M.F. & M. (Mexican Food & Music)

Volume Two in this series combining my passion for music, live concerts and photography with my love of Mexican food. I hope you enjoy this diversion.

Emerson, Lake & Tamales

Anyone who knew me in college, or for any length of time knows that I’ve always loved music and have attended many live shows over the years. From The Doors, to Deep Purple, to The Who – I’ve always enjoyed live rock-n-roll music. I still attend shows when possible but honestly, the people I still want see are getting older and tour less and less.

Of all the music from the by gone era of my youth, ‘Progressive Rock’ was what held my attention for many years. Referred to as ‘thinking mans music’ by it’s fans, the average or casual listener frequently called it ‘too busy’ or would say that it had ‘too many notes.’ They didn’t want to think about the music or be forced to pay attention to it.

Billy Cobham - Mahavishnu Orchestra

It’s a fact that progressive rock music refused to hover in the background – you had to listen it pro-actively because it was rarely a predictable melody with ‘three verses and a chorus or two’. It was usually more about musical virtuosity and improvisation, and a single composition (sometimes epic in length) would frequently go through several major changes before its conclusion. Bands like Yes, King Crimson, Rush and The Mahavishnu Orchestra would fall into this category.

Keith Emerson

Of all those prog bands from the seventies, Emerson, Lake & Palmer was hands-down, my favorite and it was Keith Emerson in particular who captured my imagination. All three members were extremely accomplished musicians and created music of great power, intricacy and texture; but Mr. Emerson’s keyboard virtuosity and showmanship rivaled that of Jimi Hendrix, Pete Townsend or any other guitarist of the day.

ELP integrated many passages from classical music into their compositions and as trios go, were quite powerful on stage. Keith Emerson’s solo at the end of the song Lucky Man, is the first ever recording of a synthesizer solo and he is also credited as being the first musician to utilize synthesizers (complicated and quirky instruments) on stage in a live setting.

I was such a fan that I eventually met him – a few times.

When ELP reunited in the early nineties, I discovered that a guy I went to college with was Keith’s keyboard technician – a guy named Will Alexander. The schedule for the tour would bring them to Dallas, Houston and San Antonio and I got tickets to all three shows. I contacted the tour manager and arranged a meeting in Houston. Not only did we get autographs, but I got a special pass from Greg that allowed me to bring photographic equipment to the San Antonio show the next evening.

Me & Keith - '94

On a trip to the west coast in ’94, I visited Will Alexander and his wife Candy who lived half a block from Keith. At Will’s house, I played with Keith’s huge synthesizer -the centerpiece of his stage rig, along with the ribbon controller that Keith uses when he wants to be more like a guitarist and strut around the stage.  Later in the week, I was invited to a barbeque at Keith’s place where we partied and drank chardonnay all day into the  night. Keith was a warm and welcoming host.

Carl Palmer - The missing piece...

So it was with some anticipation that I was able to get a couple tickets to see Keith Emerson and Greg Lake one weekend in Houston. Carl Palmer (the drummer) wasn’t there because he was touring with Asia – an eighties ‘prog super-group’, which includes members from Yes, King Crimson and ELP.

Truth be told, Houston has as rich a history of Mexican cuisine as San Antonio. Heck, I recently found a forum where a couple Houstonians were still debating where ZZ Tops’ Tres Hombres (1973) gatefold ‘Mexican feast’ photo was shot – one guy says Felix Mexican Restaurant and the other says Leo’s. So the prospect of a road trip to explore Tex-Mex there was too much to pass up. I invited my friend, David along since he’s an ELP fan and was also raised in San Antonio – making him every bit the Tex-Mex aficionado that I am. David was also with me for all three shows of the ELP reunion tour.

In the days leading up to our trip we discussed our dining options and got ourselves worked up into a Tex-Mex Frenzy.

Cielo Mexican Bistro

We arrived downtown (near the venue) at around 5PM, parked and began wandering around trying to find a decent Mexican restaurant. We were hoping to find a Ninfa’s but apparently the original location is now only one location left in Houston, so after a while we got a little frustrated. We walked by a place that called itself a ‘Mexican Bistro’ which looked way to upscale to be Tex-Mex and continued to walk. After walking some more, we decided to turn back and go into the bistro to look at the menu.

