cotta tiles and a wall of polaroids picturing sombrero-toting patrons. Inside, expect heaping portions of enchiladas piled with rice and tortillas and drowned in a golden, gooey pool of queso. It’s not your tia’s kitchen, but does she have a frozen margarita machine? Didn’t think so.
Chuy's is one of Houston's best Tex-Mex places, and we can't get over how delicious their queso is. If queso isn't your style, be sure to order some nachos and margaritas. The kitschy chain has an Elvis-heavy setting, and during happy hour, the seriously silky chile-spiked cheese dip is served in a "nacho car" alongside salsa and hot & fresh chips... for FREE.
This tex-mex neighborhood haunt serves up freshly made cactus tortillas, refreshing salsas, as well as other "skinny" more diet-conscious favorites like flautas de pollo and fish tacos. The space is designed with all-wood paneling, warm light, and a group-friendly aesthetic. So, bring your group, and feel free to shamelessly indulge away with only your socializing in mind.
Hungry guests burro into border classics (forgive the pun) at this off-the-beaten-path Pasadena Tex-Mex shack (it really does look like a shack). Fajitas are the pride and joy here (chicken, pork, or beef, señor) but specialties range from beef & cheese-stuffed poblanos to roasted quail. Shrimp cocktail with pico de gallo? Interest peaked. After a few mojitos and signature “Don’Keyritas” (the happy hour is cheap enough to feel like highway robbery) your brain won’t be the only thing fried: scoops of vanilla ice cream are rolled in cornflakes before being dipped in hot oil and served.
La Mexicana is known for their breakfast burrito, made with a fat and fluffy tortilla stuffed to the brim with eggs, ham, shredded cheese, sour cream, two kinds of salsa, whipped beans, and spicy potatoes.