[Hanah Metchis Volokh, guest-blogging, October 24, 2007 at 12:09pm] Trackbacks

What's the best inducement to clerking in Texas? The food. As an exile from the great state of Texas (a Texile?), I can honestly say that I miss the Tex-Mex food more than anything else. I have never found authentic Tex-Mex outside of Texas, and certainly not in the Northeast. And, as the linked article explains, it really is an authentic American cuisine, not a corrupt form of Mexican food. (Hat tip to another law school blogger from Texas, Divine Angst.)

Davebo (mail):
I've got to agree. But what's fun is seeing others try to make Tex Mex.

Once outside of Marsailles I found a purported Tex Mex restaraunt that offered "Tex Mex Spaggeti".

And in Amsterdam there was a horrific attempt at a combination Tex Mex/Cajun restaraunt.

Hint, nachos aren't made with Fetta cheese.
10.24.2007 1:29pm
KenB (mail):
When I lived in the Washington, D.C. area in the late 1970s, I always had one guaranteed topic of conversation upon meeting a fellow Texan: "Have you found a place to get decent Mexican food?" Alas, the answer was always "Not really."
10.24.2007 1:30pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
Chicago. The same Mexicans who cook Tex-Mex started moving to Chicago for work in the Sixties. I cried when I came to California and saw the crap Mexican people willingly ate, not knowing any better. Even a chain like Pepe's has tastier food than 90% of Mexi-places here.
10.24.2007 1:34pm
Hanah Volokh (mail) (www):
Davebo: I saw a place in Paris once called "Indiana Tex-Mex." I was afraid to go in.
10.24.2007 1:36pm
I had Tex-Mex in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. Best food I've ever had. :)
10.24.2007 1:45pm
Pin Head (mail):
If you are still in the DC area, there is (was?) a restaraunt in Bethesda that served a pretty decent plate of cabrito on Wed or Thurs night. I forget the name, but there aren't that many Tex Mex places in town. I don't know anything about their other offerings, as I was only there for the cabrito. The ambiance is more Bethesda than El Paso.
10.24.2007 1:48pm
texpat (www):
Hanah, I am a native Texas expatriate living in the NYC area, Bergen County actually. My search for genuine Tex-Mex food finally ended in my own kitchen. I have to make my own. If any of you diasporic Texans out there need a fix, go to this lovely and talented ex-Houstonian now working in Manhattan. She writes about and photographs her quest to make the best homemade Tex-Mex in the Gotham. Her blog is a treasure:
10.24.2007 1:50pm
MDJD2B (mail):
I like Texas barbecue even better. (I did my residency at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas.) I don't know where your court sits, but it's Sonny Bryant's in Dallas and Goode's in Houston for the best.
10.24.2007 1:51pm
ronnie dobbs (mail):
I'm married to a (half) mexican-american (actually a new mexican-american whose family has lived in Taos since time immemorial) who claims that Mexican food and New Mexican food are far superior to Tex-Mex. I haven't pressed the issue with her (would you debate the Pope on the merits of Catholicism?), but can someone please explain what the difference is between Tex Mex and other varieties of Mexican cuisine.

For those of you who travel, a couple more Mexican restaurant recommendations: (1) Javier's in Ogden, Utah -- the owner's son went to high school with me and is now a Big Law associate in NYC, great guy and great food; and (2) Rosa's in Tucson, AZ.
10.24.2007 1:52pm
Great, now I'm craving enchiladas and all I'm stuck with are Cal-Mex burritos. It's so not the same...
10.24.2007 1:56pm
texpat (www):

If any other Texans get wind of this thread, there will be 300 commenters here arguing about where the best BBQ is in Texas. The only other guaranteed mass traffic subject is Ron Paul.

