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South Bay Tex-Mex?

  • d

I've lived in the Bay Area for the last 10 years, but can't seem to get out of my bones the half of my life I spent in Texas. Besides my friends, what I miss most is the food there (certainly not the climate!). Is there anyplace in the Bay Area, preferably the South Bay, that serves recognizable Tex-Mex?

The two dishes I miss the most are chile con queso (melted cheese with some chopped chiles and maybe onions and other things, served as a dip appetizer with tostada chips) and tacos al carbon (marinated flank or skirt steak grilled over an open fire, cut into strips like fajita meat and wrapped in a flour tortilla). For the latter, I *could* order fajitas and just ignore all the other stuff they serve with the meat, but even the meat isn't nearly as flavorful here as I'm used to from my favorite places in Texas (Ninfas, Pappasito's, Beto, Chuy's, etc.).

I haven't found even a rough approximation of chile con queso here. Some restaurants have a cheese and veggie combination intended to be spooned into a tortilla and rolled up and eaten, but the cheese solidifies as it cools and is too thick to be used as a dip even when first served. Chili's has what they call "skillet queso," but it is dominated by ground meat and not at all what I'm looking for, which is always meatless.

Thanks in advance for any clues.

Regards,

Dan Henderson
Sunnyvale

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  1. hahaha...Tex-Mex is the Bay Area....haha...well it will be interesting to see the responses to your query.

    I moved here from Texas 20 years ago as of last May. I have never found anything even vaguely recognizable as Tex-Mex here and I've spend many years trying. Frankly, most people out here don't even know what Tex-Mex is so their recommendations are basically worthless. Every recommendation I've gotten for the past twenty years (except one) has been for crappy American-Mex or Cal-Mex or whatever. Unfortunately, the ONE good Tex-Mex restaurant I've eaten at in the Bay Area closed years ago (Bull's on Van Ness in SF).

    Every now and then I'll get a recommendation from an mildly creditable source and I'll dutifully check it out, only to leave the establishment disappointed and bitter from the wasted money, calories and dashed hopes.

    Really, the best Tex-Mex in SF is at my house. And luckily, I go back to Texas regularly so I get to gorge on Tex-Mex at least twice a year.

    17 Replies
    1. re: Pssst

      Boy, would I second that. Moved here 6 years ago from Dallas. No Tex-Mex around here other than in my kitchen. Like you, get a least one or two trips a year back to Texas and make sure I enjoy lots of good Mexican food. Chevy's wouldn't last 2 weeks in Texas and in fact I believe one opened in the DFW area and was gone inside of a year.

      1. re: Monty
        s
        subcommandante marcos

        do you go back to texas to enjoy tex-mex or mexican food?

        1. re: subcommandante marcos
          d
          Dan Henderson

          My experience is that it's at least as difficult to find genuine Mexican food in Texas as it is to find Tex-Mex in the Bay Area. One of the best meals I've ever had in my life was in a hole-in-the-wall restaurant called the Azul y Oro in Merida (Yucatan peninsula) that included beef shaslik a la russe and panuchos, and I've never seen either of those at any other restaurant anywhere else in the world, even the ones that claimed to serve Yucatecan cuisine.

          Regards,

          Dan

          1. re: Dan Henderson

            Tommy's Mexican Restaurant on Geary serves panuchos on Monday night.

            It may be on the specials insert or may not be on the menu at all, I don't remember. But many regular customers come specificly for that dish - my husband is one of them. Sometimes he just start chanting "Panuchos, Panuchos, Panuchos" and I know where we'll be soon.

            I haven't had them at the source (in the Yucatan) but that's where the Bermejo family is from so I suspect they bear some resemblance to the original.

            1. re: Pssst
              d
              Dan Henderson

              Thank you for the recommendation of Tommy's! The reviews on the Web are spotty, and it's a *long* way from where I live, especially for a work night (Mondays only for panuchos ), but it would be worth it if I'm up in the city for some other event.

              The panuchos I remember so fondly from Azul y Oro in Merida were two round tostada chips pinched together all around the edge and stuffed with black beans (kind of a Mexican version of round ravioli), topped with a slice of ripe tomato, a few rings of sweet marinated red onion, and some chicken breast that was moist and flavorful. It was absolutely divine, as evidenced by the fact that I ate them 30 years ago and the memory is still fresh for me.

              Regards,

              Dan

              1. re: Dan Henderson

                I mentioned this elsewhere but in case you missed it: Mi Lindo Yucatan serves panuchos as wells as numerous other Yucatecan dishes. Two locations, one in the Mission and the other in Noe Valley.

                1. re: nja
                  d
                  Dan Henderson

                  Thank you *very* much for the repeat mention of Mi Lindo Yucatan; I missed your other posting. And I'm in Noe Valley *much* more frequently than I'm in the Avenues, so this will work better for me than Tommy's, not to mention the fact that I hope they serve panuchos more than just one night a week, as seems to be true for Tommy's (Monday only). I found the Mi Lindo Yucatan on the Web showing they're at 24th @ Castro. My girlfriend's daughter's family lives on 26th, and when we go up there to visit or babysit, we always eat at Alice's. We'll try Mi Lindo Yucatan instead next time.

                2. re: Dan Henderson

                  Well, the downside to being served the "best ever" of some dish is that it tends to ruin your ability to truly enjoy it anywhere else.

