El Real is Vintage Tex Mex

Mexico, Tex-Mex, Texas — By on December 3, 2011 2:16 pm

The most popular food in Houston is Mexican food or, more accurately, Tex-Mex. Tex-Mex food has a long, rich history that most people don’t know much about. It is the oldest regional cuisine in the United States, and its roots can be traced back to the Native Americans. Robb Walsh, former restaurant critic for the Houston Press and author of numerous books on Tex-Mex food, teamed up with Bryan Caswell and Bill Floyd (owners of Reef, Stella Sola and Little Big’s), to bring some of that history to the present by creating a one of a kind, vintage Tex-Mex food experience at El Real Tex-Mex.

Robb Walsh & Maya Fasthoff

Robb Walsh gave me a quick tour of the restaurant, whose walls are decorated with vintage black-and-white photographs of old time Tex-Mex restaurants and restauranteurs, as well as other Tex-Mex ephemera, such as vintage restaurant menus. It felt like stepping back in time. Then we then sat down for the main event.

The menu at El Real has many of the time-honored vintage Tex-Mex food classics. First we had cheese enchiladas #10 with chile con carne topped with cheese, prepared the old-fashioned way. By “old-fashioned way” I mean that it’s prepared with chili powder and cumin that is roasted and ground on premises at the restaurant; mass produced cumin that you can buy at a store could never taste this smoky – from now on I’m roasting my own chili and cumin!

We also had beef and chicken fajitas. Both were great, but the beef fajitas were my favorite. They were most tender I’ve had in a long time.

Then we had the Chingo Bling combination plate–named for the Houston rapper–which has smoked chile relleno, chicken enchilada with salsa verde, and a pork tamale. One word: awesome! The chile relleno was the best part, and is my new favorite Tex-Mex item. It’s no surprise that the Chingo Bling is their most popular dish. Robb Walsh explains more below:


El Real from Geoffrey Roth on Vimeo.


I’ve traveled to a lot of small towns in Texas, and I’ve tried many Tex-Mex restaurants in those towns. The experience at El Real reminds me of the vintage, small town flavors. Tex-Mex food has evolved a great deal during the last couple generations, and many of its modern interpretations are very good. El Real pays tribute to the cuisine’s origins and does so extremely well. Remember, Tex-Mex food is not Mexican food but is instead a distinct regional cuisine that was born right here in Texas. Let’s give our Tex-Mex food the credit it deserves.

To learn about the history of Tex-Mex food and how to make your own, check out Robb Walsh’s books Tex-Mex Cookbook, The Tex-Mex Grill & Barbacoa Cookbook, and Nuevo Tex-Mex

For more visit El Real Tex-Mex Cafe Out to Prove Tex-Mex is Tasty: MyFoxHOUSTON.com. And don’t forget to follow Robb Walsh on Twitter.

Before I go, I’m curious to know which restaurants you consider to be authentic Tex Mex, whether in Houston or elsewhere. What’s your favorite authentic Tex Mex restaurant?


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  1. Juan P says:

    El Real is terrible. Your review is what made me go in and give it a try, I was extremely disappointed. To add insult to injury not only does the food taste bad its also overpriced. I don’t think I will ever go back.

    • Hi Juan, thanks for sharing your experience at El Real. I really liked the place. Some love it, some don’t. I’m sorry you had a bad experience, but I hope you will continue to follow me and try other destinations we visit!

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