ronnie dobbs

Just agree with whatever your wife says. It's all about peace and harmony. However, Texans know better than that.
10.24.2007 1:58pm
There's a London restaurant called the Texas Embassy Cantina, right behind Trafalgar Square, that used to have some of the best Tex-Mex. We expatriates would go there regularly when we got too homesick eating fish and chips. Alas, it went under new ownership a few years back and hasn't been the same since.
10.24.2007 1:59pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
Rosa's in Tucson, AZ
Meh. Rosa's is just so-so, by my palate. You can get better Mexican food in joints on Prince Road.
10.24.2007 2:00pm
DiverDan (mail):
As a transplanted Midwesterner who has lived in Texas for the last 26 years, I agree that NO PLACE has Tex-Mex like Texas. I grew up in Illinois, and there was a large population of Mexicans (most second or third generation - I had several good friends in high school who were Mexican, &none could speak Spanish) - I liked the Mexican Food that I could find there, but when I moved to Dallas I learned just how deprived my childhood had been. The best places are the little hole-in-the-wall restaurants and the Taquerias in the Mexican neighborhoods where no one seems to speak English - you really haven't experienced genuine Tex-Mex until you get a big plate of sour cream chicken enchiladas covered with a good salsa verde &home-pickled jalapenos (that green salsa made with tomatillos and chiles -- just thinking about it makes me drool!), or genuine huevos rancheros covered in a red salsa &sprinkled with that Mexican crumbly cheese. There's even a place here where I can get good Cochinita Pibil (a Yucatan pork dish, marinaded in orange juice &spices, slow cooked in banana leaves until it's fall-apart tender). I need a good fix of Tex-Mex at least twice a week.
10.24.2007 2:03pm
frankcross (mail):
Absolutely. A huge reason why I could never leave. Probably breakfasts more than anything else.

However, I would say that the Rick Bayless restaurants in Chicago top any place I have ever been in Texas.
10.24.2007 2:13pm
kevin r:
I loved living in Houston simply because of the food. I'm from the Great Lakes area, and only lived in Texas for a short while, but I still fell in love with the food there.

Here in DC there's basically no good Tex-Mex anywhere. Anita's, originally of Vienna VA and now with a couple more branches in the area, does New Mexican style, and I rather like them. The style is of course a little different from 'real' Tex-Mex, and having never been to New Mexico, I don't know how authentic it is to the 'original'.

Also, there's the Austin Grill chain.. it's passable though not great, but it's about the best you can get around here that I've found. I'm definitely open to suggestions if anyone knows of something good, though.
10.24.2007 2:13pm
liberty (mail) (www):
I miss New Mexican food, too, after living there for a few years. You really can't get a decent green chile breakfast burrito anyplace else.

However, not a good enough reason to live there.

There's a London restaurant called the Texas Embassy Cantina, right behind Trafalgar Square, that used to have some of the best Tex-Mex.

I've been there. Decent steak for London (which is like saying decent knish for Ohio or something) and edible food. Real Texas beer. Real Texas chefs even, but really not good Tex Mex when compared to Texas.
10.24.2007 2:31pm
Richard A. (mail):
I have driven the length of Mexico almost more times than I can remember and have sampled Mexican cuisine everywhere. My conclusion is that the writer is right: You can't get good Mexican food in Mexico. It's much better here in the U.S. What's good in Mexico is the seafood. I know a great sushi place in Mexico City. In the beach towns, fresh tuna and fried snapper are the call. But forget the tacos and enchiladas. They are second-rate compared to Texas style.
10.24.2007 2:41pm
Houston Lawyer:
Went to Santa Fe a few years ago and had their version of Mexican food. It was quite good though considerably spicier than Tex-Mex.

Tex-Mex has now gone upscale. You can pay $30 per head at some places. Traditional Tex-Mex is cheap, fast and tasty. Don't eat it for lunch or you will fight to stay awake all afternoon.
10.24.2007 2:53pm
Leigh (mail):
I've found New Mexican food in Rosslyn (DC area) at the Santa Fe Cafe (go for the green chile &pork stew). But as a transplanted Louisianian, eating the Tex-Mex that our western neighbors were good enough to send us, all I can say is that I'm suffering up here in the north.
10.24.2007 3:03pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
I'm talking about Chicago, not "Illinois"
From, if you want Cochinita Pibil, you can get it at Xni-Pec in Cicero "any time you are interested on deal whit truly Yucatan food we invited to come to our place, we not read recipe from books or ask how to cook because we know how to do it. we cook really Yucatan food we do it from several generation, we respect the traditional way to prepare the condiments, the way to cook, and the passion to prepare it because we know what it’s the meaning of our food, our people our history" as well as Sol de Mexico, Ixcapulzalco, Xel-Ha, etc. etc.
10.24.2007 3:22pm
Grew up in Los Angeles, lived for a long while in Texas, and while I liked tex-mex while in Texas, I do prefer authentic Mexican and New-Mexican cuisine. I also agree that you generally can't get either in the Northeast.

