There are hundreds of Mexican restaurants on Houston’s north side. How does a humble writer determine which ones are worth visiting? You can try them all, but that takes an incredible amount of time, even if you love Tex-Mex like we do. You can check Yelp, but its reviews simply aren’t that accurate. You can read blog and print reviews, but what if it’s a new place?

I’ve pondered this for quite a while, and I came up with a good shortcut. I created the Woodlands Area Foodies group, and it’s grown to over 9,000 members, many of whom are incredibly knowledgeable about food. One of the most knowledgeable is my friend Bob Frasier. Bob is an incredible cook, and very well versed in numerous cuisines.

Recently Bob posted about a new Tex-Mex restaurant not far from the Woodlands, calling it “My new favorite Mexican spot in my neck of the woods”. Trusting Bob’s palate, I headed out to Rita’s Cantina, located north of Tomball on Hwy 249, near Hardin Store Road.

Located in a nondescript strip center, the outside of Rita’s could be confused for dozens of Mexican spots in the area. But stepping inside revealed a neat, clean interior, with thoughtful little touches. Clearly, the management cares about the customer’s experience, always a good sign.

But how’s the food? Looking across the spacious dining room, I found Bob and his lovely bride Heidi. Joining them for lunch, we surveyed the menu and made some choices. Bob assured us they were good ones. We believe in Bob. Will this trust be misplaced?


First to come out was the ceviche. The presentation was impressive: A hefty goblet filled with fish, shrimp, onion, and tomato, garnished with cilantro and topped with artfully arranged avocado slices.

The marinade used for the fish was a deliciously zingy citrus-based juice, combining with the fresh tangy onions to create a classic Peruvian-style ceviche… which happens to be my favorite. And this was an excellent example, flavorful, generously portioned, and beautifully presented.

As we were finishing the ceviche, the hot plates started arriving.

Beef Quesadillas

First out were the beef quesadillas, a standard dish that’s popular with adults and children alike. The formula at Rita’s included sliced skirt steak (as found in fajitas), and plenty of melty white cheese, sandwiched between two thin housemade flour tortillas.

Accoutrements were plentiful: A slathering of sour cream, some beautiful pico de gallo, and a scoop of Rita’s guacamole. The quality of the ingredients shone through on this dish, making it one of the more flavorful quesadillas we’d tried in quite a while.

Combo #7: Tamale, Beef Enchilada, Chicken Enchilada

Next up is a combo plate - in this case Combo #7. Consisting of a pork tamale, a chicken enchilada and a beef enchilada, we felt that it gave us a good overview of what Rita’s chef can do with various proteins.

As an aside, Tex-Mex is often difficult to present. It may be delicious, but on the plate it can be yellowish brown and not incredibly appetizing. The presentation here was different and appealing.

Bright colors made the first impression. Beautifully fresh tomato, diced expertly. A sprig of green cilantro, draped over the green and white arrangement of tomatillo sauce and crema that blanketed the chicken enchilada. This burst of color was flanked by the red Colorado-style chile gravy on the beef enchilada, and the more earthy, dark pork tamale.

Looks are wonderful, but tackling this appealing plate proved that the beauty wasn’t just skin deep. From the pork tamale to the chicken enchilada and finishing with the beef enchilada, all of the components were nicely seasoned, distinctly flavored, and were each excellent renditions of their respective dishes. Together they created a very satisfying whole, one we’d order again. Tomorrow, if we’re lucky.

After finishing the last tasty bite of Combo #7, Bob smiled and with a twinkle in his eye, said one word: Dessert.

Cuatro Leches

Bob, you’re an evil, evil man. That’s one reason why we’re friends. A quick consultation with our knowledgeable server resulted in our order of their Cuatro Leches cake. We’d had Tres Leches from numerous establishments, but Rita’s wasn’t going to be satisfied with tres.

Again, the plating tempted our eyes before the fork touched the cake. A rich, saturated slab of cake was laid upon an artful arrangement of strawberries and blueberries, adrift in the four milk solution that had saturated the cake. Atop this was a crown of strawberries and freshly whipped heavy cream, drizzled with caramel and dusted with cinnamon.

