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Best beef fajitas in Houston?

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I have incredible memories of the most succulent beef fajitas from a caterer (from a restaurant) in Houston 20 years ago. The meat was like filet mignon tender, with a savory marinade that makes my mouth water now from the recollection of the flavor. I haven't been back to Houston for many years, but will be traveling there soon again.

What place has the aforementioned "miracle fajitas"? I will go immediately upon landing!

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  1. Here are the two that I enjoy the most:

    1) Los Cucos (there are a couple around town) has a "Fajitas a las Brazas" mixed grill (for two) that has chicken & beef fajitas as well as a link of grilled sausage. Half of the fajitas have their Los Cucos sauce over them which is fantastic (it is a creamy sauce of onions, mushrooms and a little jalapeno among other things) . The other half is regular fajitas like you normally see. It is served on a large metal grill looking thing (sorry I don't know the proper term for it) that sits in the middle of the table.

    2) The marinade on beef fajitas at Lupe Tortillas is fantastic.

    There are plenty of good places with fajitas, but I think that these two places go above and beyond the norm.

    12 Replies
    1. re: mac8111

      I second Los Cucos.

      I know some people liked Lupe Tortillas but I found the marinade to be a bit too sour for my tastes (since it's made with a lot of lime).

      1. re: mialebven

        I like the simplicity of the Lupe Tortilla marinade, but it is not like a filet mignon!

        I've never been to Los Cucos, but my family loves Fajita WIllies on 290. We also like the fajitas and quail at El Tiempo Cantina.

        Alkapal - please elaborate on the flavors in the marinade.

        1. re: danhole

          pretty simple, danhole, garlic, lime/vinegar/orange -- but not sour at all. maybe cumin. maybe onion. maybe some umami touch -- worcestershire? (nah....) it let the steak flavor shine.

          1. re: alkapal

            I'll bet they came from a more upscale mexican place than what I mentioned! I say that because of the cut of meat you mentioned.

            1. re: danhole

              Those tasty catered fajitas the OP had 20 years ago probably came from Ninfa's, which (like so many others) is not what it used to be. I had some fajitas from Pappasitos this fall and they were VERY tender and nicely marinated. I'd go there again in a minute. Does anyone in Houston remember Adrians? Their green sauce was to die for! I wish I still had the recipe.

              1. re: Cheflambo

                That's a good point Chef! 20 years is a long time in Houston restaurant history. So few make it that long, but when it comes to mexican I can think of a few! Felix's, Donaraki's, Ninfa's, El Patio (westheimer), but that's all off the top of my head. And your are so right - quality of fajitas has changed over the years!

                I do not remember Adrian's. I mean the name rings a bell, but I never ate there. Try emailing the Chronicle to ask if anyone has that recipe. You might find it!

                1. re: danhole

                  Thanks for the suggestion, Danhole -- indeed, the Chronicle (and/or its readers) might have this recipe. Adrians was downtown (you could see the building and the sign next to the north side of the Pierce Elevated) but has been gone several years. When I was in the party/meeting/convention business in the late 80s there was some debate over whose "green sauce" came first -- some folks said Adrian copped it from Ninfa, others say the Ninfa's folks replicated Adrian's recipe. All I know is that I was managing a party catered by the Ninfa's people, I tasted it for the first time and raved about it so much, they gave me a pint to take home for myself. I think its time to make a trip over to Navigation and see what's happening at the original Ninfa's. None of their branches is really quite the same as the original (where I met Ninfa herself one evening, dining with her family on my very first visit).

                  I, too, am mystified by the appeal of Lupe Tortillas. I ate in their Clear Lake location a few times when it first opened, and thought the margaritas were especially "limey" (which is the way I like them) but the rest of the food was nothing special. Perhaps you can't really go by my assessment -- Im not a big fan of Mexican food.