You could tell as soon as we walked in, that Cielo’s, on the corner of Congress and Main, is definitely not Tex-Mex. It’s a very modern, upscale interior with wine racks from floor to ceiling. We ordered a couple Negro Modelos and scanned the menu. There was as much seafood, quail, steak and other offerings as there were Mexican style dishes and we got worried.

The chips arrived and they were awesome – home made and thick, kinda like ‘pita’ chips. The red sauce was good and very tasty, while the green sauce was creamier and tasted like poblano pepper with lime and ranch dressing. It sounds weird but it was pretty good and reminded me of Ninfa’s green sauce a little.

We decided to order queso and if it was no good, we’d drink our beer and move on.

The Queso was not just good – it was excellent! It was not very thick and it didn’t even develop the ‘skin’ you normally get when you stop dipping for a bit. No, this was almost the right consistency (could’ve been just a hint thicker) so that the green and red pepper shavings were mixed very well through out the dip making this a tantalizingly good queso. With the thicker chips, this queso was a real treat.

Great Queso!

So now they have our attention and we were beginning to accept the idea of ‘interior’ cuisine this evening.

The waiter came back and as we asked some questions, he offered a sample of their mole sauce. I’m glad he did because even though I like a little bit of sweet taste, this mole was way too sweet – almost ice cream topping sweet! David thought it might go well with fried plantains – an interesting idea.

We decided to try the Tamales because they were homemade and they sounded the most Tex-Mex of all the offerings on the menu. When they arrived, we were taken back by their size – three very large tamales still in the corn shuck. They reminded me of the large, Guatemalan style tamales a friend of mine makes (recipe coming soon). With the rice and various condiments on the plate, the presentation was exquisite.

Huge Tamales!

They offered two different sauces – a red, roasted tomato sauce which Dave ordered and a spicy green, tomatillo poblano sauce for me. The sauces were served in a separate bowl so we both were able to sample a tamal with each sauce. These tamales didn’t easily slip out of their shuck like normal and they came apart revealing the filling that included chicken along with roasted tomatoes, peppers and cheese inside – wow! I’ve only seen single meat fillings so all this other stuff inside was new for me.

Okay, so this is not Tex-Mex, but these tamales were absolutely wonderful – both sauces were great but my green sauce had more kick. While we’re eating, another waiter came over and explained how they were made and said there is absolutely no lard in these tamales – lard is a key ingredient in making the outer portion of tamales gelatinous. This also explained why they were a bit more difficult to remove from their shucks. So not only were they delicious, but they were healthier than the average tamales – man, we out-did ourselves today!

A decked-out Tamal...

The rice with diced carrots & scallion slices was incredibly good as were the charro beans and I can’t just say enough about how much I enjoyed this meal. Definitely more ‘interior’ than Tex-Mex, but very good food indeed – so much so that I’d come back to check out other entrees if I resided in Houston.

The concert? Well, we entered with a hint of skepticism because this music without drummer Carl Palmer was hard to imagine. The premise of this paring was to let the public in on what a typical writing session in a recording studio might sound like – the building of the foundations of some of the music. The arrangements were quite interesting and extremely satisfying.

Keith Emerson

Gregg (Lake) has put on considerable weight but he was getting larger back in the early ‘90s’ during their reunion tour, so this was no surprise. His voice was as smooth as ever and he sang “I Talk To The Wind,” a song from the very first King Crimson album which he was a part of. Keith on the other hand, looked very good and seems to be aging quite well. We were treated to a great evening of music we’ve listened to and loved for years and while the arrangements were a bit different, it felt good to be ‘welcomed back to the show that never ends…’

Live ELP music and Mexican food – two of my favorite things.



Filed under M.F. & M. Series

SAGO – Modern Mexican

There is a lot happening at “The Triangle” where Lamar and Guadalupe merge. It’s another one of those developments where they place apartments or condos on top of a variety of hi-end retail shops and restaurants. I guess the theory is that if you live there, you wouldn’t have to get in your car and drive because everything you need is just below you. Of course, if you can afford the rent (or mortgage), I guess there’s some truth in that theory.