And yes, it tasted better than it looked. No small feat.

To say we were impressed with Rita’s Cantina would be an understatement. To find a gem like this in the far northern reaches of Tomball is amazing. The restaurant can hold its own with any hotspot you care to name in the Houston area.

We confirmed two important rules: Great food can be found all over the Houston Area. And when Bob says to try a place, try it. Now.

Rita’s Cantina Mexican Kitchen | 32015 State Highway 249 | Pinehurst, TX 77362 | (346) 248-5097

Tacos are one of the foods that defines the state of Texas. From the largest city to the tiniest towns, tacos are one of the foods that are enjoyed by everyone young and old. And with this sort of demand, tens of thousands of taco spots have popped up, all promising Mexican goodness wrapped in a hard or soft shell.

We'd been hearing rumblings about a great spot not far from Old Town Spring. Chycho's Tacos is located on Aldine Westfield Rd., in a lightly commercialized area that was bustling with activity when we visited mid-week at 8pm.

The festive exterior was welcoming, as was the proprietor, Edwin Santos. We were greeted with a smile, and when we enquired about his al pastor tacos, he insisted on offering up a sample of his roasted pork. It was very good - dark, savory, with gentle heat from an ancho chile rub. We were sold, and ordered. On a whim, we decided to sample one of the fajita tacos, remembering that it is one of the most popular choices among our readers.

We then retired to the adjoining pavilion, a festive, spotlessly clean place with holiday lighting and a beer garden vibe. In short order a staff member called our name and delivered our tacos.

The plate of tacos appeared, and we were immediately greeted by a delicious, smoky aroma. It was time to dig in. The tacos al pastor were as we anticipated - rich, savory pork flavor, just enough heat to add interest, a very well prepared meat. On top, the typical fresh onions had been replaced with sweet, lightly grilled onions, a substitution we applaud. A sprinkling of cilantro and a dash of lime completed what are very good tacos al pastor.

After demolishing these tacos, we dug into the remaining fajita taco. As good as the al pastor is, the fajita is the star of the show. The beef had the signature flavor of charcoal broiling, with a subtle hint of mesquite to add complexity. This is superbly prepared fajita meat, and combined with the grilled onions, cilantro, and a spritz of lime it created a delicious taco, one we'll be trying again very soon.

We generally don't focus on cost at HTownChowDown, but we'd be remiss if we didn't discuss it here. Regular price for the tacos is $1.49, but on Tuesday, they're $0.99. That's easily one of the best bargains in town for high quality, delicious tacos.

If your idea of tacos begins and ends with a certain high-profile Austin import, you owe it to yourself to visit Chycho's and discover how good real tacos can taste.

Chycho's Tacos | 23206 Aldine Westfield, Spring TX 77373 | 832-566-3022

One of the questions we're asked most often is "Where should I eat".

Here is our list of our favorite Tex-Mex restaurants in the Woodlands area. This list is of full service Tex-Mex restaurants that offer a complete menu; taquerias have their own list.

Our Favorites

Alicia's - This local chain excels at its grilled entrees. Our favorite is the Cowboy Steak - a slab of skirt steak, three shrimp, and two very good cheese enchiladas. The energetic bar serves up potent cocktails to thirsty patrons. Alicia's Mexican Grille - 20920 Kuykendahl Rd, Spring TX 77379 - 281-350-8383

Casa Medina - This deceptively low-profile jewel on I-45 impresses discerning foodies with well prepared Tex-Mex classics, solid chips and salsa, and gotta-try-it avocado margaritas, which taste much better than they sound. If Old School Tex-Mex is what you crave, look no further. Casa Medina - 28777 I-45, The Woodlands TX 77381 - 281-298-9866

Guadalajara - The upscale, family-friendly dining room is a great place to enjoy out-of-the-ordinary dishes. Excellent ceviches and outstanding roast chicken enchiladas highlight the diverse menu. Guadalajara Hacienda - 27885 I-45 N, The Woodlands TX 77386 - 281-362-0774