                  1. re: Cheflambo

                    Here are my reasons for liking Lupe Tortilla's:

                    Good warm bean mix and salsa with fresh chips when you sit down.
                    Large, thin, homemade tortillas. Can't stand those fluffy thick tortillas at most places.
                    Simple lime flavor on the meat, and it is very tender, which is really important, especially if you have TMJ. There are too many places in town that serve fajitas that taste like soy sauce, or even worse, teriyaki. And another problem with a lot of places is the meat is too thick, just plain meat (no flavor), and too tough to easily bite into.
                    All the extras that come with the fajita dinner - guacamole, shredded real cheese, sour cream, pico de gallo, refried beans, and rice. We also get an order of queso, then when you build your fajita and you add a little queso, sour cream, cheese, some pico, guac, and a smear of beans, it's like you have a 7 layer dip burrito. If you don't like the lime flavor, well you won't taste it with all this other stuff!

                    Are they the best? I can't say, because I haven't had fajitas at every single place in town, and we don't have the budget to spend big buck at upscale place that serve them either, but they are pretty darn good.

                    1. re: danhole

                      Well, danhole, we might be the ideal dining companions, then, because you like all the things that I DONT about Mexican food. I prefer the thick fluffy tortillas .... and you can have ALL my beans!

                      I like GOOD mexican food, from a very few places. I'll go with other people, but dont seek it out myself. My beef (to coin a phrase) is that I can't seem to get any dish in a Tex-Mex resto that doesn't come with rice and beans. The rice is usually dried out and not worth the carbs. but I can't stomach those beans in any form, borracho or refried (I wont gross you out by telling you what I think they look like). When I try to order my food without the R&B, about half the time the waitress understands, and the rest of the time there is some bilingual negotiations, and I get R&B anyway and have to send it back. Mr. Cheflambo rolls his eyes and digs into his meal regardless, and I am forced to sit there and watch him inhale his food while I wait for mine to return beanless. Yes, I guess I am a gringa and proud of it.

                      1. re: Cheflambo

                        Chef, I do agree that most of the time the R&B are awful, but these are a little bit better. I like to add some rice to the beans and put a bit of queso or shredded cheese in it, and stir it together. Now my DH will not touch them or, like you tolerate them being served to him. He always subs french fries (papas fritas) and most places comply. Actually the only mexican food he eats are the chips, plain beef fajitas, and . . . well, that's it! So I get all the "extras" for myself!

                        1. re: Cheflambo

                          I'm with you Cheflambo on the arroz but beans are one of nature's greatest gifts and I love them, well-prepared. Charro, borracho, refritos - okay, the last one is frequently wasted space on the plate but when they're good (made with lard???), they're awesome.

                          I've never been a big fan of fajitas, have never figured out what's so special about them.

                          I mostly go to taquerias these days seeking more 'authentic,' i.e, South-of-the-Border fare.

                          Someone should start a thread (or maybe there is one) on the General Chowhounding board about food items that are just wasted space on the plate. Along with arroz and frequently refritos I used to include tamales until I had some home-made/hand-made. I would also include hush puppies, cole slaw (most of the time), grits (most of the time), hominy.....

                  2. re: Cheflambo

                    cheflambo, here is ninfa's green sauce recipe:http://homesicktexan.blogspot.com/200...

        2. I recently went to Little Pappasito’s, 2536 Richmond at Kirby, 77098. I have not eaten there in many years, which is a shame because the beef fajitas were amazing… perfect really. I have been back twice now and each time they were excellent - very tender, but not mushy at all. The beef flavor was rich too and not over-powered by a salty or sour marinade ( like Lupe Tortillas – Yuck!)

          I have also eaten the beef fajita dinner at Good Company Taqueria many times. It’s wonderful too. The taste is very beefy and “grilled”. The marinade is very subtle.

          The original Nifa’s on Navigation street always had good fajita plates, but I have not been there in about 2 years so I cannot really say what’s going on there now. I also remember the fajitas at El Tiempo Cantina, 3130 Richmond Ave. being very good too. However, they were a bit more expensive than most places and the restaurant does get super-packed most nights. For me, it just wasn’t worth the hassle.

