Sunday, June 27, 2021

Irmas Mexican Restaurant - Original Tex Mex – Visiting Irma Galvan

Irma Galvan at the bar of Irma’s
Mexican Restaurant

"...Sometimes I feel sorry for people who live in places where there's no decent Tex Mex. Try to imagine having no options and being stuck with Tex Mex that is mediocre, or in some cases down right sorry..." 
(Virginia Billeaud Anderson - recalls a recent evening at Irma's Mexican Restaurant in downtown Houston. We knocked back margaritas and had a fun visit with Houston's celebrated Irma Galvan, who serves authentic Tex Mex.)

Irmas Mexican Restaurant - Original Tex Mex – Visiting Irma Galvan

Recently Donnie and I ubered downtown to Irma’s Mexican Restaurant near Minute Maid Park to meet friends. We knocked back margaritas, beer and wine, and ate grilled beef fajitas, enchiladas, chile rellenos and guacamole. We laughed too much.

Sometimes I feel sorry for people who live in places where there's no decent Tex Mex. Try to imagine having no options and being stuck with Tex Mex that is mediocre, or in some cases down right sorry. Irma’s Restaurant labels its cuisine “Original Tex Mex.” For blog readers who are unfamiliar with it, the cuisine that came to be called Tex Mex is an American cuisine that originated with Tejanos (Texans of Mexican descent). Tex Mex has roots in both native Mexican and Spanish food. Recall that Texas was part of "New Spain," then it was part of Mexico, before it was Texas.

The corn, beans, avocados, tomatoes, chili peppers and foul eaten by Mexico's indigenous Aztec and Mayan peoples are important ingredients in Tex Mex. Since the Spanish brought the cow to the New World, beef, cheese and milk, are ingredients in Tex Mex. The Spanish also brought rice to the New World.

Irma's Restaurant Grilled Shrimp
Irma's Restaurant Guacamole

The number one, primo distinction between Mexican and Tex Mex is queso. "Queso" is the Spanish word for cheese. Queso in a Tex Mex restaurant, better known as "chili con queso," is melted cheese, usually mixed with chilis, that is scooped up in a fried tortilla chip. Queso is Tex Mex. There's no such animal in Mexico, so don't go searching for it.

If you go to a joint and get served flour tortillas, you are being served Tex Mex. You won't find flour tortillas in authentic Mexican food, because in Mexico tortillas are soft maize-based tortillas. If you are served taco meat seasoned with cumin, you are eating Tex Mex, cumin is not a spice ingredient in Mexican food. The oregano in Mexican food is not used in Tex Mex. And the fact that both Tex Mex and Mexican food spread from American border towns into the rest of the country, and both are often called “Mexican” food might be a bit confusing.

Irma Galvan chit chatting with my friend Maria Hale

It's preferable to wash down Tex Mex with a margarita. I have been tossing back margaritas with my REAL Tex Mex since 1980. In those days it was often at the iconic El Patio's Bar-No-Minors. Also at Felix's, which 
when it bit the dust in 2008 because real estate sharks wanted the property, was arguably Houston's oldest Tex Mex restaurant. 

Irma Galvan is a Tejano. She was born in Brownsville Texas, across the border from Matamoras.  Brownsville having one of the highest poverty rates in the United States is probably the reason Irma’s mother brought her children to Houston when Irma was five. Irma began working at a very young age to help feed her siblings. Tragically, Irma’s husband Louis was murdered in 1982. Needing to hustle to support four children, she opened a sandwich shop. Then got the better idea to change her restaurant to Mexican (Tex Mex) food. The business ultimately grew into Houston’s celebrated Irma’s Mexican Restaurant.

My favorite story about Irma tells of her not having enough money to furnish her Mexican Restaurant. She "made do" by carrying in furniture from home. Today the self-made entrepreneur could easily buy tables and chairs to fill up a restaurant. Politicians, big deal athletes, and celebrities go to Irma’s. The restaurant was mentioned in the Wall Street Journal.

Predictably, Irma visited our table. She is 80, and no longer cooks. Her children run the restaurant, with the help of a kitchen staff. Irma does however visit customers at the tables. Watching Irma work the room reminded me of an evening I spent in a historical paella restaurant in Valencia. A tiny white-haired woman whose family founded the restaurant descended the staircase into the dining room and moved from table to table chit chatting with her guests. Then went upstairs. Then repeated the staircase ritual after the tables flipped. (Paella entered Spain with the Moors beginning in 711 AD.)

Irma's Restaurant Chicken Mole

Irma's Restaurant margarita - The Irmarita
Irma's Restaurant parking lot

Irma Galvan in her kitchen

Irma's Restaurant Tamales

Hope you check out my mag articles - Intown mag. Author link:
If you want to discuss this blog article or chat with me, please email me at Would love to hear from you - Virginia

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