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El Tiempo - is there a preferred location ?

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Visiting Houston yet again in a couple of weeks and I'm already planning the chow trail.

I was thinking of trying El Tiempo for the first time. Is one of the locations better than the others ? In terms of food/parking/ambience in that order I guess.

Also, would reservations be required on a Sunday evening ?

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  1. In my opinion, the El Tiempo on Washington is the best, food-wise. It is distinctly better than El Tiempo 1308 Cantina on Montrose. I haven't been to the one on Richmond recently, because after trying each we now always go to the one on Washington.

    Parking at the Washington location is valet (tip only), which not everyone loves-- but in my opinion worth it because the food is far and away the best of all the locations.

    Ambience-wise I think they are all relatively comparable.

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    El Tiempo 1308 Cantina
    1308 Montrose Blvd, Houston, TX 77019

    2 Replies
    1. re: mjust

      I've only been to the one on Washington. Why change perfection? We only go at lunch and there is no valet parking then. We always go before 11:30 and park close but the place gets jam packed by noon.

      1. re: mjust

        Second Washington location. Richmond not as good.

      2. Thanks folks ! Washington it is then.

        24 Replies
        1. re: FarleyFlavors

          Just like Texasredtop, I go early for lunch, or late, or on Saturday during the day to avoid crowds. They have valet parking at lunch, in the Houston tradition of providing it when it is not needed, hogging all the good parking places. Order the fresh lump crab nachos, beans on the side, filet fajitas, and not sweet 'skinny' maergaritas. Ask for Victor.

          1. re: James Cristinian

            Thanks for the recs James. I kind of already had a Crab Quesadillas planned. As I understand it features bacon and - lets face it - bacon makes anything taste better. Could you describe the nachos ? Are they definitely a better choice ?

            Also, which beans on the side do you recommend ? Charros, Black or Refried Pinto ?

            1. re: FarleyFlavors

              texasredtop pushes those quesadilas hard, and I have no arguement. The nachos come with beans, jalapenos, cheese, and crab. I specify refried pintos on the side, or you might get the black beans, which are quite good. My wife is of Mexican heritage and she loves the refried pintos, we often order extra to go. I usually pick the crab meat off the top of the nachos, leaving a small amount of crab on top, pretty much a cheese nacho with some crab on top. Be sure to order the margaritas skinny so they will not be sweet, and ask for Victor. You might try a half order of the nachos and quesadillas, and please post your likings.

              1. re: FarleyFlavors

                I've had the crab nachos but to me, they just don't compare to the crab quesadilas. Even the crab enchiladas didn't hold a candle to the quesadilas. I'm not sure why but that is my experience. The bacon is subtle but adds a little something, not the seller for this dish though. I would have never ordered crabs and cheese anything but on the recommendations of others, I tried it and oh am I so glad I did. They are huge too. One quesadilla lasts me up to 3 meals.

                1. re: texasredtop

                  Texasredtop's passion has me sold I'm afraid James - Quesadilla with refried pintos on the side and a skinny margarita it is !

                  I'll be hitting a few other places for the first time too.
                  Mexico's Deli (breakfast - I hear their tortas are good).
                  Russo's Coal Fired Pizzeria (napoletana extra crispy, thanks)
                  Pizzitola's (cheap ribs at the moment. I can never resist a bargain).
                  Pappasito's (half price brunch. See above)
                  Red Balloon Cafe (for a prime rib fix. It's across the road from the Sheraton I'll be at, so I can have a few cocktails).
                  Beaver's BBQ (terrific sounding brunch menu - I'll have trouble choosing)

                  And a ritual visit to Landry's Seafood for a final snack before the flight home (yeah, yeah, I know, but I'm addicted to their seafood stuffed jalapenos).

                  Thanks again and I'll post a trip report when I get back.