Also Recommended

Chuy's - Locals flock to this Austin Icon for reliable Tex-Mex and strong margaritas. Skip the fajitas and go directly to the more unique options, like the Chuychanga and huge combination plates. Insiders know to ask for the complimentary creamy jalepeño dip with the chips and salsa... it's addictive. Chuy's - 18035 W I-45, Shenandoah TX 77385 - 936-321-4440

Lupe Tortilla - Fajitas are the entree of choice at this local chain. The lime marinade's signature flavor keeps regulars coming back, but creeping prices are causing some rumbles on social media. Bring your gold card. Lupe Tortilla - 19437 W I-45, Shenandoah TX 77385 - 281-298-5274


A recent conversation in a foodie discussion group bemoaned the lack of a good Southern California-style burrito in Houston. We have burritos, but they tend to be more of a Tex-Mex style, often with rice and/or refried beans among the ingredients; the Southern California-style is a lighter style, highlighting fresh ingredients with an eye towards more protein and veggies, and less carbs and fat.

Imagine our surprise when we stumbled across Cabo Baja & Mexican Grill, a new Mexican food establishment on Sawdust Road, in the space vacated by the recently closed (and greatly missed) Viva Itacate. The homey bakery feel of Viva has been completely renovated into a modern, fast casual space. The new restaurant is the first Texas branch of the original store, located in San Diego.
Could this San Diego import be a source for the kind of burrito that transplanted Californians rave about? We decided to find out.
First impressions were very good. The restaurant is spotlessly clean, and we were greeted by the friendly and helpful counter staff. The kitchen is at the rear of the restaurant, and a large glass window allows diners to look in and observe the cooks as they work. Clearly this is a restaurant with nothing to hide. 
Peering into the kitchen, we saw two staff members making fresh corn tortillas; although we've seen fresh flour tortillas at many of the area's better taquerias, fresh corn tortillas are few and far between.
Ordering from the counter staff was quick and efficient. Before long, my pager went off, and I picked up my burrito from the window.
Being fans of tacos al pastor, we started with the Pastor burrito. Fresh marinated pork (right off the trompo), pineapple, onion, cilantro, and a touch of creamy cilantro sauce are wrapped in a largish corn tortilla. The flavors are bright and tangy; the acid from the pineapple balances the slightly fatty pork flavor, with the onion and cilantro completing the flavor profile. It was very good.
Wanting to try something else, I asked the counter staff for suggestions. The cameron taco was their immediate answer, so I ordered one. In about five minutes this came out.
Beautifully grilled, largeish shrimp were perfectly cooked, and combined with grilled mozzarella, cabbage, tomato, avocado, and finished with chipotle sauce. The flavor profile was unusual to a Texan's palate; I don't recall encountering mozzarella in Mexican cuisine before. But it worked; the big flavors were very satisfying, yet the result was very light. Even after eating a burrito and a taco I did not feel very full, although I certainly had enough to eat.
All in all, I was very pleased with the food from this California import. While still being Mexican, the lighter combinations and bright flavors differ considerably from the Tex-Mex offerings typically found here. Cabo Baja & Mexican Grill is a nice addition to the Woodlands area; we look forward to returning and sampling more offerings from the menu.
Cabo Baja & Mexican Grill | 544 Sawdust 77380 | 281-465-8575

Cabo "Baja & Mexican Grill" on Urbanspoon

Taquerias are a big thing in Houston, thanks to our vibrant Latin American community. Even the worst ones are pretty good, and the best ones are excellent. They're almost all family run, small operations, and in many cases the ability to speak Spanish is very helpful when you visit. We think it's part of the charm, but some less adventurous souls are put off by this.

For these folks, fast food tacos were created. From Jack in the Box tacos (which we admit to liking) to Taco Bell to Taco Cabana, different approaches to offering tacos to the terminally unadventurous have been tried, with mixed results.

Our biggest complaint: None of these chains offers a truly excellent taco.