                  Tommy's suffers from the same problem of many restaurants - It has a big menu filled with generic crowd pleasers and few good speciality items. Most of their stuff is boring American-Mex and some is full-on icky. For example, I would never order their tamale, enchilada or other "combo" plates.

                  But they have a good grill setup so their grilled meats are pretty nice. We pretty much limit ourselves to the panuchos, carne asada, steak ranchero (in green sauce) and a grilled shrimp dish (don't remember the name). Entrees come with a iceberg lettuce salad, beans & rice, all of which are boring but you can leave it behind or spice it up with salsa. At the bar we tend to order tacos & quesadillas which are sufficient to soak up the booze.

              2. re: Dan Henderson

                There are actually a number of places that serve interior mexican food around Austin and Houston and esp San Angelo- La Fonda San Miguel comes to mind (in Austin) which serves outstanding interior (not tex-mex) mexican food.

                Obviously yucatan-styled or inspired mexican food is not the only "authentic" version of mexican food, which I strongly agree is not very well-represented in Texas but of course is not the only standard for authentic.

                In the Bay Area, I can't find anything above $10 edible (which typically limits you to Burritos or Tacos) for any form of mexican food- including tex-mex or southwestern or any variation on the mexican theme...which upscale eateries of mexican cuisine in many variations is common in Texas and can be found in most metropolitan areas.

                Tommys in the Richmond is about the closest to a true "dining" (as opposed to grabbing a burrito and sitting at the counter) as it comes, in the city but be prepared to drink mass quantities of tequila to get the food down..

                If I had any drive or ambition to leave my well-paying and somewhat easy job, I would open 2 resturaunts- one lower-end cajun and one upscale mexican. But then again, most people I know out here prefer the ingredients to stand alone which isn't usually the "seasoning" of those cuisines which is why I believe they don't exist or don’t fare very well....just my .02 for what its worth...

                1. re: bandit

                  Then you haven't been to Estrellita and ordered from the specials menu. The southern Mexican dishes there are excellent; steer clear of the Tex-Mex dishes. It's on San Antonio just south of El Camino in Los Altos.

                  Michael

                  1. re: mdg

                    There's no Tex-Mex on the menu at Estrellita. They do have a great deal of the common Mexican-American/Cal-Mex dishes like enchiladas, tostadas, burritos, chiles relleno, and the like. The Oaxacan chicken tostada, enchiladas, beans & rice, chips & salsa are all excellent. It remains my favorite Mexican restaurant in the bay area. But none of that is Tex-Mex, which is a fairly specific cuisine. Are there any specific specials dishes that you recommend? I tried one or two that I didn't care for, but they have dozens more I've never tried.

                    Mi Lindo Yucatan serves miniature panuchos. They are good, but I can't tell you how they compare to Tommy's or those at the source.

                    Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                    1. re: nja

                      Well, the common Mexican-American items are shared with Tex-Mex restaurants; that's what I meant.

                      For the specials, I've enjoyed just about all the sauced meat main dishes like the mole, pipian, and tinga dishes. I tend to have those much more than the vegetarian or seafood options. But the crab enchiladas are great early in the season!

                      Michael

                    2. re: mdg

                      you're right, I haven't been there or heard of it...thanks for the tip, I will check it out !!

                      Its alot cheaper to go to Mountain View than to fly to texas !!!

                    3. re: bandit
                      d
                      Dan Henderson

                      I'm glad to hear that there are places in Texas where genuine Mexican food is available. I've never been anyplace in Mexico besides Yucatan, and only actually remember the one spectacular meal I ate in Merida in the 1970's, so I wouldn't know genuine Mexican cuisine if it bit me on the butt. I do remember one Newsweek article years ago on a restaurant in Mexico City that served live insects as part of the meal (you had to be fast to catch 'em before they scurried off your plate), but I can't believe that was any more than a fad.

                      Regards,

                      Dan

                      1. re: Dan Henderson

                        Actually, insects are not uncommon in Mexico. In the spring, the warehouse guys in the company I worked at would bring jars of live worms for lunch.

                        Grasshoppers are common. I remember that restuarant (never ate there). Not sure if it is still in business as the insect thing is more of a working class thing than a sit down dinner. Also, it's really not what people mean when they are talking about real Mexican.

                        However, if you want to expand your horizons, Karina's in Petaluma sells bags of fried chapulines (grasshoppers).

                        It's just what people are familiar with. The French eat snails, for heaven's sake. So in the wrong thread, but I see that Gregoire in Berkeley is selling a snail sandwich this month. OK ... escargot if that makes anyone feel better.

                        Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

                  2. re: subcommandante marcos

                    Actually both. In Addison, a sub of Dallas, there was an outstanding "Mexican" restaurant that I believe was out of Mexico City. No "chips and salas" there. But, mostly I go for Tex-Mex.

                2. re: Pssst

                  What a perfect opportunity at a niche market for you to make your fortune in!

                3. I have lived in Dallas and San Antonio so I know what real Tex-Mex is also. The food there is great. The Tex-Mex here is horrible. People in the Bay Area have no idea what real tex-mex is. The closest I have found is a small taqueria in Emerald Hills called Sanchos. The owner has cooked at Boulevard and Village Pub. The beans and carne asada are great. Other than that, I am like you.....still searching.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Jerry

                    sanchos?!! YOU HAVE GOT TO BE FREAKING KIDDING ME

                    1. re: beer

                      Would love to know your recommendations, beer.

                      And perhaps an explanation why the beans and carne asada at Sanchos doesn't NOT qualify as a good Tex-Mex versions.