In 1926, a Mexican immigrant named Adelaida Cuellar—now affectionately referred to as "Mama"—set up a tiny stand at a county fair outside Dallas, selling homemade tamales and chili con queso. The spicy specialties soon drew throngs of hungry patrons, and by 1940, she and her 12 children had transformed the stand into a café. Today, her legacy lives on at El Chico's many locations, where the staff rolls fresh tortillas into steaming enchiladas and salts the rims of towering margaritas. Waiters hoist platters of Tex-Mex favorites such as spicy beef burritos, crispy tacos, and guacamole prepared right at the table from fresh, self-puréeing avocados—a technology Mama never could have imagined during the early days of black-and-white tomatoes.
The owners and chefs at Santa Fe Cattle rely on old family recipes that demand steaks are aged and cut in-house, rolls are baked fresh each day, and signature sauces are mixed onsite. These touches transform the menu’s casual, regional eats into dishes worthy of John Wayne’s personal dressing-room buffet. Steaks, fajitas, and sliders are plated next to housemade sides of cole slaw, Santa Fe taters, and of course, a bucket of peanuts—which guests shuck directly onto the floor. The peanut shells add character to each one of the restaurant’s 20 locations, which evoke old-west saloons with touches such as brick walls draped in horse saddles and weathered wooden floors.
The menu at Don Serapio’s Mexican Restaurant pays tribute to Mexico as much as it does to the owner's family. Janie Meadow's father Serapio Sanchez helped her brother Larry open his first restaurant back in the 50s. It was at this restaurant that Janie met Jim Meadows, her husband and the man she would eventually join forces with to open Don Serapio’s Mexican Restaurant. Today, the pair draws on family recipes to marinate steak and pork, smother enchiladas in cheese, and fry jumbo shrimp.
Cooks bustle about the kitchens of Tulio's Mexican Restaurant, stuffing flautas with juicy morsels of skinless white-meat chicken and marinating strips of sirloin steak. The beef soaks in its bath of spices for a full 24 hours before it’s deemed ready for fajitas al carbon and mexican steak-tip dinners, a slow but necessary process that typifies the restaurant’s concern for getting traditional Mexican recipes right.
Though they share certain ingredients in common, there’s no mistaking the difference between a giant burrito—stuffed with up to five pounds of meat or piñata candy—and light entrees such as veggie fajitas with steamed rice and ranchera beans. Whether sautéing peppers or deep-frying chimichangas, the cooks keep an eye on heart health and use only 100% vegetable oil. Fresh produce goes into dishes such as the Cancun chicken, whose sweet bell peppers and guacamole-celery hot sauce make for more green than a bank vault filled with lime jello.
Alfredo's Mexican Cafe opened in Weatherford, Oklahoma, in 1998, in a tiny 1,500-square-foot building that could squeeze in 45 people at the most, but only if they were "back to back and shoulder to shoulder," jokes cofounder Bruce Hill. He never thought Alfredo's would get any bigger, and he was OK with that. But fate seemed to have other plans.
Customers kept coming back to Alfredo's for its large portions of Tex-Mex cuisine prepared fresh every day, and soon Hill was able to open other locations. Hill is grateful for his success and believes he should share it with others, so he donates a portion of Alfredo's profits to Manos de Amor, a children?s orphanage in Mexico, as well as a water ministry in Burkina Faso.
The flavors of Mexico City get an inventive reboot at Cantina Laredo, which has specialized in modern Mexican cuisine since 1984. Over the decades, Catina Laredo locations have spread to numerous states, countries, and at least two planes of reality. Classic dishes fill the menu, including guacamole prepared tableside and hand-rolled enchiladas stuffed with everything from Angus beef to avocado and artichokes. At the same time, the chefs elevate and refine traditional flavors by creating chicken fajitas with bacon, mushrooms, and chipotle-wine sauce and filling tortas with slow-roasted pork, apricot spread, goat cheese, and fried egg.
As for drink pairings, the Casa Rita?Cantina Laredo's signature margarita?is versatile, its classic version including silver tequila with Cointreau and fresh-squeezed lemon and lime juice. Diners can customize their drink by adding flavors such as mango or tamarind into the mix.