HOUGuide

The Best Tex-Mex Restaurants In Houston

Tex-Mex isn’t just a type of food. It’s a way of life. Here is your guide to the best Tex-Mex restaurants in Houston.
The Best Tex-Mex Restaurants In Houston image

photo credit: Richard Casteel

When it comes to Tex-Mex in Houston, we all have our priorities. Perhaps you have an undying allegiance to gooey queso, demand perfectly slushed margaritas that require two hands to hold, or want fajitas that come out so hot and sizzling that they could put the Texas sun out of business. Some of us want all three at the same time. Fortunately, Houston is home to funky spots with mariachi bands, beloved neighborhood restaurants full of regulars, and landmarks that have been around for decades. These are the best Tex-Mex restaurants in the city.

THE SPOTS

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Tex-Mex

East Downtown

$$$$Perfect For:Walk-InsCasual Weeknight DinnerEating At The Bar
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A little rustic and a little retro, the Tex-Mex restaurant HiWay Cantina in EaDo comes from the team behind EZ’s Liquor Lounge and Lightnin’s Good Times. The food fits the archetype for a standard Tex-Mex spot (chile con queso, fajitas giant prickly pear margaritas that require two people to finish.) It’s good, but it’s the energy at Hiway Cantina that we want to bottle up and take home. Solo diners at the bar chat with bartenders like they’re old buddies. And the roar of laughter from groups of friends feels like part of the background music. After spending an hour or two swaying to music and eating enchiladas, we’re motivated to keep the fun going at a bar down the street.

photo credit: Richard Casteel

$$$$Perfect For:Casual Weeknight Dinner

There are two Irma’s, both are downtown and only a few minutes away from each other, but you’ll know you're at Irma’s Original because of the menu that changes daily and the kitschy decor. The tiny dining room transports you to what looks like the inside of a grandma’s living room. Shelves overflow with dolls, floral dishware sets, framed photos, and just about any other tchotchke you can imagine. The daily menu is whatever the chefs feel like making, which means you should a) come here more than once and b) hope they feel like making chicken mole on the day you dine. The mole is bold and sweet, with a subtle heat and is served with rice that ensures you don’t miss any sauce.


photo credit: Kirsten Gilliam

RESERVE A TABLE

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Open since 1973, The Original Ninfa’s On Navigation in the Second Ward is a cornerstone of Tex-Mex history. Mama Ninfa is credited as the “inventor of the fajita,” and as you might expect, you’ll see staff carrying enormous trays full of them every few minutes like they’re the only thing on the menu. And while the menu is in fact huge, you should order the tender, subtly spicy skirt steak fajitas—or the suiza enchiladas topped with green crema Mexicana. If this place is open, it’s busy—so you’ll have plenty of people watching to do as you split a pitcher of their signature Ninfaritas, while you hope the next incoming tray of flaming fajitas meat has your name on it. There’s also another location in the Galleria.


With the perfect ratio of chili con carne to cheese to corn tortillas, a single bite of the cheese enchiladas at Tia Maria’s will make you feel like a kid again. Just like the enchiladas, this classic Tex-Mex spot on the border of Spring Branch and Garden Oaks has gone unchanged for decades. A thick blanket of vinyl and plastic covers every table, the queso is more liquid than solid, and the warm salsa arrives in a little plastic molcajete. So bask in the glow of the neon chili lights as you sip a mind-erasing margarita alone at Happy Hour, or with 20 or more friends. And don’t forget to load up at the free soft serve machine on the way out.


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Where To Eat When You’re Visiting Houston


You can see why Sylvia’s has plenty of regulars. This place is relaxed and familial, with accommodating servers who will bend the menu to meet your needs and likings. But really, everyone is here for the massive selection of enchiladas. All named after cities in Mexico and Texas, they come in just about any iteration you can think of: covered in signature chili gravy, spicy mole, or salsa verde. Try the mini enchilada sampler so you can work your way through the menu and narrow down your favorite.


Teotihuacan is an institution. Greater Heights residents have been packing out the parking lot of this bright pink Tex-Mex restaurant for decades. Nearly every wall is covered with murals, beer posters, and neon signs. The chile con queso is a necessary accomplice to any order. It’s always the perfect, drippy consistency, perfect for dredging beef fajitas or flautas or tacos al carbon. Teo can host big parties, but you can also just squeeze into a booth with a friend for a quick Happy Hour or pancake breakfast. Service is quick, and so is the effect of their boozy margaritas.


