Chips and salsa, nachos, cheese enchiladas, fajitas and frozen margaritas haven’t gone away and can still provide a satisfying and fun evening, if not so cheap anymore, especially if fajitas are involved. Fajitas can still be terrific; there is a reason fajitas, properly beef fajitas, became a restaurant sensation across the country and even Europe in the 1980s and remain popular. There is still a demand for Tex-Mex. Local Tex-Mex restaurants have incorporated many more traditionally Mexican dishes in recent years and the distinction is often blurred as to what is a Tex-Mex versus a Mexican restaurant here. This also has meant better preparations are on the menus.
Something interesting is that Tex-Mex restaurants lend themselves to successful replication, maybe more so than most cuisines or concepts. These places are typically not chef-driven, most notably, and the preparations can be easier to execute. Most of the recommended restaurants have more than one location, which is usually a good thing with these.
Listed in order of preference.
El Tiempo – Though it might not be as important on the dining scene as it was years ago, Houstonians still love Tex-Mex and the occasional fajita, and the best place to enjoy it is at the restaurants from the family that popularized the fajita and made it an international star, El Tiempo. The mesquite-grilled fajitas here can be terrific and the robustly flavored – and some very robustly priced – dishes of all sorts along with the still-potent-enough house margaritas can make for a fun visit. Some locations are better than others and the one on Navigation in the East End across from where the Laurenzo family got their start is always a good choice. It’s actually a value choice for a weekend breakfast, too. East End, Montrose, Greenway Plaza, Washington Corridor, Briargrove, Timbergrove, Westchase, Katy, Kingwood, Stafford, Clear Lake, Cypress, The Woodlands (2)
Goode Co. Kitchen & Cantina – With their experience and aptitude with Tex-Mex and Mexican dishes at other concepts, it was natural that Goode Co. would finally expand into a full-service Tex-Mex restaurants. Thankfully, they did. These are among the very best in the area. The Mexican seafood cocktail Campechana is a refreshing, wonderful way to start while the mesquite-grilled fajitas in one of its many iterations here is another crowd-pleasing order found on many tables. Any of the enchiladas or old school combination plates are done better than what you had growing up and the preparations with that require some more expertise like local Gulf favorite redfish cooked on the half-shell or bacon-wrapped, stuffed and roasted jumbo shrimp are a reminder that this is from a top area restaurant group. Memorial, Heights, The Woodlands
Sylvia’s Enchilada Kitchen – Though the currently handsome spaces are a far cry from the humble spot on the western edges of Westheimer where it started a couple of decades ago, the specialty, and the draw for many patrons, remains one of the numerous enchilada creations. All named after cities and towns in Texas and Mexico, some of the highlights are the McAllen, which is a basic chicken enchilada plate topped with Sylvia’s Signature Chile Gravy – which is notably tasty – the similar Donna, but filled with ground beef, Crystal City, especially good spinach-filled enchiladas topped with a slightly sweet tomatillo-based salsa, and the San Miguel, enchiladas suizas. It’s really tough to go wrong with any of the many municipalities here, though. And there’s a lot more of the regional comfort fare done well from soups, quesadillas, chalupas, fajitas with either beef or chicken grilled over mesquite, chile rellenos, flautas and carne guisada. If you’ve got room for dessert, flan and sopapillas from childhood. Briargrove, Energy Corridor
Lupe Tortilla – In the 1990s, it was fashionable for many Inner Loopers to drive out to Highway 6 for fajitas at the original location. That was high praise given that there were many noted fajita purveyors, much closer. Available with beef, chicken and shrimp, or a combination, the fajitas are served with guacamole, pico de gallo, char-grilled green onions and unusually very thin, large, tasty freshly made flour tortillas. The beef is moist and quite flavorful. The beef fajitas, and the similar tacos and steaks are still a prime draw. The rest of the offerings and ethos are a little less brash than years ago, but still an easy call for an enjoyable Tex-Mex. And there are plenty of area locations, mostly suburban, for Lupe Tortilla now, even elsewhere in the state. Upper Kirby District, Washington Corridor, West Houston, Katy, Sugar Land, Missouri City, Clear Lake, Pearland, 1960 Area, Spring, Cypress, The Woodlands, Humble, Tomball