Sago in The Triangle

Mandola’s Italian Market located in the Triangle serves really good Italian cuisine, but we recently discovered a Mexican restaurant there called Sago – Modern Mexican. Since it’s my duty to explore places such as these, we put it on our agenda and visited recently.

When we entered, there were several small dinning rooms and the option to sit outside on a patio. We chose the inside dining room adjacent to the kitchen on this night, but with the volume of the chatter and other background noise, we had second thoughts.

I’ve got mixed feelings about room-noise. I hate rooms with absolutely no acoustical treatment – something soft on the ceilings or walls to absorb rather than reflect room noise. Sampaio’s Brazilian Cuisine on Burnet was one of the worst for noise bouncing around inside – until they recently closed.

Some say that you don’t want a room to be too ‘dead’ and that there is a level of noise that exemplifies excitement and activity. Whatever – we decided the noise wasn’t that bad and enjoyed the people watching anyway.

The chips and salsa arrived shortly after we were seated. The chips were very crispy and the salsa was a dark, red-dish brown with a chipotle, smoky flavor. It was very tasty and not especially hot. We ordered the Tex-Mex Queso with chorizo (Mexican sausage) as an appetizer and settled in with the menu.

A review of the menu presented several very interesting items. There was Mango-Habanero Ceviche and Yucca Fritters in the appetizer section. The‘Specialties’ section included Roasted Garlic-Chipotle Shrimp and Grapefruit Glazed Mahi Mahi. We were definitely up for some experimentation so BJ ordered a cup of the Smoked Corn-Coconut-Butternut Squash soup and the Spinach and Portobello Enchiladas for the main entrée. I went for the Beef Brisket Enchiladas.

Queso with Chorizo

The queso was delivered and was absolutely fantastic – medium thickness (almost perfect) with great cheesy flavor. The chorizo and a spoonful of pico de gallo added a perfect accent to the taste – excellent!

Incredible Soup!

The soup came next and BJ was ecstatic about the flavor. I tasted it and could not agree more – this soup was delicious! It’s garnished with cilantro, pico de gallo and smoked corn making for an interesting combination of flavors. Not your typical Tex-Mex, but something you really must try for yourself. When I talked about this meal to a friend at work and mentioned the soup, she too raved about how enjoyable and tasty the Butternut Squash soup was.

Spinach-Portabella Enchiladas

The main courses arrived, which for BJ was an anti-climax. The spinach and portabella enchiladas were nowhere near the tantalizing level of the soup. I took her word for it and did not sample the spinach enchiladas – besides, I’m a meat kinda guy.

Beef Brisket Enchiladas

The Brisket Enchiladas on the other hand, were very interesting. The meat filling was very tender. The sauce smothering these babies was a very dark, tangy mixture with a rich, sweet flavor – almost like a thick, sweet barbeque sauce. At first I was taken back with the sweet flavor, but with each bite enjoyed it more and more. By the end of my meal, I was completely sold on the flavor of the sauce.

Sago is definitely a different take on Mexican cuisine – a kind of Mexican fusion – and I think you’ll enjoy the variations they have in store. I’m looking forward to revisiting and trying the fish tacos or the tacos al pastor. Whatever I choose, I’ll probably start my next meal the same way I started this one – with that fantastic queso.

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Filed under Austin Restaraunts, Enchiladas

Puffy Tacos at Vivo

Coming from San Antonio, there are few things I remember that were unique to the Alamo city. One such delicacy is the puffy taco, served at a restaurant called Teka Molino, but was also available at many other restaurants in town.

With a puffy taco, a corn tortilla is lightly deep fried to a point where air pockets or bubbles develop while the tortilla is still soft – keeping the oil from getting too hot is the secret to achieving this. You then fold it in the conventional ‘taco’ manner and stuff it with beef or chicken and the usual trimmings.

Eating a puffy taco can be a bit challenging in that they are a bit flakey and delicate and can fall apart easily – a bit like a crispy taco except this is somehow worth the effort. Gosh, they are very hard to describe, so you just need to try one and experience it for yourself.