Enter Hello Taco. Combine the traditional flavors of a great taqueria, wrap it in a slick package that won't scare gringos away. Offer a variety of tacos with both traditional and Americanized options. Sounds like a good plan. How does it work?
Hello Taco is located where Sawdust Road curves into Grogan's Mill, the busy commercial strip that connects to the south edge of the Woodlands. It's a smart location; lots of lunch business, and easy access to the Woodlands populace without paying Woodlands rents. Located conveniently next to a Baskin-Robbins store, parking is easy. Entering the store, you're met with a bright, clean environment that is so professionally decorated that it could easily be a nationwide franchise.
But it's not. Hello Taco is the brainchild of Armando and Susan Ocampo, a couple with years of experience in the restaurant biz; he in the back of the house, she in the front. Their expertise is evident in the slick presentation and bright colors that make Hello Taco an inviting place to visit.

But how's the food?
As with any good taqueria, the food is very fresh, and everything is prepared in-house. A tortilla machine works tirelessly stamping out fresh tortillas from hand rolled balls of masa, and a cook is grilling the meats and veggies.
Unlike some other Americanized taco concepts (like Torchy's and Texas Taco) Hello Taco doesn't feature signature tacos, predesigned with specific ingredients. It's a make-your-own approach, more like Subway or Freebird's. If you don't know what you like, this might be a problem, but the helpful folks behind the counter can certainly suggest some options.
Even though there was a line when we entered, service was brisk. Four different meats are offered on the menu - chicken, pork, and two types of beef. We chose pork and sliced fajita meat, and opted for the traditional chopped onion and cilantro toppings, with a slice of lime on the side.
What came out was a very credible taco - fresh, soft tortilla, nicely seasoned and marinated meat, bright, fresh, crisp veggies. Flavors were bold but not overpowering.
In short, these are damn good tacos.
Word got out quickly. By the time we were leaving, a line stretched to the door as hungry folks queued up. It moved quickly.
We're impressed with Hello Taco. They have a solid concept and are executing well. The only glitch is the lack of signature tacos to make ordering easier for the neophyte, but the excellent tacos more than make up for it.

We'll be back.

Hello Taco | 25114 Grogan's Mill Rd. | Spring, TX 77380 | 832-819-4MEX |

Hello Taco on Urbanspoon

Houston is a city that's obsessed with the latest and greatest. Along those lines, it's the newest restaurants are the ones that get almost all of the press.

We believe that one of the greatest accomplishments a restaurant can have is longevity. Keeping customers happy is hard work, and doing so for a decade is a significant achievement. Pappasito's has done this, and done it thrice. They're now celebrating 30 years in business, a milestone we think shouldn't be ignored.

“This is a big milestone for Pappasito’s, and we couldn’t have done it without the support of our loyal guests,” said Harris Pappas, co-owner and co-founder, Pappas Restaurants, Inc. “We want to thank Houstonians for their support and invite them to join our family for 30 days of celebration.”

The original Pappasito's opened on Richmond near Hillcroft back in 1983. Since then, the operation has brought its brand of high quality Tex-Mex cuisine to 13 Greater Houston area locations, with 8 others in DFW, Austin, San Antonio, and Atlanta.

In honor of this milestone, the restaurant is offering some awesome weekly specials:

Oct 1-5: Half price beef and chicken fajitas. All day, large size only.
Oct 7-11: Half price happy hour appetizers with beverage purchase. 3p-6:30p in the bar.
Oct 13-19: Half price lunch beef & chicken fajitas. Medium size only, 11am-4pm.
Oct 20-26: eClub free appetizer with Pappasito's Pass (with entree purchase, exclusions and terms apply)
Oct 27-30: Half price beef and chicken fajitas. All day, large size only.

We're big fans of Pappasito's fajitas. We're even bigger fans when they're half price.

