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Mar 28, 2003 05:37 PM

To the purveyor of fine cheese enchiladas:

  • z

Howard, I have a question. Somebody on the Los Angeles area board made a nasty crack about Mexican food in Texas, claiming that we use Velveeta. I quickly leapt to the defense of the Tex-Mex we love (and I ate Cal-Mex for seven years, so I have a basis for comparison). I looked up Robb Walsh's HP review of Larry's in Richmond (a place I don't care for, but many people do) and the consensus was that they probably use something called Land O' Lakes Extra Melt. Do you know anything about that? Can you shed some light on the subject of the "best" cheese for what to me would be classic enchiladas (e.g., Blanco Cafe)? Thank you.

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  1. Not sure what kind of cheese Blanco Cafe in San Antonio uses, but theirs are good. I also like Los Barrios and Karam's in SA. My first choice for cheese in enchiladas is cheddar, which is the norm in Ft. Worth at good places like The Original Mexican Eats Cafe (since 1925) and El Fenix (since 1918 I think). Here in Austin most of the authentic places south of the river and east of I-35 appear to use some combo of American and/or Velveeta mix, but El Arroyo and El Rey have some pretty ones with decent cheese. Monterrey jack is an acceptable cheese to mix in as well as any true mexican cheese (queso asadero, queso blanco and queso quesadillo), but don't know any places that serve these. That Land o'Lakes stuff doesn't sound good. Maybe someone else can chime in on this important topic...

    21 Replies
    1. re: Howard Coone

      So you think some reputable places really do use Velveeta? Oh no, this is worse than I thought...

      I read that Mexican cheeses tend to melt more smoothly than the cheeses we generally use, and are less inclined to separate when melted. But I've never seen that happen to properly heated enchiladas.

      1. re: Zora

        For clarity sake, maybe we should distinguish between Tex-Mex enchiladas & Mexican enchiladas.

        For good, old school Tex-Mex style enchiladas, the American, easy melt cheese blocks are the way to go. Gooey & full of fat and perfect with that old fashioned chile gravy. But the Sargento shredded mix mentioned earlier is good for the home cook.

        Typical Mexican enchiladas are another matter, at least around Mexico City and the center of the country. They tend to be filled with a queso fresco, which is basically a hard farmers cheese. And they are made with either green or red chile sauces. It's a very different and much lighter presentation.

      2. re: Howard Coone

        I just called some of the more popular Tex-Mex places in Austin--here's what they use in their cheese enchiladas:

        Dart Bowl--American
        Maudies--Extra Melt
        Matt's El Rancho--American/Monterrey Jack

        I would love to know of some alternatives to processed cheese for my own enchilada cooking--I'm not all that familiar with the Mexican cheeses...I, too would love some schooling on this subject--perhaps we should inquire on the New Mexico/California/International Boards...this is an issue too important to leave unresolved.

        1. re: Bob

          Thanks for the report. Feel free to call around some more and report back again! (I would be curious about all the places on S. 1st and E. 6th and 7th streets.) If you haven't been to El Rey, check them out. Their cheese enchiladas appeared to be a mix of cheddar and jack cheese and they also serve chicken enchiladas with stacked blue corn tortillas (ala New Mex/Mex)...

          1. re: Bob

            Try this as an intro to "mexican" cheese. Sargento "4 Cheese Mexican", which is shredded Queso quesadilla and asadero blended with cheddar and monterrey jack. Obviously this "pre-shredded" stuff will be inferior to the block cheeses, but this would be a good place to start. BTW, any of your enchilada sauce/gravy recipes would be appreciated...

            1. re: Bob

              My guess is most cheese enchilada's in tex/mex places would use american, land o lacks process, or velvetta. It just melts much better than cheddar. In mexico my guess is you wouldn't find a cheese enchilada. The cheese you generally do find tend to be a harder cheese that doesn't melt very good.
              Tex/mex seems to get a bad rap because of the american type cheese products used but they tend to be used for a reason from my experience. I'm not a huge cheese enchilada guy but these products as tacky as they are seem to work very well.