I discovered that Vivo, a Mexican restaurant at 2015 Manor Road, serves puffy tacos, so my wife and I decided to check it out. We invited our friend David along, since he too was raised in San Antonio and is also something of a Tex-Mex expert in his own rite. As we parked, we noticed several other Mexican eateries nearby, so I’ll need to further investigate this area east of I-35 in the future.

Vivo offers seating inside or out and since it was just a bit warm, we opted for the comfort of air conditioning. The interior is really interesting. The lighting is low, making the décor just a little dark. Once our eyes adjusted, we could focus on the variety of eclectic art all around the room. The dominate theme is somewhat erotic, with large bold nudes and paintings of women in various poses and portraiture – all with a ‘come hither’ kind of look.

If this seems odd, all you have to do is look at the top of their menu where it states: “Better than Sex…Tex-Mex!”

As you scan around the room taking this all in, you’ll come to a wall with a very large painting of a longhorn steer – a very good portrait of one – with actual

Bevo at VIVO!

horns extending out beyond its large ornate frame. My guess would be that the owners might be UT alums – ‘ya think?

As we were seated, we each ordered margaritas as well as guacamole and a cup of queso. We munched on chips and salsa as we took in the décor. The chips were quite good  but the salsa was a bit too salty for Dave and BJ. With a nice spicy kick, it didn’t keep me from eating it. I’d heard that the drinks were good here and confirmed that upon their arrival. They serve over 50 different tequilas and have a variety of exotic variations of mixed concoctions.

The guacamole arrived on a bed of shredded lettuce with chunky pico de gallo sprinkled on top. It was good and tasted fresh with a fairly balanced flavor. The queso was VERY good – a little bit of spiciness mixed with a very nice cheesy flavor. It was a bit thin and runny which had us all jockeying for the ‘skin’ when it would develop. When the skin develops on top of queso, it’s much easier to get more of the cheese on a chip without it dripping across the table…but I digress.

Knowing what I came for, I really didn’t need a menu but wanted to scan it anyway. It touts Vivos’ specialties as: Puffy Tacos, Chalupas and Enchiladas – three of my favorites. David wanted to try a variety of things and chose a platter called Emma’s Choice which is a combination of a puffy taco and an enchilada – two of the three house specialties. BJ chose the mini taco special which included two carnitas, one shredded chicken and one pastor taco. It goes without saying; I had to have the puffy taco platter.

Mini Taco Special

All of our entrees arrived looking delicious. The Mini Taco Special looked the most modern as it came on a square plate with a cup of salsa in the middle with the four soft, corn tortilla tacos laid out in the four corners. All of them included chopped cilantro and a slice of avocado. The pastor meat (pork) was a redish orange color and was adorned with an orchid – probably edible but I think BJ left it on her plate.

The carnitas tacos (also pork) appeared to have a red pepper mixed but it’s hard to tell. This being a ‘special’, these tacos are not described on the menu. BJ said all the tacos were good, but she like the carnitas the best. Sadly, this is one of those meals BJ could finish so I can’t confirm her recommendation.

A Puffy Taco & Enchilada - Emma's Choice

The Emma’s Choice combination platter looked more like a conventional Mexican entrée with one puffy taco and a beef enchilada smothered in a dark redish brown ranchero sauce. David gave thumbs-up on the enchiladas – his mouth was full at the time – and he’s rather picky, so they must be good. Next time, I might have to try the enchilada, perhaps the Cameron’s Favorite, which combines the enchilada with a chalupa compeusta.

Excellent Puffy Tacos!

The puffy tacos were absolutely wonderful and stirred up memories of Tex-Mex pig-outs long past. The ground beef was well seasoned and the taco ‘shell’ was soft and flaky – almost chewy. Sliced jalapeno and onion were great additions to the lettuce, tomato and cheese. Like crispy tacos, I tend to finish each once I’ve started because setting it down and picking it up again is risky – it may not hold together. Again, indulging in puffy tacos is well worth this minor inconvenience.