          Please don’t even waste your money at Lupe Tortillas.I have been to the original location as well as the 59 SWFRY and Kirby location. Each time ( a total of 3 visits), I was very disappointed. I don’t know why my out-of town-friends keep insisting that we all dine at this place. I ordered the fajitas each time we went hoping they would be better than the last time. No such luck. They were mushy – no real texture left in them. I guess soaking too long in the powerful lime marinade had destroyed it. It’s not that I don’t like limes either… I even squeeze limes to make margaritas (never use a sweet mix). The meat was very salty too with no rich, buttery meaty taste to speak of. I will never go back to Lupe Tortillas, but lots of people LOVE it for some reason.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Jayro

            Just wanted to update everyone on Pappasito's (which I agree has the Best fajitas in Houston). Went to the Richmond & Hillcroft location last week, and they have a Half Price Fajita special going on. You have to buy the large plate, but my buddy and I couldn't even finish one between us. A real bargain in these depressed times.

            My understanding is it's going on both lunch and dinner through February.

          2. Hands down best beef fajitas are at Pappasito's. They have been the best for close to thirty years now. Their marinade is the best in terms of bringing out the flavor of the meat and the cut of meat is the best creating the most tender and delicious fajitas imaginable. They do not overcook the meat like the vast majority of placed do.

            Ignore any qualms about them being a "chain". I have been going to their Hillcroft and Richmond original location since the beginning and they are a Houston landmark. Original Ninfa's on Navigation is a close second. El Tiempo's would be good too but for whatever reason they seem to put Liquid Smoke on their meat. WHY DO YOU DO THIS EL TIEMPO?

            Finally, whenever I hear people say that Lupe Tortilla's has the best beef fajitas I really think there is something wrong with their tastebuds if they have been to Pappasito's. I hated their fajitas. WAY too much lime juice flavor which ruined the texture of the meet to mushy, stringy slop.

            1. was there a "tia's" restaurant 20 years ago, doing resto and catering?

              plus, any progress on "adrian's" green sauce recipe?

              11 Replies
              1. re: alkapal

                Don't know if this is what you're referring to but there was a Tila's on Westheimer, where Katz's is now. They were out of business for years but now operate on N. Shepherd, just before W. Dallas.

                1. re: brucesw

                  would tila's fit my (OP) description back in the day?

                  1. re: alkapal

                    Here is a link to Tila's:

                    http://www.tilas.com/

                    I didn't see fajita's, per se, on the menu as an entree, but offered up in enchiladas, etc.

                    1. re: danhole

                      Hmmm... I see what you mean....
                      It's also listed as a choice/variation under "Queso fundito" in apps.
                      Is this place any good?

                      1. re: Tay

                        I have never eaten there. My DH is so picky that the only mexican food he will eat are beef fajitas - NOTHING else - so if they are offered we don't go. Sad for me as a lot of those dishes sound pretty good!

                        1. re: Tay

                          Found a new Houston food blogger this weekend (actually, looks like no posts since August). There's a review off Tila's:

                          http://www.eatinginhouston.net/mexican/

                          Scroll down to the second review. Hmmm. I think maybe I'm up for some ancho fudge pie!

                          1. re: brucesw

                            Looking at the blog, I wonder if it could be Teala's. I have never been there - anyone else?

                        2. re: danhole

                          i don't understand...are fajitas considered some subset of enchiladas on tila's menu? i thought that was weird....

                          1. re: alkapal

                            A lot of places offer beef fajita, or chicken fajita meat as an alternate to the ground beef they usually use. They do it for Taco salads, enchiladas, quesadillas, etc. It costs a bit more but usually worth it.

                            1. re: alkapal

                              The term fajita, literally 'little belt' translated from the Spanish, technically refers to the abductor muscle of a cow, i.e., skirt steak. It has come to refer to a dish involving grilled meats (and/or vegetables) served with tortillas but literally chickens and shrimp do not have skirt muscles and so there are really no such things as chicken and shrimp fajitas.

                              Tila's is using the term in its strictest sense, then. Fajitas, i.e., grilled skirt steak, is available as one of the fillings in their enchiladas, as opposed to ground beef or ropa viejo (shredded beef). Sounds good to me. These are sometimes referred to as steak enchiladas, too, just as some restaurants prefer to list the popular dish fajitas as tacos al carbon.

                              They do not appear to have 'fajitas' in the popular sense on their menu.

                      2. re: alkapal

                        There is a Tia Maria's, and I think it's been around a long time, but their fajitas are nothing to get too excited about. They are kind of hit and miss. They are best at standard Tex-Mex.