                  -----
                  Mexico's Deli
                  2374 S Dairy Ashford St, Houston, TX 77077

                  Red Balloon Cafe
                  4410 Westway Park Blvd Ste 300, Houston, TX 77041

                  1. re: FarleyFlavors

                    If you want to skip the nachos, fine. One order is enough for three people. I'd try one of the sinfully rich crab enchiladas, a la carte. I differ in that I like both the nachos and enchiladas better. Don't forget to ask for Victor for the best service.

                    1. re: James Cristinian

                      We ate here today and were terribly disappointed. The prices were astronomical. This is peasant food! TWO shrimp stuffed jalapenos: $11.50. I mean we live on the Gulf Coast where shrimp is $4/lb or less! Crab quesadillas, $20?? Skinny margaritas, while good, were $10 each, at least $2.5 too much. I ordered the Las Vegas Filet, and got the plain Las Vegas instead (fajitas as opposed to the steak, no big deal except for the $2 price difference, which I decided not to argue about when the bill came). The cheese enchilada was too little cheese wrapped with a tough and chewy tortilla. The refried beans I ordered instead of the charro beans were actually cold. My husband is a pork fan and ordered the pork taco al carbon. He reported it was tough meat. The absolute best carnitas we have had in Houston are at Lopez on Wilcrest and they cost $7.45 for more than you can eat. Shredded, tender, moist well seasoned pork. He recently ordered carnitas at the new Cyclone Anayas at Town & Country center and they presented us with 4 -1 inch cubes of inedible meat on a plate. It was awful. And for that privilege we paid $19. Our quest for good Tex-Mex continues. I don't think even Victor could have salvaged lunch today. I may just wait for El Real to open before trying another new (to me) Tex-Mex place.

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                      Cyclone Anaya's
                      1710 Durham Dr, Houston, TX 77007

                      1. re: Lambowner

                        That one crab quesadila has made three meals for me. It's huge and has lots of huge lump crab. It's worth it. I thought the same thing before I ordered it the first time - $20, WTH? But I got it anyway. It's totally worth it. The last time I was there with my friend's daughter from Alberta, Canada, we shared one and were both full and had some leftover.

                        We're going to El Tiempo Christmas week for a get-together mid-week. That is usually when we eat there and everyone has always been pleased with what they get. Maybe the weekends are too crowded? Dunno. I'll report back after we eat there.

                        1. re: Lambowner

                          I have to agree with Lambowner. Twice I've eaten at El Tiempo with a group and we ended up getting food elsewhere because we ordered food, everyone took one bite of the food and then deciding it was unedible. The third time I ate my food (birthday dinner for someone, I didn't select the place) it wasn't that great and I felt even worse afterwards. I think people like it because they drink margaritas and don't notice the quality? Maybe I just was there on off days? In any case, I won't go back.

                          1. re: Asticat

                            I don't drink their margaritas, too strong for me. I also don't order their old-style typical mexican food dishes like tacos, enchiladas, etc. I either get the crab or shrimp quesadillas or the beef filet fajitas. I've never had a bad meal there but I stick to a few things that others have recommended and that I know I like.

                            I don't think it's off days, I think it has to do with what you eat there.

                      2. re: FarleyFlavors

                        You should get the quesadilas AND the nachos and tell us what you think.

                        Pappasito's - nasty. We had several bad experiences and quit going there about 3 years ago. We went back a few months ago because we really missed it. We would normally go twice a month. Anyway, it was even worse. I will never forget the green salsa they brought to the table (I love their red salsa) and it smelled like boy's gym socks. It tasted awful too. The food was just unfit to eat. Even the cheese enchilada was ice cold. Ever eat cold chili gravy over cold cheese enchilada? Ugh! That was it for us. So disappointing.

                        They also have some really good crab stuffed jalapenos at The Monument Inn.

                        Have fun!!