This meal was awesome and each of us was very satisfied. Vivo is perhaps a little upscale and might be considered a bit pricey by some, but it is a truly enjoyable dining experience. Oh, and one more thing – all ladies receive a long stemmed rose at the end of their meal. How’s that for classy?

Do yourself a favor and check out Vivo on a night when you want to treat your lady to something just a little more special. Who knows, you could get lucky.


Filed under Austin Restaraunts, Tacos

Mole at Habanero’s

I recently had the urge for a Mexican lunch and I called my friend Dave to see if he wanted to join me. It was Friday and he suggested we revisit Habanero’s for today’s special which was the chicken mole. Because our last meal there was awesome, he didn’t have to ask twice.

Mole sauce is a very unique and differs greatly according to family recipes or geographic regions inside Mexico. Usually associated with weddings and major holidays, this rich and savory sauce can include 12 to 21 ingredients depending on who’s making it. There are sometimes four different chiles used in conjunction with ingredients like pumpkin seeds, cilantro, oregano, raisins, cinnamon, sesame seeds and some even use dark chocolate.

The red or darker moles are the one’s I’ve tried the most but there is also green mole made with tomatillos for a taste I’m sure is completely different from it’s darker counterparts. Mole is not for everyone and I always recommend that if you can, try a taste first before ordering an entrée you might not like.

My taste leans toward the darker variation with just a hint of sweet, chocolate flavor, while others don’t like the sweet moles at all. Mole is usually served with a chicken breast or, my favorite, chicken enchiladas, but again there are so many variations that I’ve even seen a recipe for beef with a pineapple mole sauce.

The real trick with mole is balancing all of those ingredients so that one component doesn’t stand out or over-power the flavor. I’m a bit picky and prefer a subtle spicy taste with that hint of sweet chocolate. I’ve had a favorite here in town for years and have shied away from trying others until now. We will now be trying mole where ever it’s served.

Excellent Queso!

Upon being seated, we ordered some queso and asked the waitress if I could have a taste of the mole sauce. She said that everything was made up fresh when ordered, which seemed weird when you’re talking about mole – it’s a difficult sauce to just ‘whip up’. Throwing caution to the wind I figured if I was gonna take a chance, Habanero’s was a good place to do it and we both ordered the chicken mole enchiladas.

The queso was excellent – almost perfect consistency, very cheesy with a hint of spice. As we snacked, we discussed the ‘sample taste’ thing and finally decided that because it was today’s ‘special’, it would probably not be a good idea to give out a cup of it to everyone that asked for a taste. It’d be a shame to run out of today’s special too early in the day.

Our order arrived looking scrumptious. The mole sauce was liberally poured over the enchiladas and we could see some cheese peeking out from under it.

MOLE - some of the best in Austin!

 They actually covered the enchiladas with white cheese, and then added the mole – wow! The flavor of the sauce was just the way I like it – a little spicy with a hint of sweet. The cheese mixed in with every bite was a perfect compliment to the taste and I’d have to rate this right up at the top of my mole list.

I will be sampling more moles in the months ahead in an attempt to expand my horizons with regards to the various differences in taste. Mole is more ‘interior’ than Tex-Mex, but the full flavored taste of this luscious sauce makes for an interesting culinary experience.

Suffice it to say that my second visit to Habanero’s was as satisfying as the first and I’ve indulged in different entrees each time – great Mole! Gosh, if this happens a third time, Habanero’s will occupy a place near the top of my list of best Mexican eateries in Austin.


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Fajitas at Iguana Grill

Some Sundays, my wife and I like to look at lake-side properties just to see what the market is doing. Austin’s property values have held up a bit better than other areas of the country but if you’re looking for a short-term investment, it’s not a good time to buy. Right now it’s a buyers market only if you’re a long term investor or someone looking for a retirement home. This is a mute point since lake front property will always be pricey, as we re-affirmed one recent Sunday.

It was interesting talking with a realtor anyway and we got the low-down on how prices vary according to the distance you are to the lake (at least in this particular neighborhood).

Iguana Grill

As we headed back toward town, we decided on the Iguana Grill for a late lunch/early dinner.