                      3. Reading this thread just makes me sad that you can't find decent fajitas in NYC unless you're willing to plunk down $50 a person for dinner at an upscale place. We finally have a decent (but expensive) bbq joint in Manhattan, but nothing that would equal the tex-mex we used to get in Houston/Austin. The last time I ordered beef fajitas at an ordinary neighborhood restaurant here, it came out looking like stir fry and had baby corn mixed in with the peppers and meat. Really. Baby corn.

                        In Houston, I have to agree that the Lupe Tortilla comes in first, hands down, and Los Cucos is a close second (I don't know how central you'll be able to find a Los Cucos, but I'm pretty sure I heard they built a huge one out at Hwy 6 and Clay).

                        Lupe Tortilla comes with tons of people, though, so be prepared to wait if you're going to the Hwy 6 or the Shepard/59 location. And, it's a little more expensive for a Houston Tex-Mex place. But, given the quality of the food, it is always my first stop when I'm back in Houston.

                        1. Wow, I am really surprised by a lot of these recomendations for Lupe or Pappasitos. I know it is very subjective and I cannot definitively give a conclusion on Lupe I can on Pappasitos. Lupes from what I remember are over marinated tiny pieces of skirt. They serve them with this huge tortilla. I actually remember liking the tortilla but wishing it was smaller? The marinade does have a good flavor but like I said I think it is marinaded to long because the texture of the meat is mushy if you ask me. Pappasitos also has a decent marinade but again the meat texture is off? Maybe they purposely do this in order to cater to us gringos or possibly for the baby boomers that are losing thier teeth but I want some texture in my fajita, this is just too soft for me?
                          My favorite fajita off all time was probably from this little place 25-30 years ago in midtown called primos. Maybe it was on mcgowen, very close to Damiens Cucina. That was a nearly flawless fajita IMO.
                          Today I don't find many fajitas that really blow me away. When I eat Tex/Mex I usually go to Lopez. The fajitas there are different than the Lupes, Pappasitos and Los Cucoses of the world but I would have to say it is my favorite. One of my favorite things to do is to search for that perfectly carmelized onion, green pepper and crispy little piece of meat! Thats just about my favorite. El tiempo's beef fajitas are good BUT the chicken fajitas are great. This is the only place I have ever ordered chicken fajitas. I typically find chicken fajitas to be boring.

                          1. Pappasitos does great fajitas. El Tiempo does great fajitas and has better cuts of meat. They also have great (strong) margaritas!

                            20 Replies
                            1. re: txeats

                              I gotta agree here. El Tiempo is doing it right... Their mixed grill is truly awesome and reminds me of the many great meals I had growing up on the border in McAllen. While they don't pack the flavor of Lupe's fajitas, el sabor es muy autentico!

                              1. re: davhud

                                El Tiempo is owned and managed by I believe relatives of Ninfa Lorenzo. In fact, in the early days I saw Ninfa there when she was using a walker. It is one of the best TexMex restaurants in Houston but alias Houston Mexican restaurants, including El Tiempo can vary greatly depending on who is in the kitchen, the time of day and the daily management.

                                1. re: specktaker

                                  I was looking at their menu (El Tiempo), and they offer a beef tenderloin fajita as well as the regular. It costs more, but maybe that is Alkapal is looking for.

                                  http://www.eltiempocantina.com/Menu%2...

                                  1. re: danhole

                                    The beef tenderloin fajitas at El Tiempo are hands-down the BEST beef fajitas I have ever put in my mouth. We regularly make the drive all the way from Austin for dinner. They are much more expensive than the regular beef fajitas, but are well worth the money and the serving for 1 will feed 2 easily...

                                    1. re: rocky1974

                                      Thanks Rocky! Next time we will have to try those.

                                      1. re: danhole

                                        C'mon you guys. A fajita is skirt steak, very flavorful but not melt in your mouth tender. Sheesh. So much for authentic cuisine, I guess.

                                        (Sorry, I just couldn't resist).