Goode Co. Taqueria – This longtime casual counter-service stalwart shines brightest for its breakfasts – combinations featuring eggs scrambled with a choice of items like bacon, chorizo, and nopalitos, and the migas; huevos rancheros; huevos a la mexicana – but it’s really good for its daytime Tex-Mex offerings, too. The chicken enchiladas filled with thick strips of grilled and slightly smoky chicken breast are tempting, as are the cheese versions. The expected sides, beans and rice, are first-rate, as expected from Goode Co. Actually, there is not an unappealing choice on the short menu. Like their restaurants, there is their renowned pecan pie, if you need a sweet finish. That’s Tex rather than Mex, but it’s delicious. West U
Flora – Very pleasantly perched above Buffalo Bayou and sporting a clean, contemporary look, it’s an appropriate setting for the often excellent, vibrant and upscale Tex-Mex cooking that reaches far and often into Mexico. There is traditional queso, chips and salsa, nachos, and fajitas but also a starter featuring the trendy octopus, an array of ceviches and several seafood-topped tostadas – seafood is a strong suit here – a quinoa-centered dish, and barbacoa with lamb. Portions are on the small side, probably the smallest of any Tex-Mex restaurant in the area, so order more than usual, provided your budget can afford it. The attractively plated food here is pricey and overpriced, like all of the Big Vibe restaurants (Coppa, Graffiti Raw, Gratify); chips and salsa are not free, even a single fish taco is $13, and a pound of fajitas is well north of $50 – the latter not unusual these days. But you’re also paying for the atmosphere and the overall enjoyment of a visit. There is a reason its parking lot has seemingly always packed since opening in early 2022. River Oaks
Lopez – A very popular place in Alief since 1978, it’s still usually packed during the weekday lunchtime hours, and evenings on the weekend. The compendium of quality, familiarity, service, décor, location and price makes Lopez a pleasant and regular value dining option for many. You’ll be disappointed if you are looking for “authentic” or regional Mexican food. The menu is basic Tex-Mex; comfort food for a great many in the area and well-suited for suburban southwest Houston. Lopez’s popularity is due in large part to the adept execution of the familiar, satisfying Tex-Mex items. The basic tomato-based salsa is tastier than average, and better than what might be expected, flavorful and spicy, with the pepper seeds very evident. The chips are consistently fresh. The cheese in the enchiladas is cheese, cheddar cheese. The refried beans are thick and heavy, as those used to be at most Mexican restaurants in years before the greater prominence of cardiologists. Just a few of the hallmarks here. Alief, Richmond
Superica – This engaging, casual restaurant sharing a building with its sibling La Lucha is a version of a concept begun in Atlanta, albeit by a native Houstonian; this is Tex-Mex done just a little differently. It can be quite good, though. All of the familiar local Tex-Mex dishes are found here: nachos, queso and queso fundido, enchiladas in all the expected forms, quesadillas and fajitas. There’s also some more, with an aguachile appetizer, street-style tacos, the childhood favorite hard-shell tacos and a few more upscale beef and fish preparations. This can make for an easy choice for Tex-Mex done nicely when near the Heights. Heights
El Patio – More than the home of the cheeky, fun Club No Minors where food is usually an afterthought though not fake IDs, the Tex-Mex dishes here are actually fairly well done plus it’s got some of the legacy Felix dishes including the strangely addictive queso. Keep the cheese enchiladas in mind because of that. The menu is lengthy enough, and with a very high rate of dishes that will appeal to discerning Tex-Mex patrons of a certain age. It contains most items from the familiar, local Tex-Mex repertoire, and these are conceived with a heavy-hand. That’s meant as a compliment. Dishes are satisfyingly hearty here. The old timey combination plates are done well here such as surprisingly good tamales, a dish that is rather forgettable at too many restaurants. Briargrove
Ninfa’s – Not what it once was, but bears inclusion for its historical importance and also some fun can still be had here. This was where the fajita was popularized by namesake and former owner Ninfa Laurenzo, first in Houston and then the world. Those fajitas, and the similar tacos a la Ninfa, have been filled with slices of beef that are tougher and less flavorful than they should be for at least a dozen years now. This hasn’t really dimmed the crowds too much on Navigation who have seen it featured on one of the national food shows, though a great number of former regulars now head across the street to El Tiempo for similar and better Tex-Mex which Ninfa’s son and grandson run. See above. If here, the non-traditionally Tex-Mex items might be a better bet, as that is where the kitchen’s heart seems to lie these days. East End, Galleria Area
Some of the mesquite-grilled delights at Goode Co. Kitchen and Cantina