Tex Mex. That, people, is what we really eat here in H-town. Not Mexican food. Oh, I mean, there are places to get real Mexican food (Hugo's, 100% Taquito, etc.), but when a Houstonian suggests going out for Mexican food, he generally has in mind a place with chips on the table and a fifty-gallon vat of queso bubbling somwhere in the back.
Not that there's anything wrong with that. Tex-Mex is our regional contribution to the umbrella cuisine of Mexican food and we should embrace it. So what if our indigenous terroir tastes of Velveeta? It tastes good, and that's more than you can say for many others. Besides which, Tex-Mex properly reflects much about Houston and Texas generally, including our agriculture (beef, corn), our ethnicities, and -- as demonstrated by the number of pleasing, 1960s-style eateries remaining (see, e.g., Felix's) -- the fact that Houston first came into its own with the post-war oil boom.
Which brings me to La Mexicana, located for many years now at Montrose and Fairview. La Mex is not, strictly speaking, a Tex-Mex joint. There's lots of Tex-Mex on the menu -- combo plates, cheese enchiladas, chile con queso galore -- but there's also a fair number of more traditional Mexican dishes. La Mexicana offers a brilliant guisado de puerco (a Platonic dish), a rich, brick-red stew of tender pork slow-cooked in a dried-pepper (though not overly spicy) sauce, as well as nopalitos and, for breakfast, chilaquiles -- the classic day-old tortilla dish with queso fresca and tomato broth. In other words, there's plenty on the menu for both Tex-Mex traditionalists, like my mother-in-law (who regards dishes lacking a friendly blanket of cheese with suspicion, if not outright disregard), and for those interested in something a little different.
First, the chips and salsa are excellent. There are two salsa: a vibrant green tomatillo salsa, often quite hot, and a dark red chile salsa. North -- our five year old chile-head -- thinks, and loudly opines, that the green salsa is immensely, immeasurably great, and that the red salsa is desperately, almost unbelievably inferior. I like them both.
Tex-Mex trads will particularly enjoy the beef fajitas. (Ignore the chicken fajitas. Technically, there's no such thing anyway, and they're typically pale and undistinguished here.) It's the usual sizzling iron skillet of meat, but at La Mex it comes piled high with grilled scallions, lemon slices, cilantro and japalenos.
The aromatic effect of all these fragrant additions makes a significant difference. The fresh-made flour tortillas are simply fantastic. Just try finding anything like these in New York, people. Ain't gonna happen.
Also excellent is the sopa Azteca, basically a more authentic version of the always-popular (if often-bland, tasteless, and crappy) tortilla soup. Why anyone in their right mind would pay $7.95 for tortilla soup at Chili's instead of $4.95 for the vastly superior sopa Azteca at La Mexicana is beyond me. Maybe it has something to do with Americans being fat, tasteless slobs who belly up to the trough without any regard for what they're eating? Perhaps.
Anyway, a word about the margaritas: cold, delicious, and maybe a hint of mint to them? The wife disagrees about the mint. Get frozen, never on the rocks.
Finally, the vibe at La Mex is very Montrose and very welcoming. A well-modulated mix of couples, families, gays, college kids, and the other neighborhood residents. Sit outside: there's generally a breeze even in the summer, and the crackheads stop harassing you once they recognize you as a regular.