FOR THOSE AMONG US FORTUNATE ENOUGH TO BE SOUTH TEXAS BORN, THE FOOD AT SYLVIA’S ENCHILADA KITCHEN TASTES OF HOME. THE BROWN GRAVY, CREAMY, DREAMY CHEESE ENCHILADAS – ONE WHOPPING PLATE OF NOSTALGIA.
For us transplants, Sylvia’s Tex Mex menu is a geography lesson and an introduction to the culinary richness rooted in the cultural diversity of this regional cooking style. Tex Mex – a cooking style that emerged from the glory days of our republic, when borders were open, populations fluid and all tortillas were handmade. Dare we say 19th-century fusion food?
Owner, enthusiastic powerhouse and Enchilada Queen, SYLVIA CASARES, Brownsville born, learned from her abuela and her madre but she took cooking one step further – studying food science and home economics at university and working for a decade at Uncle Ben’s research and new product development kitchens. She honors the techniques of her family mentors (the brown gravy is made old school style with the toasting of chilies and long simmering times) and uses the food science knowledge to make the home flavors work on the large scale production her restaurants demand. A massive challenge as neither mom nor grandmother cooked from recipes.
“I don’t do short cuts. Short cuts cost you flavor” is Casares’ mantra. She believes in fresh and high-quality ingredients. And she believes in enchiladas.
“I am all about enchiladas! I am the Enchilada Ambassador,” she chuckles. “What is it about tacos? Tacos! All I hear is tacos. I want enchiladas to be the next tacos.” While Sylvia ponders the solution, a dinner guest pipes up, “An enchilada taco?” Margarita-fueled laughter erupts as Sylvia shakes her head no.
The 18 flavored enchilada menu is divided between the north and south side of the Rio Grande, all named for a town either in Texas or Mexico. Flights of either can be ordered. One in particular haunts my food dreams, the Sarita, from the north menu. The crunch of fresh corn, the hint of lime wrapped in the wonder of a fresh tortilla, sauced with a light, delicate cream sauce and just a whisper of cheese. Another fave: Refugio, a cheese enchilada with a beefy chili gravy.
Anxious to please, Sylvia is the consummate hostess and her menu reflects her desire to appease the wishes of dining guests. There are 3 variations of guacamole, including the Frontera where guests may mix their own, and endless offerings of margaritas, including a respectable agave sweetened, fresh lime juice skinny ’rita.
If enchiladas are not your bag, try for a mixed grill that has something to please every member of your party – grilled shrimp, sea bass filet with tomatillo mole, chicken breast, quail and beef fajitas. MY TIP: Go directly to the tender, tasty beef fajitas. “It took me two years to figure out how to rock fajitas,” touts Casares. Two years well spent.
Her gracious deliciousness extends even to dessert. Traditional luscious, moist Tres Leches or a dark chocolate version? Both are excellent. Best choice? One of each.
Family-friendly, a large patio for outdoor dining, there is readily something for everyone here. Maybe even a life lesson. In this political season of division and a looming great, great wall, this regional cuisine, a blend of cultures, of abuelas and madres, of cowboys and ranch cooks, all stirred together in one big pot of our southern border’s historic cultural diversity
illustrates what cooperation and artful blending can produce.
6401 Woodway Dr. | Houston, TX 77057 | 713.334.7295 | 1140 Eldridge Pkwy.
Houston, TX 77077 | 832.230.3842 | www.sylviasenchiladas.com