What's the difference? Compare "Queso" (melted velveeta with ground beef and salsa mixed in....pure Tex-mex), to freshly made salsa and guacamole for your tortilla dip of choice. Both are good, but they are different.

Best BBQ in Texas: Clark's Outpost in Tioga. Worth the detour if you are driving towards Dallas from the Oklahoma border.
10.24.2007 3:39pm
Pin Head (mail):
Richard A: "You can't get good Mixican food in Mexico".

You are kidding, right? If not, you have never played taco roulette in the Zona Rosa.

Tony: X2 on the comidas Yucatan. You gotta love those papadzules!
10.24.2007 3:44pm
liberty (mail) (www):
Leigh, Thanks! I will check it out, it sure looks authentic.
10.24.2007 3:58pm
WHOI Jacket:
You can't get good Mexican or Tex-Mex here in MA. I've had to make do with Portuguese (also tasty).
10.24.2007 4:18pm
I lived in Dallas/Ft. Worth for many years. No offense to the snobs and homesick, but On the Border and a couple other franchised/MBA-ified chains (Don Pablos) do a fine TexMex in the parking lot across from Target and Best Buy coast-to-coast. It's nothing like trying to get a cheesesteak outside the 215 area code, or pizza outside the 5 boroughs.
10.24.2007 4:22pm
EnriqueArmijo (mail):
And you and your colleagues in the S.D. Tex. courthouse will have more pesos with which to enjoy it, since Houston currently enjoys a greater federal employee locality payment increase (26.65%) than either DC (18.59%) or NY (24.57%).

Viva OPM!
10.24.2007 4:28pm
Tony T, the place in Cicero you mentioned was that the one that was just on, Check Please? A friend of mine just told me about it and tried to go there and they were lined up down the block. They raved about it on the show. I just heard about a place on Ashland and North Avenue that is good but I cannot remember the name. Sorry.
As for fast food BBQ, it is tough to beat Rudy's in Brownsville, TX. I know it is a chain, but a very nice brisket sandwhich and the pork is good too. As for the Mexicans that don't speak Spanish, or Mexican as I call, count me in too. I just blame it on my Irish mother.:)
10.24.2007 5:35pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
BT, yes it was. Check Please notoriously checks out restaurants mentioned on
Be ahead of the crowds, and read their posts for yourself.
10.24.2007 6:09pm
The River Temoc (mail):
Tex-Mex is for wimps. In New Mexico, people eat carne advovada (pork smothered with spicy red chile sauce), not Velveetish-tripe Genob wrote about above.

In DC, they only decent place to get New Mexican cuisine is from Anita's, in Virginia. In London, don't even think about the Texas Embassy. There used to be a genuine New Mexican restaurant in Islington, with a chef from Santa Fe, but it closed down and is now a churrascaria. Damn the Brazilians!
10.24.2007 6:12pm
I make no claim to know what real Tex-Mex is, or to be able to distinguish it from Mexican or New Mexican. But in the DC area, very broadly defined, I like this place: I'm usually the only Anglo there. There are many similar holes-in-the-wall in my area, most of which I haven't tried.

If you don't like Almita's, you can go a couple doors down and try Dixie Bones BBQ.
10.24.2007 6:54pm
SSD (mail):
I don't T.T.--Rosa's is pretty good. There was a place south of the university that was really good, but I can't remember it's name.
10.24.2007 6:54pm
Ted Frank (www):
What I don't understand is that Texas has so many expatriates in Washington DC that the city could surely support a genuine Tex-Mex restaurant, if at higher prices than the ludicrously cheap and wonderful food in Texas. So why the heck are we settling for the overpriced mediocrity of the Rio Grande Cafe and South Austin Grill? There have to be a dozen attorneys with ties to Texas who can each put up $100,000 to license something from Ninfa's and make it happen.

Anyway, Hanah, I recommend the El Paso Cafe in the Ballston neighborhood of Arlington. No, it's not genuine Tex-Mex, but it's passable fajitas.
10.24.2007 7:24pm
People who grow up outside the Southwest will never understand. Tex-Mex is a national cuisine all its own, as stated bove. It is unclear to me if ColoradoMex is distinct from NewMexMex or a degenerate form. California Mex is bigger on fresh veggies and seafood, but is hard to findeven in California. THe SanFrn Tacoteria is a still different style...

