What's Eric Eating Episode 271
The ultimate Tex-Mex draft: We pick our favorite dishes from Houston's most essential restaurants
On this week's episode of "What's Eric Eating," CultureMap food editor Eric Sandler takes a break from his usual format by inviting five Houston food experts to join him in a draft of their favorite Tex-Mex dishes. The goal is to put together the ultimate selection of dishes in the following categories — fajitas, enchiladas, tacos, chips and salsa, queso, and a wildcard that's any dish served at a Tex-Mex restaurant that doesn't fit one of those categories.
The draft's rules define a Tex-Mex restaurant as a place that doesn't charge for chips and salsa and serves queso, which excludes interior Mexican restaurants like Hugo's and fast casual restaurants like Torchy's. In addition, participants may only select one dish per restaurant. Joining Sandler are the following participants: David Cordua, chef-owner of The Lymbar; Bryan Caswell, former chef-owner of El Real Tex-Mex Cafe; Mary Clarkson, owner of Avondale Food & Wine; Matt Harris, a self-described Food Vigilante; and Michael Fulmer, a hospitality industry veteran and a co-founder of the Houston BBQ Festival.The first round goes in the following order:
- David Cordua selects El Tiempo's chicken fajitas
- Mary Clarkson selects Molina's Jose's dip
- Bryan Caswell selects Superica's puffy taco
- Eric Sandler selects Candente's birria tacos
- Matt Harris selects Lupe Tortilla's tacos al carbon
- Michael Fulmer selects The Original Ninfa's chips and salsa
Listen to the full episode to hear all of the results. After they completed six rounds, Cordua offers his thoughts on Tex-Mex's importance to Houstonians.
"I can tell by everyone's answers how much Tex-Mex is our comfort food. It's our therapy. We need it, and we live on it," he says.
"If you take a trip for over a week, first thing you want is Tex-Mex," Caswell adds. "That's the first place you go. Maybe on the way home from the airport."
Following the draft, Gringo's Mexican Kitchen founder and CEO Russell Ybarra joins Sandler to offers an opinion about who won the draft (spoiler alert: not Sandler). He then discusses a few of the challenges of operating a successful Tex-Mex restaurant. For example, the restaurant's free chips, salsa, and ice cream account for 6-percent of Gringo's food costs.
Sandler asks Ybarra about how Gringo's stands out in a crowded field of Tex-Mex options.
"We have a philosophy that if we want to push a Mercedes out the front door that we cannot bring in Chevrolet parts in the back door," he says. "We have a focus on quality ingredients. You solve the majority of your challenges by using quality ingredients."