Serving Mexican food since 1995, The Iguana Grill is an Austin favorite and provides a view of Lake Travis that almost rivals the view at the Oasis (the more well-known establishment also on Travis). Yes, the view is a bit better at the Oasis because of its higher vantage point. The drinks there are pretty good too, but the Mexican food is better at The Grill – at least in my humble opinion.

Ice Cold Brews with Chips & Salsa

It was a clear sunny afternoon and being 3:30 or so, there were very few customers insuring we would get fast, attentive service. With the open air layout and the warm afternoon, it was a good time for a cold beer. We ordered a couple Negro Modelos and some Guacamole as soon as we were seated.

The chips and salsa arrived with our beer, which was ice cold and really hit the spot. The chips were good and were served with a redish-brown salsa that was quite tangy with a little bit of spicy kick.


A generous portion of guacamole arrived shortly after and even though we were not eating at a peak meal time, the guacamole seemed fresh, chunky and seasoned well – a very balanced flavor without much citrus taste.

While we snacked, we gazed out at the lake and were amazed at how the levels had risen this year. The last couple years had been scorchers and with sparse rainfall during that period, the lake had gone down some 50 or 60 feet. This time last year, there was so much shoreline exposed with little islands popping up in middle of the lake. With increased rainfall last winter, the lake has returned to its normal level in just a little less than a year.

Sizzling Fajitas with Trimmings

Our fajitas arrived with great sensory fanfare – the meat in the hot skillet was sizzling and trailing clouds of smoke. The smell of fresh grilled beef, peppers, onions & spices surrounded us, triggering our anticipation for this meal. We each had plates with all the condiments and trimmings for the perfect fajitas – hot tortillas, shredded cheese, lettuce, pico de gallo and a small bowl of beans.

Beef Fajita!

My mouth was watering as I built my first taco. With leftover guacamole, we were lacking nothing as I wrapped a tortilla around a fist full of grilled pleasure. The very first bite of a fajita is always the best, and this was no exception. The meat was quite tasty – seasoned well and was fairly tender. Even with all the stuff we piled on, the taste of the meat came through.

This was a splendid late afternoon meal. With the outdoor patio (with numerous fans), a great view of the lake and ice cold brews, this is a great way to enjoy Tex-Mex on a hot afternoon.

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Filed under Austin Restaraunts, Fajitas

La Morada Flautas

In the nineties I worked for a company on Burnet road near Metric and I would frequent a place – La Morada – about a mile up the road at Parmer and Mo-Pac.

Located in a strip center (HEB is the anchor store), this little place has a lot going for it. They have a full bar with some booths facing a big-screen TV – usually tuned into sports programs of some sort – and they have a conventional restaurant section for people who can actually break away from television without going through withdrawals.

Being the creature of habit I was back then, my predictable order was always the Chicken Flautas. At the time, I had never seen them served the way La Morada did and love the deviation they took with the preparation of these ‘flutes of chicken’. Now, as I study this genre of gastrointestinal pleasure, I’ve discovered that this deviation is not so rare after all.

So be it. I will continue to search for others in Austin who do it this way, but so far, El Morada is the only one I’ve found who serve Flautas in this manner.

With this new research project well under way, I visited recently to relive those days of yester-year and see if anything had changed. Starting with the chips – these are light, thin and very crispy and they are homemade. What’s not to like? They are not as thin as the chips you’ll find at Chuy’s which can break apart with just a thought, much less dipping them in something – the ONLY knock I have with Chuy’s – but again, I digress…

I’ve always loved La Morada’s salsa – it’s a nice pureed concoction with a very smooth taste and a very subtle hint of heat – a kind of slow after burn. The problem with that smooth taste is that many an afternoon I’d find myself gorging on chips & salsa before the main entrée arrived. These days, they serve two salsas before the meal – a tangy green sauce that is quite good and the traditional sauce I know so well.

On this night, I ordered a guacamole salad. Yes, the flautas usually come with guacamole and sour cream, but I wanted a little more avocado before my meal. This guacamole was very tasty – just a hint of lime, but otherwise that buttery avocado taste I look for. Aside from the rather small portion (okay, so you’re beginning to see a pattern here) the guacamole was very good. Tonight, my wife is in California and is not here to boost my ego by telling me how much better my guacamole is.

