Taste Test: How to Cool Down a Spicy Mouth
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.