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Food for Thought

Major author pays tribute to Murder by the Book's Thompson; spies world's best fajitas

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Brad Meltzer Photo by Herman Estevez
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Brad Meltzer is coming to Houston for a book signing at Murder by the Book on Monday night.

If you’ve missed Meltzer’s thrillers, you may know him from his comics, like the Buffy the Vampire Slayer he worked on with Joss Whedon. Or the History Channel’s Brad Meltzer Decoded, in which he and his team investigate unsolved historical mysteries. He also created the short-lived but critically acclaimed Jack & Bobby TV show for the WB channel.

Now, he’s just released a new book, The Inner Circle, and he’s headed back to Houston and Murder by the Book.

David Thompson gave me my start with a book signing for my first book, when no one else would,” Meltzer says. Thompson, married to the store’s owner, McKenna Jordan, was the publicity manager at the store for 21 years. He died suddenly last September.

“That was a huge loss,” Meltzer says. “I was supposed to do a book signing there two years ago when the hurricane hit. I tried to get there but couldn’t.” The store is publishing a book in Thompson’s honor and Meltzer is writing the introduction.

But the Murder by the Book family isn’t the only Meltzer supporter in town. Former President George H.W. Bush is also a fan.

“He wrote me a letter about how much he liked my book The Millionaires and when I sent him an autographed copy he invited me to come visit him,” Meltzer says.

Meltzer spent a week staying with the Bushes in Houston and formed a lasting friendship. For The Inner Circle, about a secret presidential spy ring, he tapped 41’s knowledge.

“George Washington actually had a private spy ring of civilians called the Culper Ring during the Revolutionary War,” Meltzer says. “A few years back I got a call from Homeland Security asking me if I would come in and brainstorm different ways for terrorists to attack the U.S. That’s when I got the idea for this book. What if the ring still existed today? I actually called a guy at Homeland and asked if he thought it was a good plot for a novel. He said, ‘What makes you think it doesn’t exist today?’ ”

Which made him start to think maybe he’d been a part of it. So what did President Bush tell him when he asked about the Culper Ring?

“Hey, his information is in the book, but not attributed," Meltzer says. "Am I crazy? I’m not leaving any footprints!”

In other words: He could tell us, but then he’d have to kill us.

Oh, wait, this is a food column right? OK, here we go.

There’s one mystery this bestselling author has yet to decode.

“I’m also on a quest for the world's best fajita in every city I go to,” he says. “And in Houston, even though it’s a chain, Pappasitos still has the best, maybe second best, tortillas ever."

Seriously? Seriously? Pappasitos?

“I know, I understand it’s a chain!”

A friend of mine weighed in on this and swears that Pappasitos throws butter on their meat as it’s sizzling and that’s what makes it good. But great? Um, no.

In Houston, we know that it was Mama Ninfa — Ninfa Rodríguez Laurenzo — who made fajitas a staple of Tex-Mex dining when she served them at her original Ninfa’s restaurant on Navigation starting in 1973. I spent a year in Houston in the late '70s and remember eating them when they were called tacos al carbon on the menu.

Alex Padilla, executive chef at The Original Ninfa’s, still makes the char-grilled skirt steak stuffed in tortillas the same way Mama Ninfa, and his own mom, who was a line cook there, did.

A newer Laurenzo eatery, 1308 Cantina on Montrose Boulevard, also does Mama’s recipe proud.

I also heard from a couple of foodies, including Maureen Hall, that Teotihuacan Mexican Cafe on Airline, has awesome fajitas as well. “They're always tender and the homemade flour tortillas are the best!” Hall insists. Teotihuacan Mexican Café, along with The Original Ninfa’s, was mentioned in Texas Monthly’s recent The 50 Best Mexican Restaurants issue, so you know it’s worth checking out.

Too bad El Real Tex-Mex won’t be open for Meltzer to dine on fajitas a la Bryan Caswell and Robb Walsh. I’m betting their vintage Tex-Mex platter will be awesome as well. But, since they’re not open yet, I think I’ll recommend Ninfa’s to the author.

What about you? Feel free to weigh in readers, where do you think Brad Meltzer can find the best fajitas in the world? He’s coming to Houston, and he’s coming hungry.

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