Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Adios, mi amigo

All sizzle, no steak.
The sizzle arrived at the table, steam rising off the hot plate. This was a familiar ritual that should have triggered the food nostalgia receptors in my brain. Instead, it was unease I felt as the plate was set down. That feeling quickly turned to resignation as I took my first bite. Truth be told, I had a pretty good idea what I was in for before walking through the door at Lupe Tortilla. I knew I would be paying an exorbitant price for fajitas, was well aware the food wasn't what it was in my youth.

As a newly transplanted New Yorker, I had little experience with Tex-Mex food when my parents moved my sisters and me to the west side of Houston. My father had heard from some colleagues that there was this little hole in the wall place near Highway 6 and I10 that had great beef fajitas, strong (and cheap) margaritas, and a playground for kids. This was music to my parents' ears, and Lupe Tortilla quickly became a staple in our family's dining out rotation.

The years flew by as they are known to do, and the little tin roofed building full of kitsch and charm became more than just a place for a good meal to our family. Servers were given nicknames, as were the faces of the sombrero wearing patrons whose polaroid pictures adorned the walls. For those uninitiated in the Lupe ways, if someone in your party let the server know it was your birthday, a sombrero was put on your head and the staff would then take your picture with a polaroid camera while singing to you in Spanish. To this day I don't know what all of the words mean, but it was not your traditional birthday song. My Spanish speaking father never gave us the full translation, but told us one of the lines roughly translated to "how beautiful you look when I wake up drunk in the morning."

My Lupe Tortilla memories are as plentiful as they are vivid. There was the infamous night where my oldest sister, tipsy from one too many of those powerful margaritas, left the restaurant with a mini sombrero that had been hanging on the wall. In time I was old enough to enjoy some of those frozen beverages myself, and the restaurant evolved into an initiation of sorts for family friends and prospective boyfriends and girlfriends. The first time my now wife met my sisters was at Lupe Tortilla; I still have her polaroid to prove it.

Back to present day, I examined my fajitas. Gone was the blush pink of a healthy medium skirt steak, in its place a solid brown. While not devoid of flavor, the bright lime marinade was no longer prevalent in the dish. At $19.95 for a half pound of fajitas they were certainly no bargain. Also gone was the possibly vulgar song, replaced with something much more innocent sounding.

To be fair, my most recent meal was not at the original outpost. With over 17 locations, Lupe Tortilla is far from the mom and pop outfit I remember. The aforementioned charm of the Highway 6 location and its menu is now a business model. It had been years since my last visit to the Tex-Mex place of my youth; higher prices and decline in quality that so often accompanies large restaurant expansion had made my interest wane. But it was this visit that made me finally throw in the towel. Two so-so margaritas and two unremarkable entrees came out to sixty-three dollars after tax and tip. With a price tag that high for what is normally an inexpensive type of cuisine, there are so many better ways in which I can spend my dining dollars.

So, after one last lackluster meal at what was once a personal dining institution, it's time for me to say goodbye. I'll keep those memories forever - the polaroids will help with that. So long Lupe Tortilla. You were once preetty good.


Rammy Jones said...

I love this place. I had an event here back in May last year and I felt like it was a perfect day for us! The San Francisco venues provides you with an event Specialist as part of your package which is extremely helpful. Plus all of us dressed up only added to the entire ambience.

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