Baja Mex is superb, and is as different from CalMex as Provencal food is from Parisian. I'm talklking Puerto Neuvo Lobsters pulled straight out of the ocean, split in half, and grilled, served with a big bowl of chopped avocados and lime and cilantro and a pile of tortillas. Baja Frijoles, however, might be the worst on the planet.

Its all good, unless you call it all Mexican - cause if you do, you will always be getting something else, and it will never meet expectations.

Santa Cruz, Alcopolco, Monterrey, and Mexico City are quite different cuisnes as well.

Just looking for Mexican food always make me think of that sad resort food, called "Continental cuisine", it is from nowhere in Europe, but evocative of some European foods, and generally without any character. And if you want German Food, and call it Continental, and wander into a French restuarant, you will be just as unhappy as if you wanted French and wandered into a Bulgarian Restuarant.

The problem is, outside of each area, you get all the rough edges and character knocked off...
10.24.2007 7:24pm
anym_avey (mail):
It is unclear to me if ColoradoMex is distinct from NewMexMex or a degenerate form.

Degenerate, I doubt. Different, probably. Some of them are even forming mini-chains, such as Tequila's, El Jimador, Tres Margaritas (sensing a theme here) and the Armadillo. The Armadillo is probably the least authentic but also appeals to the broadest taste. The others are amazing (albeit Tres Margaritas serves ordinary cole slaw, rather than the jalapeno cabbage mix), but sometimes give in to the temptation to appeal to American palates with an excess of shredded cheese on dishes that don't call for it.
10.24.2007 7:39pm
arbitraryaardvark (mail) (www):
Still don't know what Tex-Mex is.
I've had good and bad Mexican, worked in a Venezuelan joint, am in walking distance of authentic and gringo Mexican places,
but don't know what defines Tex-Mex so I'll know it if I eat it. And does it come in vegan?
10.24.2007 7:44pm
Richard A. (mail):
To Pin Head: I have not only played taco roulette in Mexico, but I have lost badly. They say it's not real Mexican food if you don't get the runs. And they're right.

I'll take a nice, clean Texas taco any day over those street taco in Mexico. The best that can be said of them is that this one weight-loss diet that works every time.
10.24.2007 7:54pm
kd (mail) (www):
It would be very difficult to make good Tex-Mex vegan, with the cuisine's reliance on lard and cheese. Mostly the cheese part.

I'd also like to note that Tex-Mex, in its most banal, tourist-friendly form, is quite mild, but once you wander into an authentic taqueria in San Antonio (or Corpus Christi, or the Rio Grande Valley in Texas), you can and will find very spicy options, indeed. Perhaps one difference is that the caliente is often added after cooking, in the form of salsas and sauces (yes, I know salsa = sauce, but I'm using the word salsa idiomatically) rather than being cooked right in. Maybe that's a result of Tex-Mex's origins as food for ranchers and cowboys (you know, folk herding cattle--this is also why beef is so much more prevalent in Tex-Mex than in Cal-Mex or New Mexican-Mex).
10.24.2007 8:26pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
this is also why beef is so much more prevalent in Tex-Mex

One of the things I miss about living in Chicago is the corner Mexican grocery store with its air-dried beef.
10.24.2007 9:05pm
Visitor Again:
When your initial legal posts on the VC are drawing few comments, what can you post about to bring your comments per post average way up? Hanah knows. Well done, Hanah.
10.24.2007 9:11pm
BTW for a great Margarita try Garcia's in Matamoros, Mx just over the border from Brownsville, Tx. It is a tourist trap and the food is only ok. But I like the drinks. I cannot find a decent Margarita in Chicago, they all too damn sweet.
10.24.2007 9:32pm
Man doth not live on Tex-mex alone: but it's a good start. One could draw a tangent, beginning at Trudy's Texas Star Cafe, just North of U.T. Law School, heading South, South West, to the Law School, then to "The Iron Works," down-town Austin, then on to "The Salt Lick." One could spend the remainder of one's life, blissfully, travelling between the termini of said tangent. The travels may end in cardiac arrest, but it's a good kind of cardiac arrest.
10.24.2007 11:46pm
Tony Tutins (mail):

When your initial legal posts on the VC are drawing few comments, what can you post about to bring your comments per post average way up? Hanah knows.

