Sunday, January 25, 2009

Tex-Mex at its Finest: El Tiempo Cantina - Houston

What would a visit to Texas without Mexican food? Sure, there’s mexican food in Mississippi, but I avoid it like the plague. I’m on the hunt for good food, not an excuse to guzzle cheap margaritas and old tortilla chips. Anyway, back to Tex-Mex, at my Uncle’s recommendation, we made our way to El Tiempo Cantina on Richmond avenue.

Owned and operated by the Laurenzo family for over 55 years, el Tiempo Cantina at first glance seems like any other mexican restaurant. The building is done up to be like a Mexican hacienda with huge, exposed wooden beams and loads of textured plaster on the walls and the ceiling. A nice touch is the family portraits throughout the restaurant, I doubt the pictures are really the Laurenzo family, but still a nice touch.

First things first, as soon as we sat down, we were greeted with heaping bowls of tortilla chips.

I know I sound hypocritical, but I enjoy real, freshly made tortilla chips, not the crap from a bag. There chips were lightly salted and had just a hint of lime, and they went magnificently with the dipping sauces.

On the left is the house salsa, and on the right is a sour cream sauce. First the salsa; served warm, this was beyond delicious. The sour cream was no slouch, it provided a cooling contrast to the hot, and mildly spicy salsa. These sauces were so good we took home a pint of each.

In retrospect it was a foolish decision, but the waiter asked if we cared for an appetizer, and why not? We ordered a chili queso dip.

Sure, this could have been nothing more than cheese and a can of rotel vegetables, but this was a filling, and delicious cheese dip. However the real stand out was the tortilla slices. They were fried, but thick like a pita. My best guess is that they took raw tortilla dough and fried it, instead of baking the tortilla, slicing and then frying. Regardless, the queso dip was addictive.

Lately, I have been fascinated with the idea of carnitas, especially the recipe from the Paupered Chef. So when I saw carnitas on the menu, I knew I had to try them. In their original form, carnitas are large chunks of pork shoulder than have been fried for hours, producing a crunchy exterior and a moist, delicate interior.

While I was busy pondering carnitas, my carnitas tacos arrived.

Those are massive tacos, complete with shredded lectuce, diced tomatoes, and loads of grated queso fresco.

The best thing about the taco is the carnitas inside.

Not skimping at all, these were slightly crunchy and full of flavor. It didn’t take long for me to realize that by putting some of the hot salsa on the tacos,

perfection could be achieved.

In addition to the overflowing abundance of the plate, I was given a nice side of green rice.

And a small bowl of pork and bean soup

Quite frankly, they could have left off the soup and rice as they were nothing more than afterthoughts compared to the carnitas tacos.

Despite my reputation of abhorring Mexican food,I couldn’t have been happier with my meal at el Tiempo Cantina. This is what Tex-mex should be: fresh, home made, and bursting with flavor.

El Tiempo Cantina on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

Misha said...

Correction: El Tiempo opened in the 90's and Lorenzo's first restaurant, Ninfa's, has been around since the 70's.