Still digesting our Lankford Grocery burgers, we trundled off to a new-to-us Mex-Mex place for lunch. El Tiempo has three locations, we went to the one on Richmond Avenue. They have received uniformly favorable reviews on Chowhound but still we weren’t sure what to expect, and from the street the restaurant doesn’t look like much. Parking is tight (they have valet, but we found a spot on our own). There’s an adult entertainment establishment next door where they waive the cover charge if you present your dinner check from El Tiempo — that kind of thing can be a bad sign, but in this case, it turned out to be merely a business arrangement and no omen at all. (We did not visit said adult establishment, despite the promise of waived cover!)
Inside ET is much bigger than it looks from the outside, and has the kind of faux Mexican decor that one expects from this kind of local chain. Our server was great, attentive, multilingual, happy to explain and recommend. Tortilla chips were fresh and the red salsa was really good if a bit watery, and both texture and flavor were kind of minestrone-like, in a good way. Green salsa was pasty. I ordered a combo, not realizing that ET is Mex-Mex not Tex-Mex, thus my refried beans ended up subpar. But the green Mexican rice was excellent, and the combo elements were also very good: a cheese enchilada to rival the best Tex-Mex, a pork tamale, and a crisp chicken flauta — I ordered the potato flauta, but no matter. It was tasty.
Mrs. Me enjoyed her chicken enchiladas verde, and Senior Mrs. Me got (on our server’s recommendation — “if you don’t like them, I will eat them” he said) the crab enchiladas, and they were excellent, huge sweet chunks of crab in a bath of cheese and sauce. Somehow we all finished our lunch despite not being all that hungry. It was really good. Large portions, but not deadly large. Only negative: El Tiempo is a Pepsi (no Coke) establishment. We persevered.
And that should have been our final meal of the day, except we had dinner reservations with friends at the Canyon Cafe (5000 Westheimer), where we have eaten happily in past years. CC is in a strip mall and seems like it should be a local chain, just feels that way, and turns out it is a small chain but not really “local” with other branches in San Antonio, Phoenix, and St. Louis of all places. The service is always great, and the food — Southwest cuisine — is also always great.
The food also comes in Texas-sized portions. Deadly large, pretty much. They start you off with unlimited tortilla chips and salsa, and it is hard to stop eating them; the chips are unusual in that they are dusted with not only salt, but also (I think) sugar and cumin and possibly something else. Fresh and crunchy and addictive, and the salsa is good too. They also know how to make a margarita.
I ordered what I ordered the last time I was there: chicken fried steak. They do it right, but I had forgotten they do it twice: the dish comes with not one but two full-size chicken-fried steaks on a bed of mashed potatoes and sauteed veggies. It’s all fantastically good, but it also broke me. I got one steak in, and tried a bite of steak #2 and could go no further. And since we were leaving the next morning, the leftovers were of no use to me. Normally I would gladly eat leftover chicken-fried steak for breakfast, but I knew that I wouldn’t be hungry again for at least 24 hours. For a while I wasn’t sure I would even make it out alive; I could literally feel the calories and cholesterol surging through my system. If you are reading this, I made it. Whew.
Our smarter friends enjoyed less excessive dishes like a baked, unbreaded chili relleno and enchiladas. Canyon Cafe is doing some good, somewhat inventive, what I would call New Mexico-style cooking, and I’ll go back someday, but I think my chicken-fried steak days are behind me. Especially if I’ve had Tex-or-Mex-Mex for lunch, which when in Houston is quite likely.
So that was pretty much the trip, although as always we got sandwiches at Antone’s for the plane, and amazingly I was hungry by the time we were in the air. Antone’s rules, their “Original” sub with chow chow is incredible. They also do a mean potato salad.