Hanah, what are your views on the second amendment? How about Israel? On second thought, maybe you should stick to food when posting on issues other than your legal interests.
10.25.2007 12:38am
Bob Mologna:
In Tucson I'd recommend Su Casa on south 4th Ave for the carne seca (which I only ever seem to find in Tucson). Phoenix has an excellent NM style restaurant called Los Dos Molinos which is an offshoot of the original Los Dos Molinos in Springerville AZ (tiny town on the AZ NM border. Both are seriously worth a visit. Almost any taco wagon in AZ will have good food. CA and CO serve bastardized versions in my opinion. If you find yourself in Dublin Ireland go to the farmers market in Templebar on a saturday. There is a Mexican guy there who sells a very limited selection of top notch Mexican food. Really. Otherwise forget about Ireland. Forget about the UK while you're at it.
10.25.2007 12:44am
Patrick McKenzie (mail):
The best Tex Mex I have ever had was, I kid you not, a little hole in the wall called "El Paso", in rural Japan. Amazingly good stuff. It was probably one of the most popular restaraunts with Americans in the prefecture but most of the clientele was a loyal bunch of Japanese who had found it once and became regulars.
10.25.2007 3:22am
Zathras (mail):
Man doth not live on Tex-mex alone: but it's a good start. One could draw a tangent, beginning at Trudy's Texas Star Cafe, just North of U.T. Law School, heading South, South West, to the Law School, then to "The Iron Works," down-town Austin, then on to "The Salt Lick." One could spend the remainder of one's life, blissfully, travelling between the termini of said tangent. The travels may end in cardiac arrest, but it's a good kind of cardiac arrest.

This is a good summary of why I gained 20 pounds in law school. Add in Enchiladas y Mas, which used to be at 26th and I-35, and Guero's on South Congress, and you get the whole picture.

Now that I live in Michigan, where the best Mexican restaurants are still several tiers below Taco Cabana, I am slowly losing that weight.
10.25.2007 10:33am
kd (mail) (www):
Trudy's is not Tex-Mex. It's a weird hybrid of Tex-Mex and Cal-Mex, really. True Tex-Mex in Austin can be found at Matt's Famous El Rancho or Gueros--or any number of dive taquerias east of I-35.
10.25.2007 11:05am
Tony Tutins (mail):
This morning I remembered my Tex-Mex culture shock moment. In the early 80s I went on a business trip to Dallas. After eating Mexican food for over a decade, I was eager to try real Texas cucina. Luckily, my hosts suggested we go to their favorite taqueria for lunch. The waitress hustled over and took our order. Because this was Friday, I thought I would drink a beer with lunch. This exchange followed, as nearly as I can remember it:
"Are you a member, sir?"
- "A member, what do you mean?"
"We can sell beer only to members of our private club."
-(By now, I'm quite surprised) Well, what does it take to become a member of your taqueria?"
"For one dollar, you get a lifetime membership card."

I might still have my membership card in a drawer somewhere. Unfortunately, I've never been back to Dallas to use it. The food was pretty good, as I recall, but no better than what I had been eating in Chicago.
10.25.2007 11:25am
I always find foodies and their ultra-refined palates amusing. I can understand how someone could say that Velveta-based queso doesn't compare to fresh lobster with avocados and cilantro, but anyone claiming the superiority of Taco Cabana to the best of Michigan Tex-Mex loses all credibility with me. It may just be hyperbole, but I still think it's unwarranted.

Some here complain that they can't get "good" enchiladas in their city. I also don't buy it for a second. Maybe you can't get great seafood, the freshest produce and herbs, good chorizo, or whatever, but anyone living in an urban area with 10,000 Mexicans can find a restuarant with decent beef, chicken, cheese, or pork enchiladas. I mean, there's not that much to them, right? If anything, Tex-Mex (tacos, enchiladas, etc.) has got to be one of the easiest cuisines to half-ass and still end up with a decent product. Arrange a corn tortilla, a spiced meat, beans, and cheese in any combination you can think of, add a canned sauce, and you've got tacos, enchiladas, tostadas, flautas, or whatever else Taco Cabana sells.