During the 30-day celebration, customers of legal drinking age can also enjoy an anniversary drink, the Pappasito’s Reserva Margarita made with Corazon Reposado barrel-aged tequila, which has been hand-selected especially for Pappasito’s Cantina, Grand Marnier, organic agave nectar, and fresh lemon and lime juices shaken tableside and served on the rocks. Guests who order the special drink will receive a complimentary 30th anniversary commemorative glass, while supplies last.

They're also preparing a special dessert, Chocolate Tres Leches, a rich chocolate cake soaked in three milks with dark chocolate, Kahlua, and a hint of cinnamon, toasted meringue and shaved chocolate.

For more information, check their website or Facebook page.

Recently, Marco Torres, a photographer for the Houston Press, announced that he was going to attempt to go a month without eating Mexican food.  We'd rather not even think about this, because Houston is home to some of the country's best Mexican food, and it makes up a regular part of our diet.  Folks in other parts of the nation aren't so lucky, having to make do with the offerings of national chains such as Taco Bell.

We'd been hearing good things about Texas Tamale Company, a Houston-based group that will make and send fresh tamales straight to your door, so we were excited when we were contacted by representatives of the company who generously dropped off a cooler full of their offerings for us to sample.  Is this the Mexican food solution for folks stuck far from Texas?  We were looking forward to finding out.
Our care package arrived before lunchtime, so the first order of business was to sample the breakfast tacos that they had included in our sampler.
Breakfast Tacos from Texas Tamale Co.
Included were a variety of tacos: Egg and potato, egg and chorizo, egg and ham, and our favorite, the egg and bacon.  The generous portion of scrambled egg and smoky thick cut bacon chunks was cradled on a fluffy, slightly chewy homemade tortilla - a tortilla we really like.  We enjoyed the breakfast tacos, and within a few minutes all that remained were the foil wrappers in which they arrived.
Later it was time to sample the tamales.  We heated up samples of their beef, chicken and the unusual spinach tamales, and plated them with the refried beans and spanish rice that TTC had included in our care package.
Tamales from Texas Tamale Co.
We started with the chicken tamale, which was very mild.  The chicken flavor was present, but unfortunately so were a few quarter-sized chicken bones.  Even without the bones these were our least-favorite tamales.
Next up were the beef tamales.  The fat content of the beef created a rich, smooth texture, offsetting the coarseness of the masa, and generating the characteristic sheen seen on fresh tamales when you remove them from the husks.  These tamales had a bit more bite, but it was more savory and spicy as opposed to any actual heat.  Those who wish a more caliente experience could certainly add some salsa or hot sauce, but we found these tamales to be very good.
Our favorites were a big surprise.  We'd never heard of spinach tamales before, but when we bit into one we were hooked.  Dense, herbal notes that really didn't scream spinach was our first take, and the counterpoint of this rich flavor and a light texture made this a delightful change from an ordinary tamale.  We'd order these again in a heartbeat.
According to the company, all these tamales are gluten-free.
Texas Tamale Company also offers their own special beef and pork sausage, chili, queso, and a variety of salsas, jellies, and mixers that can be delivered right alongside their homemade tamales.  This would make a great holiday gift for anyone unfortunate enough to be away from Texas for the holidays.
For those in Houston, "The Mexican Deli" is on Fountainview near the Galleria, serving tamales, fajitas, tacos, and a variety of other Mexican favorites.  Stop by for lunch, and you can take gift packs home with you.
Texas Tamale Company | 3340 Fountainview | Houston Texas 77057 | 800-T-TAMALE

The Woodlands area is not lacking for choices when you're in the mood for Tex-Mex.  From Chuy's to Los Cucos to the Rico's empire, there's a Tex-Mex spot on just about any corner.

So you can imagine my indifference when I learned that the large restaurant being built at the intersection of 2920 and Kuykendahl was going to be another Tex-Mex spot.  I enjoy the cuisine, but feel that the area would be better served by just about any other type of restaurant.

Nevertheless, a recent weekend found us shopping at Lowe's (across the big parking lot) and hungry.  Alicia's building was inviting, so we walked over and entered.

