Q: My fiance is from Dallas and laments the lack of true Tex-Mex, especially beef enchiladas with red chili con carne. Any recommendations?
A: As someone who very briefly lived in Dallas, I feel your fiance’s pain. Now that El Pasoan John Lewis’ Tex-Mex side project has ended its tenure at Workshop, classics such as queso and enchiladas are supposed to make occasional appearances at Lewis Barbecue, but there’s nothing currently on the calendar.
A Tex-Mex enchilada is both a very specific thing, and a massive category. As The New York Times noted in a 2016 story, there are 19 different enchiladas on the menu at Sylvia’s in Houston, selected by Texas Monthly as one of the best Tex-Mex restaurants in the state. Generally, though, when Texans get a hankering for home, they have in mind a cheese enchilada slathered with smoky chili gravy and diced onions. (Not that there’s anything wrong with the enchilada your fiancé is craving!) Its defining flavors are yellow cheese, either cheddar or Velveeta; beef fat; chili powder and cumin.
Since nearly every Mexican restaurant in town serves some kind of enchilada, I haven’t come close to trying them all. But I did the next best thing, which was to scan photographs of local enchiladas online, and it’s clear that very few places around here are taking a Tex-Mex approach. (To restate what most folks already know: Tex-Mex is a legitimate and delicious regional cuisine, rather than a knockoff or poor imitation of Mexican food). Many of the enchiladas look great, but they’re not saucy or cheesy enough to please a sentimental Texan.
But all is not lost! As other readers pointed out on The Post and Courier Food Facebook page, where this question was first posted, the enchiladas served at Zia Taqueria on James Island might well fit the bill. Another great option is Cinco Tex-Mex in Mount Pleasant, which is one of the few restaurants around here to advertise its Texas allegiance. When I reviewed the restaurant, it was still finding its footing, but the tortilla chips – particularly when prepared as nachos – were superlative. So long as those chips are half as good as they were, I can guarantee your trip won’t be wasted, even if I can’t promise an end to your fiance’s lamentations.