A living museum of Tex-Mex at Robb Walsh’s El Real, Houston

Googling around the internets this morning, reflecting on a fascinating dinner and conversation last night with legendary Texas food writer Robb Walsh and his protégé Katharine Shilcutt (both magister and alumna have been nominated for this year’s James Beard food writing awards, btw), I found the above and wonderful photograph Tula Borunda Guttierez in an archived copy of Texas Monthly, January 1986.

Robb wisely insisted that I have the Enchiladas Borunda last night at his newly opened, living and breathing, museum of “vintage” Tex-Mex cuisine and restaurant, El Real in Houston: stacked as opposed to rolled enchiladas, a signature dish of the Old Cafe Borunda in Marfa, Texas, a restaurant that he calls the historic epicenter of Tex-Mex cuisine.

I also found this utterly riveting high school essay, dated 1965 and composed in Marfa, by Lupe Lujan, “Love, Laughter, and Enchiladas: A History of The Old Borunda Cafe and the Women Who Made it Famous.” I devoured the entire essay this morning over my coffee (don’t miss the episode where the café is visited by Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor!).

El Real is the most-talked-about restaurant in Houston right now. It is, after all, the brainchild of Houston restaurateur aristocracy (from the dudes at Reef et alia) and el rey of tejano food writing, Robb, who literally wrote the book on Tex-Mex cuisine.

I’ll leave the punditry to the pundits and will merely inform you that the stacked Enchiladas Borunda (above, stuffed with braised pork and topped with fried egg) were delicious (“I’m glad to see we made you sweat,” said Robb.). They were preceded by the sine qua non of Tex-Mex cuisine, Queso with Picadillo (made rigorously with
, noted Robb), and an excellent heaping ladleful of Posoles (below).

Be sure not to miss the Tex-Mex museum in the gallery above the dining room floor and don’t hesitate to grill Robb with questions about Tex-Mex cuisine and its place in the culinary canon of Americana (as I did). He’s there every night and he loves to talk about this super fun project.

It was remarkable to watch and hear the interaction between Robb and his hand-picked successor Katharine, now the food critic at the Houston Press, the city’s weekly alternative rag. She worked in corporate America until Robb discovered her awesome blog, She Eats. Now they’re both up for James Beard awards!

Robb talked about his background in advertising and how his early gigs in food writing didn’t pay. As we got up from the table, he looked around the packed dining room and waxed, “Isn’t it incredible? I made money while I was having dinner!”

9 thoughts on “A living museum of Tex-Mex at Robb Walsh’s El Real, Houston

  1. @Alfonso and @Tracie P we SO NEED to get to Marfa THIS summer… ;)

    @Samantha you would so love our fav Tex-Mex spots in Austin… as a matter of fact, you would love Texas and the vibe here… there’s a space in our parking lot whenever you want/need it lady! :-)

  2. @Sgt Sassafrass you’ll note that I referred to it as what Walsh considers the historic epicenter. I think that even he would be hard-pressed to call it the “birth-place.” Natural wine and Tex-Mex… the two go hand in hand don’t they…

    • @JT isn’t that amazing? I couldn’t put it down! Can you imagine when Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor walked in? Also loved the gun-fighting put down by the matriarch story… :-)

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