Joy of Mex: Matamoros, Mexico
No offense, but the best Mexican food you’ll have in the vicinity of Texas’ Rio Grande Valley is across the river in Matamoros.
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Avenida Alvaro Obregón 48 at Azucenas, 011-52-88-16-25-29, and one other location; personal checks accepted, no credit cards.
“Todo al carbón” (“Everything’s grilled”) at this little brick-fronted cafe on a major tourist strip. Families and dates chow down on good, smoky fajita meat in the world’s smallest corn tortillas. On the other end of the scale, there are three types of huaraches (literally “sandals”), giant flour tortillas folded around assorted meats and cheese. The charro beans, full of bacon, are greasy but tasty.
Guacamole: 4 (plain avocado). Chips: 4. Green salsa: 3 (liquid fire, seems to be blended jalapeños). Pico de gallo: 5 (very fresh).
Avenida Alvaro Obregón 49, 011-52-88-16-65-65 or 16-72-72.
What a scene on a Saturday night: Deejay in a booth! Disco music! Neon! Cigar smoke! Drinkers and diners! Ricky Martin on the sound system! La vida loca, indeed. This fixture just across the bridge from Brownsville must be visited, if only to be able to say you’ve been there. Order a bad margarita and a tray of fixings for do-it-yourself tacos—pork, chicken, pinto beans with crumbled cheese, tiny corn tortillas, and more. It’s not gourmet, but that’s not the point, is it?
Guacamole: 4 (mostly plain avocado; you add the rest). Chips: 2. Red salsa: 3. Pico de gallo: 1 (late at night it looked and tasted tired).
Calle 5 at Constitución, 011-52-88-16-05-86.
Stop to admire the beautiful mortarless stonework before you dine at this giant palapa. Silly touches (waiters in straw hats) don’t detract from good food like the sábana, a steak that’s been pounded paper-thin, folded around asadero cheese and strips of poblano chiles, and covered in tomatillo sauce. Chicken enchiladas (in the same tomatillo sauce) were classic; mashed pinto beans were some of the best in town, just plain and fresh. Everything isn’t perfect: The caldo tlalpeño—chicken soup with avocado and chickpeas—was greasy. But overall, the place is a treat.
Guacamole: 4 (plain avocado). Chips: 4. Salsas: 4—5 (all four offered are great, especially the dark, roasted-chile sauce; the bright red one is extremely hot).