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                        Monument Inn Restaurant
                        4406 Independence Pkwy S, La Porte, TX 77571

                        1. re: texasredtop

                          Had lunch at El Tiempo on Washington today. Crab quesadillas - I almost got shrimp but just can't resist the crab ones. They were delicious as always. Hubby had the shrimp nachos and I tried them. Maybe I should have switched to shrimp quesadillas, the shrimp on the nachos were plentiful, plump, sweet and fresh. Delicious nachos. Loved them. Chocolate banana for dessert which was just delicious. We are back on our diets tomorrow so it was a last splurge. I have half my crab quesadillas left over for lunch tomorrow :-). YUM!!

                          Also really really good margaritas. They are too strong for me but I am a sissy when it comes to strong mixed drinks.

                          1. re: texasredtop

                            Dammit Red, when are you going to break down and try the crab nachos? We've been having this pseudo war on and off for a while now. To be honest, most of the crab doesn't stay on the nachos, it gets picked off and devoured before said nacho hits mouth.

                            1. re: James Cristinian

                              Oh heck James, I have, remember? It was a couple of Christmases ago and we ordered two platters to share as apps along with some other things when the whole family had a meal there together. I thought the nacho stuff overpowered the crab. Somehow in the quesadilla, it doesn't. I like my seafood and I want to taste it. The shrimp nachos were worlds better than the crab nachos. Very tasty fresh GULF shrimp and more than a dozen medium sized shrimp piled on top. Maybe 18 shrimp. I am going to get the shrimp quesadillas next time. I almost did this time but I've had such good luck with the crab quesadillas I changed my mind at the last minute.

                              1. re: texasredtop

                                Ok Red, I'm really upset with you, and I blame this one on you. Before I read your post, a shower popped up by the Galleria and appeared headed for my palatial Spring Branch estate. I read your post and it's gone. No rain in 6000 days, thank you. The crab nachos, I get everything on the side except the cheese.. Those shrimps sure sound good, they are on the radar.

                                1. re: James Cristinian

                                  Wet stuff falling from the sky? NO WAY. Since March I think, we had two showers. One lasted 5 minutes and was just sprinkles, the other was pretty hefty and lasted 5 1/2 minutes. Hubby went to the deer lease (SE of Junction) a few days ago and said there is nothing green on the ground and it was 110F at 4:30 in the afternoon.

                                  I think you need to take your mind off the liquid falling from the clouds and have some of those shrimp nachos. And let them serve them "as is" because they are um um good. You crack me up, I'll have an order of crab nachos but I want everything on the side. If I ever see anyone with do-it-yourself nacho fixings in El Tiempo I'll know it's you. lol

                                  1. re: James Cristinian

                                    James, I think aliens are landing. There are bright lights flashing in the sky. I heard something on the news about rain, I'm guessing that is the name of their planet. I'm going to google this "rain" thing and see. I hope the aliens don't take me yet because Sunday we are pretty sure we're going back to El Tiempo. Hubby hasn't quit talking about the shrimp nachos so we'll go back. I'm getting the shrimp quesadillas this time. Just finished the last of the crab quesadillas tonight. Still so delicious. Uh oh, maybe the aliens from planet Rain are here to get all the crab and shrimp quesadillas from El Tiempo. Yikes!!!

                                    1. re: texasredtop

                                      I think you're seeing things. I watched a fleet of aliens on radar and lo and behold, they went west of my Spring Branch digs while working my late shift, looks like we got precious few drops. Looks like they may have just peed on us. Enjoy El Tiempo and am looking forward to your report.

                              2. re: texasredtop

                                OP here, still lurkin' away and counting the days till my next Houston trip :o)

                                I still don't understand how you can consistently resist that second half of crab quesadilla, red. I scarfed the lot in 15 minutes and was virtually licking the plate clean.

                                On the other hand, I consistently return from a week in Houston about six pounds heavier.

                                1. re: FarleyFlavors

                                  I just can't eat the whole thing, it's bigger than my head. I am not a fan of nuked leftovers but to my good fortune, these nuke wonderfully. I'll have the remainder in about 30 minutes, can't wait. I can't wait to return and get the shrimp quesadillas.

                                  FF - did you post a trip review for us?

