What do you do to preserve a historic 1930s movie theater near one of the busiest and most recognized intersections of Houston? If you’re the partnership trifecta of Robb Walsh, Bryan Caswell and Bill Floyd, the answer is simple—you open a fun Tex-Mex spot.
The former Tower Theater space at 1201 Westheimer, near the intersection of Montrose, has been transformed into El Real Tex-Mex Café. Acclaimed food writer Walsh, restaurant master Floyd and Chef Caswell are helping bring new life to Lower Westheimer.
Back in the good old days, before there were pre-formed taco shells and canned enchilada sauces, restaurant Tex-Mex was just like homemade. El Real Tex-Mex café offers the same homestyle flavors–and the same fresh-fried taco shells, house made chili powder, and made-from-scratch enchilada sauces that your grandparents once enjoyed.
Along with Houston’s favorite Tex-Mex dish, fajitas, El Real serves dishes from Tex-Mex restaurants in other parts of the state. There are green chiles sauces from West Texas, shrimp dishes from Brownsville, and lots of San Antonio-style puffy tacos. You’ll also find some forgotten dishes here like chili con carne with poached eggs and the famous Felix chile con queso.
In designing the restaurant, the team kept some of the more interesting elements of the old theater, including a screen where they’re showing old movies for diners' enjoyment. They also managed to salvage and restore some pieces of Houston Mexican restaurant history. There’s the set of swinging front doors from Felix’s, the dominant Mexican eatery in the city for decades. There are also menus dating back to the early 1900s, giant pictures of Mexican food pioneers such as Mama Ninfa and Felix Tijierna as well as guest books and other memorabilia from a bygone era.
Back to the food, this is vintage Tex-Mex at its finest. The chili con queso is a must and the warm, perfectly-spiced salsa is an interesting departure from the cold version you'll find at most other eateries. Our favorites were the puffy taco al carbon and the cheese enchilada con carne. For those who don’t like all that sweet and sour in their margaritas, El Real’s “skinny” version is a refreshing take on the classic cocktail.
- Featured on Esquire's list of New, Not-To-Miss Restaurants (2011)