I also find it funny that someone up-thread used "tripe" to disparagingly refer to inauthentic Tex-Mex. I mean... hello... menudo anyone? Don't get me wrong, I think tripe soup/stew tastes like a crap no matter the country of origin, but isn't tripe being on the menu of the signals that you're in an authentic Mexican restaurant?
10.25.2007 1:31pm
Another question for foodies:

Are you sure "delicacy" isn't just a euphamism for "the crap we have to trick people into eating through clever marketing"?
10.25.2007 1:33pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
DRWN - usually people do not analyse whether a food is a delicacy or not -- they just go with their gut feeling.
10.25.2007 1:51pm
Zathras (mail):

I cannot claim that every single Mexican restaurant in Michigan is awful--I'm just speaking to ones I've been to. I live in central Michigan, where the Mexican restaurant all the locals speak of as being so great (El Azteco), is embarrassingly bad. I have been to a few in Detroit and have not had any better luck.

There are 2 specific areas that can elucidate my problems here.

1) Tortilla Chips. Believe it or not, I have yet to have a single good tortilla chip at a Michigan Mexican restaurant. The chips are almost always stale and/or over-fried. It's amazing that everyone so consistently ruins such a basic staple, but that is the case.

2) Spices. Michigan Mexican comes in 2 levels of spiciness. 95% of the food has almost no spice whatsoever. I actually have overheard people complain about how spicy some Mexican food is, when I can barely tell it has spices at all. The remaining 5% is so hot that very few, in Texas or here, would eat it. There is nothing in between.

My problems have been mainly confined to Michigan. I have been to some good Mexican places in Chicago, particularly near Midway Airport. The problem of Mexican food in Michigan is just part of the larger problem with all restaurants in Michigan--there just aren't any good non-chain ones out there. The blandness of Mich-Mex extends to the general blandness of the food here.

If you have a recommendation for a good Mexican place in Michigan, I'd love to hear it. If not, your abstract reasoning on the issue is absolutely meaningless.
10.25.2007 2:09pm
Boyd (mail) (www):
I'm driven to concur with two statements above:

Alas the lack of good Tex-Mex here in the DC area. I'm as surprised as the rest of you folks, but maybe it's because few of the Latinos in this area are Mexicans, and those that are, aren't from Texas.

The Salt Lick in Driftwood, southwest of Austin, gets my vote for BBQ place. That's where I got one of my favorite T-shirts, which says on the back, "I didn't get to the top of the food chain to become a vegetarian."
10.25.2007 2:55pm
Phelps (mail) (www):
Okay, a quick primer on what makes Tex-Mex. Tex-Mex is heavily meat and starch based. Tortilla chips and red salsa is typically served, and most dishes come with refried beans and spanish rice. Enchiladas, tamales, tacos, and chalupas are major parts. Seafood is uncommon.

TexMex also claims nachos, chips and salsa, and fajitas as its inventions. (And anything other than beef strip steak has no business being called "fajitas".)
10.25.2007 3:05pm
I've eaten at several Mexican places in west MI that have some very good menu items, but haven't sampled the menus extensively enough that I could make wholesale recommendations. Usually I've just stopped in for a quick $6 lunch. These places include:

Maggie's Kitchen in GR
Liitle Mexico Café in GR
Las Cazuelas in GR is primarily a takeout place but it has good tacos and menudo, but I've also had their burritos that I didn't care for them.

I wouldn't make the drive to any of those from mid-Michigan, though.

Holland has large Mexican population and I've eaten at some good and cheap joints there, but with the exception of Taco Fiesta I don't remember the names

A few years ago I ate at a place in Fennville that I really liked. I don't remember the name, but after Googling "Mexican restaurant fennville michigan" and looking at the results, it must have been Su Casa.

The closest thing to a Mexican restaurant that I've eaten at in mid-Michigan is Panchero's in East Lansing, which satisfies your post-last-call urges for 2 lb. burritos, but probably wouldn't appeal to someone looking for the perfectly seasoned fish tacos and a side of chili rellenos.

I guess my main point wasn't that the Mexican food in Michigan is great, it was more along the lines of "how good can an enchilada get?" Phelps described Tex-Mex pretty much as I envision it. I just never imagined raving about that cuisine. Frontera Grill, on the other hand, is great. I wouldn't call what I ate there "Tex-Mex" though.

