With Gini Garcia (San Antonio), June Naylor (Dallas and Fort Worth), and Robin Barr Sussman (Houston)
How things change. When I was a kid growing up in Austin in the fifties, “Mexican food” meant one thing: a Tex-Mex combination platter groaning under yellow-cheese enchiladas, lavalike refried beans, and hamburger-meat tacos in shells fried so hard they could deflect bullets. In the eighties, my friends and I regularly ate our weight in the latest border craze: platters of sizzling fajitas. Last week, at my new favorite taquería, I had a hard time deciding between cochinita pibil (achiote-rubbed pork in a banana leaf) and tlacoyos (masa tarts topped with queso fresco and salsa verde). What is my point, exactly? Just this: Mexican food is the richest and the most dynamic native cuisine in Texas, and it’s getting more Mexican all the time.
Over the decades a tide of immigrants from south of the Rio Grande has traveled north, building upon our Tex-Mex base with dishes from deep inside Mexico. At first, some of these delicacies seem novel, even outlandish. Um, you’re going to eat cactus and corn fungus? In time, though, the shock wears off. We try them. We like them. And a new reality emerges.
A phenomenon of such cultural import must be studied on a continuing scientific basis, of course. So as this magazine did in 1995 and 2004, we marshaled a band of valiant food writers and sent them on an eatathon through Texas’s six major cities, plus Laredo and the Rio Grande Valley. When the salsa settled six months later, we had visited 138 restaurants (including a food trailer) and we had arrived at the opinionated, subjective, and hopefully controversial list of fifty places (beginning with our top five picks) that appears on the following pages.
Yes, we will always love our yellow cheese. But as dishes from Mexico’s heartland apply for permanent residency in Texas at an ever-increasing rate, we’re on the threshold of a new culinary era: the time of Mex-Tex.
LOS 5 MEJORES
Fonda San Miguel, AUSTIN
salsas: The ultra-smooth purée of oven-roasted Roma tomatoes and jalapeños tastes subtly different from any other in town; in fact, so does the green, equally silky mix of tomatillos and serranos. vibe: On the greenery-filled covered patio, vividly upholstered pillows invite you to sink into colonial Mexican–style sofas; overhead, a wood-and-iron chandelier looks as if it came out of One Hundred Years of Solitude. In the dining room, which showcases art by Mexican masters, punched-tin lamps cast bursts of light on stucco walls.
How many restaurants have endured 35 years