We were immediately impressed by the beautiful setting and attractive decor.  The proprietor had clearly invested some money in his new establishment, and the result was impressive.  Dining areas were in different rooms (we tire of the single, huge cavern that seems to be popular with many restaurant designers) and an inviting bar was off to the side.

One of the dining rooms at Alicias (Unused at the time)

We were led to our table, and fresh housemade chips and salsa were quickly brought.  Chips and salsa are one's first impression of a Tex-Mex spot's cuisine, and we think they're very important.  Alicia's did not disappoint - the chips were thin and crisp, glowing with a thin sheen of oil that didn't result in a heavy taste.  The salsa was light, fresh, and had the bite of citrus, an excellent choice for a hot Texas summer.

Perusing the menu, we saw all the traditional Tex-Mex favorites, plus an emphasis on grilled meats.  My eye was drawn to one of their combinations.  Called simply "Cowboy Steak", it featured a 6 oz. black Angus outside cut of skirt steak, grilled and topped with three chipotle shrimp.  A pair of cheese enchiladas, and the de rigueur rice and beans completed the dish.

Cowboy Steak at Alicia's Mexican Grille

What came out was impressive.  An aggressively-charred, lime-marianated slab of honest-to-Robb skirt steak, topped with larger-than-expected, perfectly grilled shrimp.  The chipotle sauce provided a nice, smoky counterpoint to both the skirt steak and the shrimp, forming a delightful Gulf Coast / Border version of central Texas BBQ.  It was a fusion that worked.

Perhaps even more remarkable were the cheese enchiladas.  I consider this dish to be another benchmark for measuring a Tex-Mex spot, and Alicia's did not disappoint.  Fresh tortillas rolled around melted, oozing yellow cheese, topped with a very nice housemade chili gravy.  None of the mystery red sauce that some places substitute... a revelation.  These may be the best cheese enchiladas in the Houston area.

We're looking forward to returning to Alicia's in the very near future.  But it's going to be tough to order anything else on the menu.

Over the past few years, The Woodlands has developed a strong dining scene. While it still has more than it's share of generic chain restaurants, there have been several notable independents calling the area home. Hubbell & Hudson, Eden Cafe, Capri, and Crust Pizza Co. are examples of the kinds of places that would be notable wherever they opened, and are causing foodies to make the trek out past 1960.
What the area has been lacking is the kind of tiny ethnic restaurants that one finds all over the Houston area. We were excited to see someone bucking this trend - a tiny taqueria / taco truck on Gosling called Casa del Sol.

We'd passed Casa del Sol several times driving down Gosling, and finally stopped in to check it out. We were immediately taken by the quaint, relaxed atmosphere. Seating is in a covered outdoor pavilion, very inviting on a comfortable spring day.

The kitchen is housed in a food truck parked semi-permanently beside the pavilion. The feel of the spot reminded me of one of the tiny cantinas in Mexico's costal towns... a welcome change from the slick atmosphere that even the independents build in The Woodlands.

Having never visited before, we wanted to sample a variety of tacos. A brief chat with the proprietor gave us our game plan: One each of al pastor, barbacoa, and beef fajita.

I first dug into my benchmark - the taco al pastor. Served on a freshly-made corn tortilla, quarter-sized chunks of roast pork were liberally sautéed in a deceptively spicy chile pepper sauce, and topped with the traditional fresh chopped onion and cilantro. Biting into this taco was a revelation - the tender chunks of pork were considerably larger than what we typically find in an al pastor taco, and the seasoning was kicked up a notch, starting with a savory, rich note and building to a slow burn. The cup of horchata provided a welcome relief from the heat; I said a silent thank you to the friend who first suggested this beverage with Mexican food many years ago.

Tacos al Pastor at Casa del Sol

Next up was the barbacoa. Prepared in the traditional manner using the cheek meat, it was incredibly tender without venturing anywhere near mushiness. After the tang of the al pastor, the barbacoa's subtle smokiness was almost lost, but a quick shot of the housemade red salsa got my tastebuds' full attention.
Finally the beef fajita was up. Knowing The Woodlands, this is probably the most oft-ordered taco, and it does not disappoint. Beautifully charred beef, still moist inside, was accented with a hearty squirt of lime juice and the chopped onion and cilantro. This taco will please the Tex-Mex aficionado, and will remind him just how boring the tacos are from the big national chains. Yo quero, indeed.

