The Original Ninfa's on Navigation is up for Outstanding Restaurant.
Teotihuacan is a hidden gem with barbecue rib tacos and plates. (Photo by Teotihuacan.)
Texans and fans of flavor alike rushed to defend Tex-Mex. (Photo by El Tiempo)
Irma's is the perfect pre-game spot. (Photo by Irma's Southwest Grill.)
Picos' Chile en nogada is a Mexican classic. (Photo by Picos.)
Tex-Mex is our state’s greatest culinary contribution to the world. Possibly our greatest contribution, period, if you’d be willing to trade queso for NASA. Both are pushing known boundaries — cheese and space.
You may find some pale Tex-Mex imitations throughout the country. But we know the truth. No one does refried beans, chili con carne and steak fajitas quite like the Lone Star State.
Options abound in the land of bluebonnets and longhorns, but some of the greatest can be found in Space City. These are Houston’s best Tex-Mex restaurants.
You’ll get a taste of the upscale, the drive-thru and everything in between.
The Original Ninfa’s On Navigation
First things first: the place where it all began. The OG Ninfa’s is worthy of a regular spot in your night-out rotation. “Mama” Ninfa Laurenzo opened the spot in 1973, grilling skirt steak for “tacos al carbon,” what we now know as fajitas.
The Rio Grande Valley native is largely responsible for popularizing fajitas, and with good reason. Hers are of the classic, just-can’t-get enough variety. You can enjoy them out on the breezy patio, overlooking the colorful Navigation Boulevard.
This River Oaks restaurant takes a fine-dining, sophisticated spin on Tex-Mex. It’s not a case of age before beauty at this eatery, which turned 40 this year. At Armando’s it just as much about ambience, with red draperies and crisp white table linens.
You can enjoy a wide range of enchiladas, from spinach, to rib-eye, to lobster. For as elegant at Armando’s is during most of the week, it gets pretty thirsty on Thursdays. Tables are moved and the floor is transformed into a dance floor for people to get down on 80’s Dance Night.
To be fair, Pico’s may skew more traditional Mexican than Texan. But their queso is on point, no matter which you choose: chile con queso, queso blanco, or chicharron de queso with crispy Cotija cheese.
Chiles en nogada are a perennial favorite: meat-stuffed chiles with a cold walnut cream sauce, topped with parsley and pomegranate seeds. That’s classic cuisine, straight out of Mexican cookbooks.
Teotihuacan Mexican Cafe
This hole in the wall is wholly worth a visit. Teotihuacan has mastered all the meats it offers, and serves up mixed plates for those who can’t decide. Take the La Maria, one chicken fajita enchilada Verde and one beef taco al carbon, or the head turner El Danny, one chicken and cheese flauta, one chicken fajita taco and pork carnitas.
The spot has taken the Texan spin a step further, serving barbecue beef short ribs, either with sautéed onions, rice and charro beans, or a with jumbo grilled shrimp and beef fajitas. Let’s just say you won’t go home hungry.
Irma’s Southwest Grill
Irma’s is a must-try for sports fans who need to chow down before they eat up a game at nearby Minute Maid Park. It’s just one block away from the stadium, and boasts quick, friendly service. Authentic Mexican originals include Irma’s fajitas and homemade pork tamales.
Then, there’s the seafood. If you want to take a walk on the Southwest side, try the blackened tilapia tacos or shrimp tacos. Feeling more daring? Take on the Chilean Sea Bass stuffed with shrimp and peppers.
El Tiempos are straight up scattered throughout Houston — and with good reason. They get packed on weekends, full of dates, families, and big groups.
Make a reservation or sip on a margarita from the bar while you wait for a table. Once seated, start off with the queso. The thick, crispy homemade chips won’t disappoint.
Steak fajitas are an El Tiempo hallmark. But if you just can’t decide, you can bet on the Vegas Combo Plate. It comes with the sizzling beef fajita, crunchy beef taco and cheese enchilada.
Chacho’s is here to satisfy your Tex-Mex needs 24/7. It doesn’t get more casual than these dine in/drive-through spots known for hefty nachos and strong margaritas. Chacho’s salsa bar is a sight to behold, with mango salsa as the crowd favorite.
You won’t see many families gathering for meals here. Instead, expect customers a few drinks in looking for late night eats, preferably carbs covered in cheese.
The fresh, soft tortillas at Lupe are second to none, and some would say ginormous. Browned to perfection, the flour tortillas manage to be both thin and chewy at the same time. The corn alternative are on the fluffier side, and still a knockout.
In addition to tortillas, Lupe is known for its signature Steak Lupe. The big slab of beef comes out sizzling, smothered in pico and melted cheese.
The Don’Key Mexican Food
5010 Spencer Highway
If you’re looking for a meal with leftovers for days, head to Don’Key. Portion control is optional at this beloved Pasadena restaurant, where fajitas for two could easily feed four people. The queso flameado is famed for being off the charts, and its cheesy brethren don’t disappoint: queso a la parilla, queso Cozeumel and even queso Fajita, with fajita meat mixed in with the melted Monterrey Jack cheese.
Try out the wide array of Don’Keyritas, with liquors like Grand Marnier, Amaretto and Midori.
13180 Fm 529
This authentic (and now often packed) find in Sugar Land offers fresh, hot specialties like Stuffed Pollo, two grilled pechugas stuffed with spinach and Amanda Steak with ranchero sauce and Monterrey jack cheese. It’s a popular breakfast spot, courtesy of its chicken chilaquiles and more American fare like fluffy pancakes.
They put a spin on your traditional enchiladas with the Mole Enchiladas, topping the chicken dish with the classic gravy.
La Guadalupana Bakery & Cafe
This sweet little spot is dedicated to serving the best baked goods and breakfast. It’s colorful but as casual as it gets. You’ll definitely find signature breakfast tacos, but they treat the Most Important Meal of The Day well, with savory tortas, tostadas, gorditas and more.
The family-owned fixture specializes in all sorts of baked goods. The almond croissant, churros and flan are top-notch. No meal would be complete without a Mexican coke, cinnamon coffee or Horchata.