BTW, if you want good bagged tortilla chips (is that an oxymoron?), try El Matador brand. Their packaging states that they have "Unique Taste and Flavor." Their plant is in Grand Rapids but I bet they're sold throughout much of Michigan.
10.25.2007 3:24pm
As for BBQ, I much prefer the vinegar based sauces (is that KC-style? Carolina-style?) to the sugary Texas BBQ. But that'a a different flame war for a different thread.
10.25.2007 3:25pm
Brad Ford (mail):
As a Mexican-American living in the Northeast, the lack of good Tex-Mex nearly killed me. For 2 years, the best "Mexican" restaurant within reasonable driving distance was Taco Bell. While things have improved, I cannot wait until my Christmas "Pepe's Plate" from Herrera's.
10.25.2007 4:05pm
Zathras (mail):
DeezRightWingNutz, I will concur with you on the El Matador chips. They are very good, easily better than any other tortilla chips I've had in Michigan, either from a restaurant or a bag. I occasionally go out to GR for work, so I'll try one of the places you mentioned when I can.

As for the BBQ, my experience is the opposite of yours. I also like the sour-style of BBQ over the syrupy, sweet variety, but my experience is that Texas BBQ tends towards the sour, while that of Carolina and Tennessee goes towards the sweet.
10.25.2007 4:23pm
If you want Tex-Mex, I'd recommend driving up and down Bridge St. (the Mexican commercial hub, such as it is) in Grand Rapids. There may be other holes in the wall that are better that I haven't tried. If you go, make sure to inform me of your inevitable disappointment. Whatever you do, stay away from The Beltline Bar. It's the place everyone here thinks has great Mexican food (or at least burritos), but I think it's bad.

If I were you, I'd skip the Tex-Mex and eat at San Chez (Spanish tapas-style), Mezze (Mediteranian place next door), 1913 Room (staid, jacket required place with excellent food/service), Bombay Cuisine, Wei Wei Palace, or Bistro Bella Vita. The Schnitz Deli has good soup and sandwiches (get a half), but I'm sure a New Yorker would complain about it. While I agree that the food here is on the bland side, there are some exceptions. If you ask ten random people for recommendations, you're also apt to get ten bland restaurants (unless you consider Chili's exciting). Since those seem to be the preferences of people here, that's what they get, at least for the most part. However, I still haven't eaten in too many places anywhere I like better than San Chez.

As for the geographic origins of sauces, I'm sure you're right, as I'm not very experienced. I've eaten it in Memphis at Corky's (blech), but the stuff I had in Texas was pork, so it probably wasn't true Texas BBQ anyway. Never eaten BBQ in the Carolinas or KC. Of the stuff I've had in upper the Midwest, guess I couldn't tell you the geographic origins, but the best I've had is BBQ pork that's nice and smokey with a spicy vinegar-based sauce.
10.25.2007 5:46pm
xxx (mail):
This thread is making me hungry, and I am a 7 hour drive from the nearest decent tex-mex.
10.25.2007 5:54pm
Zathras (mail):
I have been to San Chez. I took my wife there for an anniversary dinner after a 6 hour mediation with a W.Dist Judge. I enthusiastically second your vote for it--it is probably the best restaurant I've been to in Michigan (at least in the lower peninsula--the Michigan House in Calumet might give it some stiff competition).
10.25.2007 6:03pm
Since you're a lawyer and probably on an expense account, why don't you just reserve a table for two at the Chop House? If your wife wants to join us, make it for three.
10.25.2007 6:36pm
triticale (mail) (www):
I worked with a woman who had emigrated to Milwaukee from rural central Mexico. Tacos and burritos were completely new to her; back home they ate their food off a plate.

Be that as it may, my son, who was weaned on a jalapeno, recommends the taqueria inside the El Rey grocery store here. Similarly, in Chicago, there was a highly rated taqueria inside a grocery away from the Tourista-Mex areas. Probably something to look for wherever you are.
10.25.2007 7:00pm
Lauriol Plaza in DC has good tex-mex.

In Cambridge, MA, try Jose's, on Sherman Street in North Cambridge.
10.26.2007 3:26pm
Ted Frank (www):
Lauriol Plaza in DC has good tex-mex.

This is demonstrably false on many more levels than Lauriol Plaza has, and a slur on the name of Tex-Mex.
10.28.2007 10:12pm