Beef Fajita Taco at Casa del Sol

We really enjoyed Casa del Sol, and recommend that anyone who loves Mexican food stop by. For what you'd spend at Taco Bell, you can enjoy something far more authentic, and most importantly, far more delicious.

Casa del Sol | 22507 Gosling | Mo-Sa 7a-6p, closed Su
(4 mi south of Woodlands Parkway, just past the train tracks) 

Chuy's may be the most misunderstood Tex-Mex place in Houston.  Some folks love 'em, and some folks hate 'em, and there's very little middle ground.  Rarely do we see such polarization in how patrons react to a restaurant.

Why?  It's hard to tell for sure, but we think it's a combination of food that's a little out of the ordinary, and an atmosphere that's not typical for Houston.  Chuy's is one of the handful of restaurants that we consider to be a little bit of Austin in Houston, and the Austin attitude permeates everything that Chuy's does.

We're firmly in the camp that loves Chuy's.  The Austin-based chain opened its first location in 1982, and we've been eating there ever since.  Chuy's version of Tex-Mex is focused a few hundred miles to the west - there's a strong New Mexico influence, with plenty of dishes featuring green chiles.  Their annual Hatch chile festival features peppers grown by one particular farm in Hatch, New Mexico.

Our go-to dish at Chuy's hasn't changed in 20 years.  It's the Chuy's Special, a unique flat enchilada dish made with housemade blue corn tortillas, roasted chicken, white cheese, and Chuy's tomatillo sauce.  It's flavorful without overpowering heat, and has long been one of our benchmark enchilada dishes.

Chuy's Special

But as any fan will tell you, the appeal at Chuy's is more than the food.  Ever since the original Barton Springs location opened, the Chuy's experience has been shaped by the zany decor and the often offbeat but dependably friendly staff.

The Chuy's located across from the Woodlands delivers both in spades.  Our favorite room there is the bright, airy bar, complete with a thatched roof, some delightfully kitchy chandeliers, and an airborn school of wooden fish.  It's a throwback to an older school of restaurant design where the space was more than one big room with some theme-appropriate artwork on the walls.  Another thing we love about Chuy's is that as they open more locations, they don't just replicate their design.  Each Chuy's has its own feel and becomes a part of its neighborhood.

The final part of the Chuy's equation is their quirky, friendly staff.  The vibe of the original Austin location comes through in the attitudes of the servers, but Chuy's has figured out a way to make sure that this doesn't result in the cool-but-lackadaisical service that's all too often found in the River City.

On our last visit to Chuy's, we ran across a particular server who went so far above and beyond what we expect in a family restaurant that she deserves notice.  Anjelia Richmond, who's known at Chuy's as "Cookie", was perhaps the warmest, friendliest service person that we encountered all year.  Yes, we were in a restaurant, but we were treated as if we were in Cookie's home.  And Cookie was going to make sure that we felt welcome.

My bride was recovering from foot surgery, and Cookie took it upon herself to make sure that we were comfortable, well fed, and never lacking anything.  Our ramekin of the essential Creamy Jalepeno dip was never empty.  Cookie even positioned the chairs so my bride could elevate her foot, and offered to bring an extra cushion.  Her ready smile and hearty laugh were heartwarming, and her positive attitude was infectious.  We really didn't have a choice but to hug her on the way out.  
Cookie impressed us so much that before our next visit, we called ahead to see if she was working, fully planning to arrage our visit around her schedule..  We've never done that before at a restaurant.

So thank you, Cookie, for taking such great care of us, and for making us feel more like friends than like guests.  Have a Merry Christmas, sweet lady.  We'll see you soon.

Chuy's - 18035 IH-45 S - Shenandoah, TX 77385 - 936-321-4440 -

Chuy's (Shenandoah) on Urbanspoon

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