In Search of Good Tex-Mex

HuevosRancherosBy the time this is posted, I should be well on my way to Texas for SXSW and a family visit in San Antonio. Just the thought of my trip is giving me a major craving for Tex-Mex food. Tex-Mex has definitely gotten a bad rap the last few years. It’s become synonymous with any greasy dish smothered in cheese and chili con carne.

Most of my childhood was spent in San Antonio. When I think of Tex-Mex, I think of dishes I grew up with like migas, barbacoa, puffy tacos. It’s hard to find a restaurant in Oklahoma City that includes all the hometown dishes I love, but it’s been pretty easy to find local restaurants that do one or two of my favorites really well. I also recreate some dishes at home.

Barbacoa

Barbacoa is basically any meat that’s been slow-cooked. The name may sound familiar because it’s where the word barbecue comes from. Barbacoa is a special dish we had every once in awhile with extended family at my Aunt Irma’s house. I never had a problem with the main ingredient being the head of a cow. It’s often cooked with goat meat, as well. If it’s not referred to specifically as “Barbocoa de Cabeza,” you can assume it’s goat meat instead (especially if that makes it easier to give it a try). It’s so flavorful and moist that there’s usually not much added to it other then a little salt. Yummy.

I was referred by my friend Henry to a restaurant on the corner of SW 29th and Agnew called Tortilleria & Rosticeria Islas. They have good barbacoa. The meat is so tender it just falls apart. Order by the half-pound and it comes with corn or, on request, flour tortillas.

Tortilleria & Rosticeria Islas
2404 Southwest 29th Street
Oklahoma City, OK 73119-2004
(405) 632-5382

Huevos Rancheros

Huevos Rancheros is usually a fried egg on a fried tortilla served with ranchero sauce. Ranchero sauce is kind of a Mexican version of home-style marinara sauce with roasted tomatoes and thin slices of pepper and onion cooked down with various spices. The flavors continue to develop the longer you simmer it.

My mother orders this regularly when we go out to breakfast. It’s a dish I’ve always wanted to love because her plate seems so vibrant and fun with yellows, whites, red, and greens, but I never really appreciated it as a child.

It wasn’t until recently that I tasted Huevos Rancheros again at Café Kacao. Wow, was I wrong about flavor as a kid.

The version at Café Kacao is amazing. They fry handmade corn tortillas and lay them over a plate of black beans and top them with sunny-side-up eggs, ranchero sauce, pico de gallo, sour cream, and slices of avocado (which, by the way, is a million times better then guacomole.) This dish alone has made me fall in love with Café Kacao.

Café Kacao
3325 N. Classen Blvd
Oklahoma City, OK 73118
(405) 602-2883

Migas

Migas are strips of corn tortilla mixed with scrambled egg. My mother and grandmother would make migas for breakfast on Saturday mornings. My mother had a way of getting the strips just the right amount of crispy so they were somewhere in between a chip and corn tortilla. As a little girl, I preferred them with a little cheddar, but now I love to top mine with fresh salsa and queso fresco.

I found pretty close-to-home version on the Big Truck Tacos breakfast menu. With a yummy pico de gallo and cheese, it’s really filling and good cure for that Saturday morning slump.

I must say though, when I feel perky enough to cook for myself on Saturday mornings, it’s a fairly easy dish to make at home. I like to cut my corn tortillas into strips and fry them in just enough oil to coat the pan. Once they’ve crisped up a little the corners start to curl up. I toss in the uncooked scrambled eggs and add salt, pepper, salsa, and queso fresco to taste.

Big Truck Tacos
530 NW 23rd St
Oklahoma City, OK 73103
(405) 525-8226

Spinach Enchiladas

The only way I would eat spinach as a child was in spinach enchiladas. Nowadays, spinach is one of my favorite ingredients, but spinach enchiladas have always been one of my all-time favorites meals. I’ve tried a few restaurant versions here, but really what takes me back home is a recipe I found on Rick Bayless’s website. I’m not sure he needs an introduction these days, but he’s a fourth generation Oklahoman who majored in Spanish and Latin American studies at OU before moving to Michigan for his doctorate. Until he did Top Chef Master’s last year and exploded into pop-culture, I knew him as the host of a great PBS cooking show “Mexico-One Plate at a Time.”

A good Mexican recipe also makes a handy excuse to take a trip to a Mexican grocery. I’m partial to El Mariachi Super Mercado near NW 16th and May. It’s across from the wonderful Cocina de Guatlinda and the parking lot is also home to one of my favorite taco trucks – Mariscos!

Inside El Mariachi, bargains and treasures await. The store carries limes that usually only cost a quarter. There’s an assortment of Mexican quesos. (On a side note: I prefer to use queso fresco whenever I can. It pairs well with a lot of foods and I know if I spend the money on nice brand, it won’t go to waste in my fridge after one recipe.) A lot of Mexican recipes list substitutes for Mexican cheeses, but I really don’t advise using any substitutes, especially now that places with a good selection like El Mariachi exist in Oklahoma City.

There are a variety of Mexican sodas made with real sugar instead of corn syrup. At the bakery, or panderia, you can usually pick 3 or 4 sweet treats for under $1. Seriously, just $1. The bright pink and orange cookies have always been a favorite of mine. I wish I could track down a recipe for them.

They also have a great selection of peppers in the produce area and the most extensive line of Goya products I’ve seen in Oklahoma City. On your way to the check out stand, I’d also suggest picking up a Mexican ice cream bar if you haven’t had one. They’re delicious and fairly low in calories compared to regular ice cream. It’s a fun place to spend a couple of hours on a Saturday.

El Mariachi Supermercado #2
3020 Northwest 16th Street
Oklahoma City, OK 73106
(405) 942-1529

 

Overall, I’ve definitely found a few ways to satisfy my Tex-Mex palate in Oklahoma City. The only thing that has managed to elude my taste buds here is “The Puffy Taco.” It’s basically a regular ground beef taco with lettuce, tomatoes, and bright yellow cheese, served in a freshly made, deep-fried corn tortilla. I’m sure there’s one out there in Oklahoma City just waiting for me to discover it.

(c) Kim Hickerson All rights reserved. Kim Says: If you know where I can find a good puffy taco location in Oklahoma City, e-mail me!)

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