            2. re: Howard Coone

              Okay, we need to establish some ground rules if we are going to have a REAL conversation about what makes a great enchilada:

              I am an enchilada fiend and I have come to discover (on this board) that there are two camps of enchilada lovers: The brown gravy and funky yellow cheese camp, and the red (adobo)or green (tomatillo) sauce with either a melted white cheese (osadero - sp or mont. jack). Guess which camp I'm in?

              Anyway, speaking for my camp, I really think that if you want to get an idea of a really good enchilada, go to Taqueria Guadalajara on Burnet. My personal favorite is the Three Enchilda Plate, $4.95, two cheese and one chicken with tons of the verde sauce.

              Another super enchilda is at Polvo's on South First just before Oltorf (you can't miss the place, it's painted bright purple). I especially like the Enchiladas de la Casa (one chicken one cheese) , $7.99, with guajillo sauce, cabbage, jalapeƱos, sliced avocados.

              Anything that describes the sauce as being a gravy, I avoid. However, there are some that sware by this. I won't knock them, it's just not what I would call a "real" enchilada.

              1. re: amysuehere

                How about mole enchiladas? Would that also be a category?

                1. re: John Scar

                  I put mole enchiladas in my camp (grin). Yes! There's nothing better than mole enchiladas done right (Manuel's comes to mind, but Curra's does a pretty mean batch - when they're on the ball).

                  Ah! Here's something that really rubs me the wrong way - while I'll be happy to agree that Fonda San Miguel does do very upscale enchilads, under NO CIRCUMSTANCES should enchiladas EVER cost more than $10 (and that's pushing things). This is a feel-good dish and I do not feel good shelling out that kind of money for an enchilada(yes, even with crabmeat), no matter how upscale the place. Comprehende?

                  1. re: amysuehere

                    Here's a tip Amy: NEVER order comfort food in an upscale place if you have a personal problem with spending mucho dinero more than you would for similar food at a less upscale place. Upscale restaurants (and Fonda San Miguel is definitely an upscale Mexican restaurant) tend to buy and use much more expensive raw ingredients (which are, in general, also much fresher and better) and their production costs and overhead are much higher. Even though their specialty dishes are often quite worth the amount charged, there is a good argument that comfort foods don't benefit near as much from the extra costs and higher quality ingredients as dishes one would not find as readily at lower end restaurants (i.e., more exotic or gourmet renditions). After all, comfort food is not high art and is usually the type of food made from ingredients available and affordable to the general populace of that ethnic or geographical group. So, even if the comfort food is slightly better (due to the better quality ingredients and "gourmet" production), it is rarely worth the increase in price for many people. Essentially, the comfort food itself cannot be changed radically (or "upscaled"), or it would cease to be comfort food.

                    1. re: Mesquite

                      HERES A TIP MESQUITE: there's no need to get all snippy about some enchiladas. Upscale comfort food is a pretty well established trend. That guy at the Mansion on Turtle Creek uh Stephen Pyles? I think did pretty well as a founding member of the New Southwest posse some fifteen-twenty years ago with lobster tacos. Last year's black was a twenty dollar burger with truffle shavings at some joint in NYC. I think we're looking at a trend that's here to stay.

                      Standard texmex cheese enchiladas are made with some form of "cheese" loaf, sauce, or other. "Good" cheese enchiladas are made with real cheese but I get the impression that there's no real standard for the good ones -- they're at least to some extent upscale, a thoughtful approach to a kind of nasty dish that I bet was developed contemporaneously with the "cheese" product. Kind of like that green bean casserole with Campbell's soup. This doesn't mean I'm going to rush to Monica's Aca y Alla to see what it thinks of cheese enchiladas. I don't like the idea of upscale tex mex, but I don't eat out much b/c most restaurants don't have food I like. If others like it I'm willing to at least acknowledge its merit.

