I was trepidatious about my return to Childress. A while back, I stopped there with a photographer friend of mine—a tall Korean American—on the way to an assignment across the state border in rural western Oklahoma. It was after 5 p.m. on a Sunday, and everything but fast-food joints was closed. As we walked around the empty downtown, we noticed some crumbling buildings—not an unusual sight for towns in this part of Texas—and paused to gaze at some classic cars displayed behind plate-glass windows. Everything was going great until, in one thirty-minute span, two different pickup trucks slowly trailed us. We were outsiders, clearly. And we were put on notice. It was chilling. I’m happy to report, though, that my second visit to Childress was much more welcoming and enjoyable. And it involved a restaurant’s three fantastically crispy tacos potosinos, a house specialty of tacos filled with layers of melted white cheese and supple threads of beef with twisted, singed ends.
Owned by the Ramos family, the Plaza Mexican Restaurant in Childress is part of a seven-location business that began in 2001 with a restaurant in Borger, about an hour northeast of Amarillo. The one in Childress, near where the Texas-Oklahoma border hooks north, opened in June 2016 and is overseen by Rafael Ramos. It’s a busy place. I was there the day after Christmas and just beat the lunch rush that had crammed families into booths and filled every table. It’s also a festively appointed restaurant. Serapes are twisted into bows and hang from the walls. Statues of parrots, paintings, and the walls themselves are vibrant with color.
The snappy corn tortilla shells of the tacos posotinos are buried under scattered layers of soft tomatoes, shredded lettuce, and knobby chunks of queso fresco. A few wedges of avocado teeter atop the plated food. The presentation evokes the colors of the Mexican flag. This is something one might see when served tacos dorados or flautas at Mexican restaurants—and the platter’s name certainly links the dish to traditions south of the Rio Grande. In this case, that would be the Mexican state of San Luis Potosí, its capital, and its residents, potosinos. There is plenty on Plaza’s menu that connects directly to what purists would likely consider legitimate Mexican food. The bulk of the items listed, though, skew closer to Tex-Mex–jalapeño poppers, nachos, chile con queso, and combo platters, for example—which I claim are regional Mexican food. Think of it this way: in the grand narrative of Mexican culinary traditions, Tex-Mex is a chapter. A particularly good one too. The Plaza’s tacos potosinos are Mexican. Fried tacos are Mexican, and San Luis Potosí has a version of sorts. It’s a tortilla, slathered in or made with red chile, filled, folded, and deep-fried, and known as an enchilada potosina.
There is no chile sauce staining the tortillas on the tacos potosinos—unless the diner adds it. However, there are indentions from the appliance used to hold the taco closed during frying. The imprints are a sign of efficiency and of how technology has driven even old-school local cuisines. In the case of tacos, deep-frying taco tech goes back to Juvencio Maldonado’s 1947 patent application for a contraption he used in his New York Mexican restaurant, Xochitl.
The edges are jagged with a brittle, charred mix of meat and cheese. Inside the tacos, the shredded meat and gooey white cheese, despite their best efforts, do not disrupt the crispy shell’s integrity. The taco doesn’t fall apart. It does not submit to sogginess. There isn’t time for that. After the first crunch, there is only devouring until all the tacos potosinos are gone—just like it should be with freshly fried crispy tacos.