Temples of Tex-Mex: 6 iconic Houston-area restaurants that have withstood the test of time

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Tex-Mex -- it’s the national cuisine of Texas (Yes, you read that right).

Who doesn’t love a breakfast burrito choc-full of refried beans and cheddar cheese? Okay, not your fancy? How ‘bout one of these: Yellow-cheese enchiladas, fajitas, puffy tacos, nachos, flautas, chile con carne (a.k.a. chili.), or guacamole. Tex-Mex is our breakfast of champions, our comfort food, our hangover cure, late night snack, etc. Some of us (yours truly included) manage to eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner without skipping a beat. It’s cultural significance is undeniable and its ubiquity inescapable here in Houston, nay, Texas. Walk into any of the state’s Mexican restaurants and you’re liable to find at least a few Tex-Mex dishes on the menu, if not realize that despite all the establishment’s claims you are actually in a Tex-Mex restaurant. Really, there’s honestly no way to quantify just how much guac, queso and salsa the average Houstonian consumes annually (Who can keep count?), but we surmise it’s a heck of a lot.

Tex-Mex has been a vital part of the city’s culinary scene for over a century. It appeared in Houston back in the 1800s when street vendors began peddling Mexican food tempered for Anglo palates. By 1907, the city’s first Tex-Mex brick-and-mortar, Original Mexican Restaurant, opened. Over the next several decades, Tex-Mex skyrocketed in popularity, becoming a mainstay culinary cuisine in the region. Sadly, many of the city’s early Tex-Mex eateries have vanished (R.I.P. Original Mexican Restaurant, Felix Mexican Restaurant).

Fortunately, not all of the area’s oldest Tex-Mex restaurants are a thing of the past. Several longstanding Tex-Mex stalwarts have managed to keep their doors open for decades. Clearly, these temples of Tex-Mex get it right -- from savory fajitas to simply satisfying flour tortillas, there’s something delicious at each of these iconic Houston-area institutions.

Listed chronologically by opening date, here’s a look at the longstanding Houston-area Tex-Mex restaurants still going strong after decades in business.

The Original Mexican Cafe (1916, Galveston)

Located on the corner of 14th St. and Market St. in Galveston’s Historic District, The Original Mexican Cafe is the longest continually-operating restaurant on Galveston Island still at its original location.

1401 Market Street, Galveston, Texas 77550

Molina’s Cantina (1941)

Houston’s oldest family-owned Tex-Mex restaurant got its start in 1941 when Raul Molina and his wife Mary purchased the restaurant where Raul had been employed for 10 years -- the Old Monterrey Restaurant, located at 1919 West Gray. Throughout the decades, Raul and his sons opened and moved various Molina’s Cantina locations throughout Houston. Raul’s grandsons now own and operate the three locations currently operating. Many of the restaurant’s original recipes remain on the menu.

3801 Bellaire Boulevard, Houston, Texas 77025

Spanish Village Restaurant (1953)

Describing itself as a “A little bit of Mexico in the heart of Houston,” this longstanding Tex-Mex restaurant has offered a classic Tex-Mex menu for nearly seven decades.

4720 Almeda Road, Houston, Texas 77004

El Patio (1964)

El Patio first opened in 1961 in Rice Village. Shortly after, the restaurant changed hands and locations, migrating to its well-known Westheimer location. In the late-1960s, the restaurant’s Club No Minors opened its doors. In 2008, when Houston’s then-oldest operating Mexican restaurant Felix closed its doors, El Patio “swept in to save their beloved recipes and serves them with pride – especially the Chile con Queso,” the restaurant’s website reads.

6444 Westheimer Roadd, Houston, Texas 77057

Los Tios (1970)

Opened in 1970, Los Tios has been a Houston Tex-Mex staple for over 50 years. There are currently five Houston-area locations, the San Felipe location serving as the chain’s flagship restaurant. The longstanding stalwart claims it was the first eatery to introduce frozen margaritas to the city.

5161 San Felipe Street #100, Houston, Texas 77056

The Original Ninfa’s on Navigation (1973)

Frozen or on the rocks, The Original Ninfa’s iconic Ninfarita is a Houston must, at least for those of us over the age of 21, that it is. Why? Here’s a couple of reasons: The restaurant has been a Houston institution for over 40 years and its margaritas regularly land on “best of” lists.

2704 Navigation Boulevard, Houston, Texas 77003

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Whether it was a great meal or a special moment, share the fondest memories you’ve made at one of these longstanding Houston-area Tex-Mex restaurants in the comments.


About the Author:

Briana Zamora-Nipper joined the KPRC 2 digital team as a community associate producer in 2019. During her time in H-Town, she's covered everything from fancy Houston homes to tropical storms. Previously, she worked at Austin Monthly Magazine and KAGS TV, where she earned a Regional Edward R. Murrow award for her work as a digital producer.