The main course arrived looking like it always has. The flautas at La Morada are made with flour tortillas as opposed to the tightly rolled corn you usually associate with Flautas. They are much larger, almost like enchiladas and the use of flour tortillas verses corn makes the outer covering light and flakey, almost

Chicken Flautas

like a mini-chimichanga. Inside, there is also white cheese (probably Monterey Jack) mixed in with the chicken making these ‘flutes’ more like ‘bassoons’. You get two to an order along with sour cream and guacamole and they are simply scrumptious.

The rice was good; light and fluffy – just like it always has been – very consistent. The refried beans were also much better than average, with less of a liquefied texture that you find at many Mexican restaurants these days.

I have always enjoyed this variation of flautas and as yet have not found others in Austin who serve them quite like this. In the name of research, I invite anyone who has had them served with flour tortillas elsewhere in Austin to please let me know and I will make the trip, post-haste to seek out these delicious delicacies and report my findings back to you.


Filed under Austin Restaraunts, Flautas

Julio’s in Rosewood, Texas

My wife and I recently drove to the Houston area a few weeks back for the high school graduation of one of my nephews. Well, he was actually home-schooled, so there were only five graduates. It was however, a very stirring and heart-felt event with the parents (teachers!) of each child giving insight as to the experience of teaching their own children. All of these kids are models of good upbringing and Christian values and we could use more like them to tackle the messed up future they will surely inherit…but I digress.

On the drive out, we kept our eyes peeled for Mexican restaurants and spotted several along the way that seemed interesting. Driving back at around 2pm, we were certainly getting hungry.

Julio's in Rosewood, TX

With a Mexican produce market adjacent to the restaurant, we stopped at Julio’s in Rosewood because the place looked authentic, which peaked our interest.

Early afternoon is a slower period for most restaurants and we were quickly seated with chips and hot sauce served almost immediately. The chips were thin and very crispy. They were served with two salsas – a green, almost creamy avocado with just a hint of spice. This was served chilled while the second salsa was warm with a smoky tomato flavor and more kick.

I scanned the menu in the hope of finding a single order where I might be able to sample several items – after all, when am I going to be in Rosewood again? A combo plate is the obvious choice so I ordered one with a crispy taco, enchilada and a tamal but I also asked for a half order of nachos – one of my favorites. I also ordered extra corn tortillas and BJ ordered ‘Leon’s Quesadilla.’

I like quesadillas, but don’t order them often these days since everybody makes them and they are fairly difficult to screw up.

The nachos arrived and I was surprised to see that they had spread refried beans on each chip, but then poured a liquid-queso on them for the ‘cheese’ part – not the way I like my nachos. Yes, the queso was tasty and these were better than the kind of nachos you’ll find at any ball park, but not by too much. If you’re going to dress each chip with beans, take the time to put some shredded cheddar on each one and then bake them. This seemed an unnecessary shortcut for a good Mexican restaurant.

Combo Platter

My taco arrived while I was still working on my nachos. It had plenty of lettuce, tomato and cheese and the ground beef was seasoned well. The second plate came with plenty of chili con carne and cheese smothering a single enchilada and a tamale and I used the extra corn tortillas to scoop up the gravy. The enchilada was good. The tamal was okay except that there wasn’t enough filling. The outer layer was quite thick and while some people probably like them that way, to me the filling is the whole point. The outer portion is almost a container – like with link sausage.

Leon's Quesadillas

The interesting thing was that BJ’s chicken quesadillas looked like an order of soft tacos. There were three flour tortillas folded over into individual sized quesadillas with home made flour tortillas which were cooked the same as you’d prepare a traditional quesadilla. In sampling this, I was taken back by how good the chicken was – it had a very nice smoky flavor that stood out even with the various salsas and toppings added –  they were delicious.

So if you ever find yourself passing through Rosewood with the urge for some Mexican food, Leon’s Quesadillas at Julio’s would certainly be my recommendation.

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Filed under Combo Plate, Mexican Food Abroad