                                        1. re: brucesw

                                          Hey, it's Tex-Mex! Have you been hanging out with Eat_Nopal again? ;-)

                                          1. re: danhole

                                            Ouch! I think I need a band-aid and some mercurochrome after that. I have a minor obsession with culinary terms. There's been a discussion on e-gullet in which theobroma, who sometimes posts here, used the term 'fajitization of the universe.' I laughed until it hurt. The misuse of the term chili, applied to ludricous concoctions that bear no resemblance to the traditional dish, obviously made by people who loathe the taste of chili, and the misuse of the term dirty rice, to give 2 examples, are actually more likely to make me see red. I was just funnin' with you, of course.

                                            As I mentioned earlier in this thread, I just don't care for fajitas very much. My first experience of them was at Casa Ole and I was with a representative of the restaurant trying to get some business so I had to pretend they were good. My gawd, what awful food; I guess I've never gotten over it. The next time I had them was at Chili's, the restaurant. After those 2 experiences, it's a wonder I don't strangle anyone who suggests we go for fajitas.

                                            Actually, I had them just before NYs, ordered them at one of the places on th SW side I was trying out, Ostioneria Michoacan, and they were pretty good, but I did have to chew the meat, it didn't just melt!

                                            That's probably only about the 5 or 6th time I've ever had them.

                                            1. re: brucesw

                                              Just teasing! I know what you mean.

                                              After reading that your first two experiences with fajita meat was at Casa Ole and Chili's . . . well I wouldn't like them either! I like tender meat, but I have a jaw problem, so that makes eating chewy stuff a bit hard. They can either be one of the best things you have ever had or one of the worst!

                                          2. re: brucesw

                                            i don't care if the "best" fajita is not an authentic skirt steak fajita, but a dressed-up tenderloin, disguised as a fajita -- if it is authentically delicioso. ;-)

                                            thanks to all for your posts and ideas!

                                            ps, do we have that green sauce recipe yet? (see up-thread)

                                            1. re: alkapal

                                              Alkapal ... I've pulled out my recipe files and will go through the sauces today ... I think I have it, but won't know for sure until I check. I suspect it will be a clipping from the Houston Post, so that gives you some idea of how long ago I go it. Stay tuned....

                                              1. re: Cheflambo

                                                Chef - did you put in a request at the Chronicle? Do you want me to, if you didn't? I hope you find it.

                                                1. re: Cheflambo

                                                  I do believe I've found it. It was, indeed, a newspaper clipping from the Chronicle, so more recent than I though. It is basically a salsa verde with sour cream added. So smooth and delicious I could eat it with a spoon. I can post it here or perhaps Chow has another place for recipes? In any event, I will also write to The Chronicle to see if any of their readers remembers Adrian's Green Sauce. The recipe I have is for "Ninfa's Green Sauce", but the story goes that one restaurant stole the recipe from the other, but its never been clear who had it first. Perhaps someone here knows?

                                                  1. re: Cheflambo

                                                    Post it under the Home Cooking Board, or in the Member Recipes section. Glad you found it!

                                                    1. re: Cheflambo

                                                      Ninfa's recipe has been posted in lots of places on line - I know one of the copycat recipe sites has it - and published many times. I have it in that Food Chronicles cookbook that Ann Criswell compiled of the best recipes of her 30 years as food editor of the Chron when she retired in 1996.

                                                      Where was Adrian's; I can't place it at all.

                                                      The story in the book is that Ninfa created it on the spur of the moment for a customer who asked for something different. I had never heard of any dispute over that origin???

                                                      1. re: brucesw

                                                        Adrian's came into existence long after Ninfa's green sauce. Adrian's was in the Whitmire administration's ill-fated El Mercado del Sol, and later relocated to Smith St., maybe--right next to the Pierce Elevated.

                                                        1. re: maryanntex

                                                          The Smith street location was first (I think) -- I remember seeing their sign while driving past on the PE. The El Mercado location was great, but if you went at lunch, the wait was long (no one wanted to venture into that neighborhood at night!).

                                                          I will post the recipe in Member's recipes - sounds like Bruce already has it!

                                                          1. re: Cheflambo

                                                            Letter for letter that's exactly the same as mine! I think I vaguely remember seeing Adrian's at the Mercado Del Sol but never went.