The oldest continually operating Tex-Mex restaurant in Houston, Molina’s Cantina has been around for over 80 years and has since expanded to three locations, but our favorite is at Braeswood Place on Bellaire. Molina’s is a family restaurant for whoever your family is. Sure, some people will be glued to the flatscreen TVs to watch the Rockets game, but most are here for the classic family dining feel that hasn’t really changed over the years. And of course, there’s the decadent enchiladas rancheras and chile con queso with spicy taco meat and makes the best use of their warm housemade tortilla chips.


Dating back to 1964, El Patio in the Galleria is a classic spot that guarantees a good time. Come here for caramelized beef fajitas with heat that sneaks up on you, ice blue margaritas that pack a serious punch, and their Felix queso, a creamier, chunkier version of chile con queso. If there isn’t a live mariachi band playing in the dining area, waltz into their connected 21+ club, aptly named “Club No Minors,” for live music, and maybe another one of those margaritas.


Maybe it’s the cheeky sign exclaiming “bienvenidos y’all” at the front of the restaurant, but Goode Co. Kitchen & Cantina feels like an effortless Tex-Mex blend. The Heights joint has some of the strongest margaritas on the Northside, guacamole served plain or dressed up with pickled onions and jalepeño, sizzling skirt steak fajitas, and crispy tortilla chips. Come for the cozy and proudly rustic energy that screams Texas ranch, and stay for the queso-smothered enchiladas.


Taqueria Del Sol is a restaurant inside of a rainbow. The kaleidoscope of colors, from the bright orange walls to the murals inlaid in every table to the different streamers and garlands strewn across the ceiling, make you feel like celebrating something, even if it’s just getting a simple plate of tacos for dinner. This family-run Tex-Mex and Mexican restaurant in the Greater East End has been a pillar of the community for over three decades. Grab breakfast tacos in the morning for less than $2, conchas from the panaderia, or share some carne asada at night with the family. You can also rent the banquet hall for a queso-fueled party.


The original location of El Tiempo in Upper Kirby is a great reminder to fear your successors. Started by the son of Mama Ninfa (of Ninfa’s on Navigation), El Tiempo has been a Tex-Mex institution for 25 years. And the Houstonian debate about which spot is better has raged on for about the same amount of time. While these two family-run restaurants are strikingly similar (family relics line the walls, high archways, and wooden tables ready for the hottest of enchilada plates), at El Tiempo there’s all the fun and food of Ninfa’s but you can hear your own thoughts, even when it’s busy. And only El Tiempo serves smoking hot carnitas served over a bed of coals. Let them sizzle while the table knocks back pitcher-after-pitcher of house margaritas and bowls of queso. 

The aroma of handmade flour and corn tortillas welcomes you at the entrance of El Mirador, a low-key Mexican diner in Magnolia Park. The piping hot tortillas, along with an all-day breakfast menu, make this spot an East End beacon—hence the recurring lighthouse motif. The interior feels like someone patchworked together a Tex-Mex restaurant, a mid-century soda fountain counter, and a grandma’s seaside cottage. But everything starts to make sense when you pull a tortilla through jammy huevos divorciados or dip into a bowl of homestyle menudo. It may be eclectic, but the simple food is all the light you need.


Tony’s Mexican Restaurant in Garden Oaks keeps recipes super classic, like their ground beef enchiladas. Their greatest hit is the peppery al carbon mini street tacos that magically melt into the flour tortillas. And most importantly, the frozen margaritas here taste like candy and happiness. This no-frills spot has been open since the ‘90s, is filled with longtime regulars, and at least one of them will be at least one group celebrating a birthday at any given time. But even on your first visit here, the formally dressed staff wastes no time making you feel welcome, like you’ve been coming here since they first opened their doors.


At Candente, a Tex-Mex restaurant in Montrose, there are hits and misses, but with the right combination plate or some sizzling fajitas, a meal here can be a good time. The dining room has some industrial/diner vibes, but the breezy patio feels like a modern lunch spot that’s fitting of the artsy neighborhood. While there are some traditional Mexican dishes at Candente, you should stick to Tex-Mex pillars here, like skirt steak fajitas, brisket enchiladas, and frozen margaritas.


Not much has changed about Mi Sombrero since it opened in 1978, and we’re kind of into that. The rough-around-the-edges interior is part of the charm, as are the rock-bottom prices. You’ll find all the classic Tex-Mex standards here: actually spicy salsa, multiple dishes covered in hot queso, employees who know every regular diner’s order by heart, and an endlessly convertible dining room in case you roll up with more than 10 people. Go to Mi Sombrero if you’re looking for classic, quick and dirty, Houston Tex-Mex, especially if you live around the Garden Oaks area.


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