                      I use the recipe from Matt Martinez' Culinary Frontier but I haven't made it in quite a while. Matt calls for cheddar, colby, or monterey jack like at Rancho Martinez. Also a neat sauce recipe. Will transcribe if anyone requests.

                      1. re: john clark

                        Did you even READ my post? No one said that upscale comfort food was not a current trend (the "here to stay part" may be debatable), but, as I was merely explaining, don't order such food in an upscale place IF YOU HAVE A PROBLEM WITH SPENDING MUCH MORE FOR SIMILAR FOOD AVAILABLE AT LESS UPSCALE PLACES. Obviously, lobster tacos, truffle shavings on burgers, and similar takes on "comfort food" are not applicable since such food is generally NOT available at the less upscale places and, in fact, arguably fall into the previously mentioned category of comfort food that has been upscaled to the point of no longer really being comfort food -- i.e., food that brings back memories of one's childhood, family cooking, or just simpler, more serene times. Besides, didn't you read the part where I said that "their (referring to upscale places serving comfort food) specialty dishes are often quite worth the amount charged," or the part about exotic or more gourmet renditions of comfort food not available in the less upscale places? Here's a tip for you: Read the post before you attempt to contradict it.

                        BTW, there was no attempt on my part to be "snippy" in that post. I am just blunt and apologize if that style offends the more sensitive souls among us. You, however, obviously have your own agenda and either ignore statements that do not fit that agenda or read things in that comport with it.

                        1. re: Mesquite

                          Don't make me stop this car!

                          Am I going to have to make you two sit in the corner and hold hands?

                          I did not want a fight to start over this. Let's just make a new category of "fancy" enchiladas and get back to the conversation at hand - what makes a really good enchilada. Yes?

                          1. re: amysuehere

                            can't really defend myself here, er giving up coffee or something... anyway I suspect that "real" enchiladas have "cheese" product -- some kind of processed loaf or "sauce" or "melt" involved and are gross. Anything else is "fancy" or at least chowhoundish -- Rancho Martinez isn't upscale but they do use real cheese. And I think that a really good enchilada uses real cheese plus onions and that thin kind of chili-with-no-meat sauce. That's how I like em anyway. I also enjoy the fancier implementations like chicken-sour cream but I always feel like I'm cheating when I have them.

                            1. re: john clark

                              Well - I'm no expert, but I will say that I have gotten the "fancy chicken-sour cream" enchiladas all over Mexico. They're on the menus even in some pretty obscure places where the menus have no English on them whatsoever. They usually have a green sauce in addition to the sour cream. They call them "Enchiladas Suizas" - although I don't know exactly why. Perhaps they think that the Swiss have a deep fondness for sour cream.

                              Oh - and BTW - I found the "upscale comfort food" post very enlightening. Upon thinking about it, after reading the post, I realized that's a very good point.

                              If, for example, I go to a tres expensive, top-flight restaurant, and order, say, a bowl of chili, they might charge $19 a bowl - and tell me the reason is that it is made with top sirloin, hand-picked and wood-smoked chiles, veal stock, etc., and it might even BE better than a $4 bowl at a comfort-food joint, but would it be worth $15 more??

                              Frankly, I didn't find that post offensive at all; but rather, very instructive.

                        2. re: john clark

                          I think it is Dean Ferring who is at the Mansion? Did Stephen Pyles start there before DF was there?

                          1. re: john clark

                            Please share that recipe!

                          2. re: Mesquite

                            Uh, isn't that what I said? My, aren't we in short temper today.

                            Don't get me wrong. FSM has it's place and they serve very nice upscale food (as I stated).

                            1. re: amysuehere

                              OK, my bad. Perhaps I should also take remedial reading courses with Mr. Clark.

                              1. re: Mesquite

                                Real cheese is to hard and to greasy for the melt in your mouth enchiladas that south Texans love. Just saying! :-)

                                1. re: Donnette0524

                                  wow, pretty impressive you dug up an 11 yo thread for that comment.