                                                            1. re: brucesw

                                                              Most Houstonians will recognize that recipe, Im sure. To be honest Ive never made it myself. The recipe makes a huge portion, but I think I might try to do a "half portion" batch next week while Mr. Cheflambo is out of town. This is something he doesnt care for, so I just make these things when he's not around. I know the Fiesta on No. Shepherd will have the green tomatos and tomatillos I need.

                                                              El Mercado was an interesting place. and a commendable effort to use a good building in a bad location. The restaurants were booming during daylight hours, but no one could get there (or wanted to) at night. I havent heard about it lately - wonder if it is even still standing. It will take a while for gentrification to reach that part of downtown.

                                            2. re: rocky1974

                                              I agree, they are wonderful. They call them Beef Filet Fajitas. Delicious!! Only the crab quesadillas are better than that.

                                    2. here is ninfa's sauce:
                                      http://www.recipezaar.com/34965
                                      (without the lore

                                      )

                                      http://homesicktexan.blogspot.com/200...
                                      (with the lore)

                                      1. NOT SURE IF THIS WILL GET READ OR NOT NOT. I REALLY RECOMEND THE FILET FIJITAS AT EL TIEMPO ON WASHINGTON. ORDER THEM RARE. THEY WILL CONTINUE TO COOK ON THE SERVER. THEY HAVE THE TENDERNESS YOU ARE LOOKINF FOR AND GREAT FLAVOR!

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: JUSTMYTIP

                                          thanks!

                                          1. re: alkapal

                                            Hey pal, Same place we have all been pointing you to! Gotta go! Well, whenever you get here.

                                            1. re: danhole

                                              oops....but i hadn't read this thread in a while -- like a year (all of the prior posts were "collapsed").

                                        2. Best == Pappasito's

                                          ...but there are so many that are good....

                                          Lupe's is too salty for me but the 3 pepper cheese steak is heaven!!!!
                                          Ninfa's used to be good but last time I went it sucked.
                                          El Tiempo serves the good fajitas that the Lorenzo's used to serve at Ninfa's.

                                          For cheap fajitas, La Tapatia does a mean beef fajitas for like $13...but the tortillas are so-so.

                                          1. I ditto the Chef and others who homed in on Pappasito's. One of the copy cat recipe sites also got their recipe, which I've duplicated and find to be tops. The Pappas folks found a way to really tenderize a tough cut of meat, using something like a concrete mixer to tumble it in the marinade overnight; the marinade and their dipping sauce are also winners (I use the latter on just about any kind of steaks I grill). Can't go wrong.

                                            1. I realize this thread has been around a while but I just got to El Tiempo for dinner this week while travelling in Houston and it was fantastic. I'm now back home in Canada and haunted by the flavor of their red salsa which was unique and served warm. Has anyone stumbled on a recipe on the web for that? It was something I had never tasted before.

                                              If it helps with this discussion, there is a yahoo.com answer that includes a recipe for El Tiempo fajitas that I did stumble on at this link: http://answers.yahoo.com/question/ind...
                                              I haven't tried the recipe to see if it authentic.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: Jenn K

                                                We have a Canadian guest that visits 2-3 times a year and we take her there. She loves it too!! Fajitas are not the easiest things to prepare correctly. The silver skin has to be removed from the meat and they need a marinade. Easier to drive 30 minutes across town and order some!! I have no doubt that people that prepare beef fajitas often enough have the hang of it but mine have never been like what you get at El Tiempo.

                                                Red salsa is pretty easy. I'm not crazy about theirs but all I do is boil some tomatoes for about 6-8 minutes, drain them and cool them down in ice. When cool, core and peel them. In a blender or food processor puree the tomatoes with the following items - diced onion, diced garlic, cilantro, diced jalapenos, squeezed fresh lime juice, and a little salt. I don't measure but I'd say about 4-5 parts tomatoes, 1 part other items shown. I sprinkle a little bit of sugar over mine to cut the acidity in the tomatoes. Eat warm. I love it so much, I could just drink it. :-)

                                                I think El Tiempo's is thicker and has a good deal of black pepper in it. Maybe they use canned tomatoes, I don't know. I like mine so much better but it certainly is a matter of personal taste. It's easy enough to experiment with and find your own favorite recipe. Let us know how your fajita/salsa cooking works out.

                                              2. Fandangos... sadly, it is no longer in business....