For ten years, Veronica Diaz worked at a Japanese restaurant in Paris, Texas. She was content there, rolling sushi while her husband manned the hibachi grill. Diaz moved from her hometown in Guanajuato state, Mexico, to join her father in Paris in 1999, and she liked life in northeast Texas. But in Paris—whose most famous landmarks are a diminutive replica of the Eiffel Tower capped with a red cowboy hat and a cemetery with a monument that features Jesus Christ wearing cowboy boots—Diaz nevertheless missed a taste of home. Squat chimichangas and thick chili con carne were and remain plentiful in town, she says; heavy bowls of crusty-topped chile con queso were on the table of every Mexican restaurant. What was absent were the dishes of San Felipe, the colonial town where she grew up. Today she serves her own spin on these regional specialties at her family’s restaurant, Torres Mochas. One of the standout platters is the enchiladas mineras (miners’ enchiladas), shimmering, chile-red tortillas filled with melted white cheese. The entrée was developed by the women of Guanajuato as a meal for the workers who extracted subterranean deposits of silver and other precious metals from across the region. So plentiful was ore that Guanajuato was the world’s leading silver-mining area in the mid–eighteenth century. Close to three hundred years later, the mines are nearly depleted, but the dish has endured.
Diaz named her restaurant after the nickname for San Felipe (Torres Mochas roughly translates to “stubby towers,” a reference to the city’s cathedral). She’d become fed up with misconceptions about Mexican food and lamented that the Paris area’s offerings were limited to Tex-Mex. “I wanted the ability to wake up on any morning hungry for a wonderful plate of chilaquiles from a restaurant, but there wasn’t such a place here,” Diaz explains. “If I wanted tacos on fresh corn tortillas, there wasn’t anywhere to buy them.” So, in 2018, she and her family opened Torres Mochas. The enchiladas mineras were among the first items placed on the menu, and they’re exquisite: chile-dipped, rolled tortillas are garnished with soft, milky queso fresco and tumbles of sautéed carrots and potatoes. To the side is a tiny bit of juicy, red-stained chicken breast.
Also added were the gorditas—thick corn cakes sliced about halfway open and stuffed—that Diaz’s mother began to sell as a cottage business when the family first arrived in Texas. Pro tip: order one of several house-specialty gorditas, not all of which are listed on the menu. The large, bound list of dishes, as impressively long and mouthwatering as it is, leaves much off of its pages. There are more than thirty platters not available on the printed menu, Diaz tells me. “The menu would have been unwieldy if we included them.” Your best bet is to ask your server what they recommend.
When I asked about the gorditas, Diaz suggested a mix of mild deshebrada, rajas, and queso fresco (hearty strands of tomato-and-chile-stewed shredded beef, slightly spicy strips of roasted poblanos, and crumbled white cheese in a sturdy pocket of cooked corn masa). I scarfed it all down in the rear parking lot, leaning against the bumper of my car, hatchback open, and became happily satiated to the point where I could’ve lain down in the trunk space to doze in pleasant slumber.
There are other signature dishes, especially when it comes to gordita options. Diaz recommends one that’s common in Guanajuato. “That gordita is filled with beans, cheese, and chile rojo, but if the people don’t know about such emblematic foods, they’ll miss out,” Diaz told me, as we chatted in Spanish while seated across from each other and wearing masks. Always ask for the house specialties. (And don’t worry, the dining-room staff speaks English.)
I ordered the enchiladas mineras and gordita after my visit with Diaz. Prior to our meeting, I enjoyed a mulita, which is similar to a quesadilla—mine had melted cheese and loose chorizo sandwiched between two corn tortillas. Also good were the taco de carne asada, with pleasant swooshes of char, and the increasingly popular quesataco. The one I ordered was filled not with birria de res, as is often the case, but with chopped al pastor seasoned in earthy, red spices. The corn tortillas were soft and springy, lightly marked from time on a flattop, meaning whoever makes them knows exactly when to pull them off the griddle. Their wavy edges were rough and uneven. The sopes, round, griddled masa cakes with shallow brims, had centers smeared with refried beans held in place by my topping of choice. One had chicharrones in a salsa verde so spicy I involuntarily cleared my throat. Another sope was capped with sliced, chewy nopales, or cactus paddles. Each sope’s top was obscured by a loose stack of wide strands of lettuce, a hoop of raw white onion, and rounds of tomatoes drizzled with crema, a sprinkle of queso fresco, and a dollop of guacamole. They were a bit messy to eat by hand, but well worth it.
As Diaz and I spoke, lunch service was winding down in the festively decorated interior. Torres Mochas is housed in a beige building that used to be a fast-food joint; the drive-through windows have been covered by cardboard. Inside, though, colorful sheets of papel picado hang from the ceiling, and a painting of Torres Mochas’ cathedral is mounted on one wall. Adjacent to the ordering counter is a wooden stand appointed with colorful serapes, Mexican marionettes in folkloric costumes, dolls, photos, earthenware cups, and other tchotchkes. I ordered from the counter, where masked staff quickly took my order. Again, I was also masked. I was dismayed to see that none of the customers in the nearly full dining room wore masks while waiting for their food or after they had finished. Per Governor Greg Abbott’s March 2 press conference, Texas was indeed fully open, and Torres Mochas was doing a brisk trade. Plates of food crowded every available tabletop. Whatever the protocols, Torres Mochas’ customers love the restaurant and its success is well deserved.
For Diaz, this prosperity is recent. The restaurant scraped by for its first two years. “Things began to improve in the middle of last year,” she says. Before that, customers seemed wary of trying regional Mexican food, so different from the Tex-Mex to which they were accustomed. “They would say things like, ‘These aren’t enchiladas; this isn’t a burrito,’” she recalls. Then, amid the pandemic, Paris diners warmed up to Torres Mochas’ food. The restaurant found community support without bowing to the pressure of a base famished for combo platters straining under the weight of perhaps-gratuitous toppings.
Torres Mochas’ support, though, was mostly from residents over the age of forty. “They are the people who travel more. They travel to Mexico often. They appreciate Mexican cuisine’s diversity,” Diaz says. Word of mouth spurred further customer growth among younger people, young families, Anglos, and Central Americans. It was the only PR Torres Mochas could afford, and it’s finally paying off.