                                  1. re: texasredtop

                                    Did. Wordy. Must learn conciseness.

                                    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/754857

                                    1. re: FarleyFlavors

                                      Aw, thanks! I guess I somehow missed the thread. I think I was in New Orleans. Anyway, I agree with James' suggestion for Mardi Gras Grill for crawfish. I went on the recommendation of James and loved it. I need to get back over there. I haven't had crawfish there but everything else I've had there was pretty authentic. I think one side dish was not to my liking or maybe the dessert - don't remember what it was. I would not hesitate to have their crawfish and I am cajun.

                                      Also Floyd's but it's south of town on I-45 in Clear Lake. It's also very good.

                                      -----
                                      Mardi Gras Grill
                                      1200 Durham, Houston, TX 77007

                                      1. re: texasredtop

                                        Umm ... you posted in the thread, red ! Wassamatta, heat getting to you ?!

                                        I tried the crawfish at Mardi Gras Grill on a subsequent visit back in March. They were indeed excellent (and excellent value).

                                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/776885

                                        -----
                                        Mardi Gras Grill
                                        1200 Durham, Houston, TX 77007

                                        1. re: FarleyFlavors

                                          Heat, no rain (it's raining now, has been off and on for about 3 hours - thank you Lord) and old age - that's my story and I'm sticking to it.

                  2. I still don't like El Tiempo, but to each his or her own. If you all like food talk on Facebook though, travel to the Serious Eats Water Cooler at

                    https://www.facebook.com/groups/21880...

                    You can join without friending anyone you don't want to friend.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: Lambowner

                      I'm not sure how I came across them but just a few weeks ago I started receiving a newsletter from "Serious Eats". I've deleted the newsletters because I haven't had time to read them but will see if it's the same group next one I get. I just don't think there's a better source than CH out there. I've tried them all. If I can't find what I need on CH or am undecided, I usually to to Trip Advisor as backup.

                      Lamb, what have you eaten at El Tiempo? I have never tried their standard Mexican food (tacos, enchiladas, etc). I assume like most other dishes there, they are similar to Ninfa's and I didn't care for much but the fajitas and a few other dishes at Ninfa's. I noticed the Ninfa's on the Gulf Fwy is sitll open and am thinking about checking it out (haven't been there in several years). I'll have to wait until a splurge day though, gotta get serious and take off my New Orleans weight from two weeks ago.

                      -----
                      Ninfa's
                      3601 Kirby Dr, Houston, TX 77098

                      1. re: texasredtop

                        I wrote about my only experience at El Tiempo in November 2010 in this thread. It just did not impress me and unfortunately, I'm not a fan of quesadillas. And my work is just a couple of blocks from it.

                        Seriouseats.com is a fun site to visit with lots of good recipes and food interest stories. They do have a newsletter you must've hooked into. I've been hanging around SE for several years and some (now up to 145) members branched out to FB to talk more freely than the SE site allows, mostly about home cooking. The people there are from all over the US and a few from other countries.

                        1. re: texasredtop

                          Ninfa's on Navigation only! The fajita burger is outstanding.

                          -----
                          Ninfa's
                          3601 Kirby Dr, Houston, TX 77098

                          1. re: texasredtop

                            Today we had a small queso, I had shrimp quesadillas and he had the shrimp nachos - again. The nachos were loaded with big plump spicy wild shrimp - again. My quesadillas were great. They were seasoned to the point that anymore may have been too much. They were perfect. Brought half home for my lunch tomorrow :-) Service was perfect, price is a bit steep but everything was really good so I don't mind paying more for quality food.

                        2. El Tiempo fans, new locations going in on I-45 in Clear Lake and Westheimer @ Gessner in the old Amazon location. There may be others, these are what I have stumbled across.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Lambowner

                            The wifeacita asked if they were expanding too much after driving past the Gessner location, a la Ninfas. I'll say this about Ninfas, they kept up the quality at all locations until sold. I was a regular at Monroe, Echo Lane, Kirby, plus the original going back to '74.