Few states can lay claim to the invention of an entire category of food as can Texas, with its beloved regional cuisine known as Tex-Mex. Within that delicious realm is a crowd favorite: fajitas.
Although now a ubiquitous dish, especially here in the Lone Star State, fajitas have evolved from humble beginnings. For many years, fajitas were only eaten by Mexican vaqueros, or cowboys. Their style of cooking and grilling meats, traditionally over a campfire, goes back as far as the 1930s across the ranch lands of South and West Texas.
Skirt steak, the cut of meat most commonly used to make beef fajitas, was once considered a throwaway cut, along with the entrails, head, and hide. However, the savvy vaqueros developed a talent for marinating, which resulted in tender, juicy meat that everyone wanted to devour.
Still, the popularity of fajitas did not really take off until the 1970s, when restaurants and concession stands in South Texas reinvigorated this cowboy cuisine, serving it along with grilled vegetables, cheese, guacamole, pico de gallo, and piping hot tortillas, ingredients that are now familiar friends of the dish.
Today, fajitas are often made with chicken and shrimp, as well as beef, but regardless of the protein, they are an inevitable crowd-pleaser. Here are a few top picks when it comes to restaurants serving up sizzling fajitas that are sure to make your mouth water!
TEOTIHUACÁN MEXICAN CAFÉ – Houston, Texas
With three locations across the Houston metroplex, another family-owned restaurant, Teotihuacán Mexican Café, delights patrons with their phenomenal fajitas.
“We’re Mexican, and a little bit of Tex-Mex, one of the more popular in Houston, with a good variety of food, including beef and chicken fajitas and shrimp fajitas,” General Manager Anthony Galvan said, son of the owners. “Our fajitas are one of the main things that draw people in because of the meat and seasonings we use. We stick to choice, quality meats.”
Galvan’s mom and dad both have restaurant experience and brought that experience with them when they created Teotihuacán, along with “their own little twists to make the plates better.”
One of their most sought-after Parrilladas menu items is the Fajita Teotihuacán, which comes with two chargrilled quails, beef short ribs, four grilled jumbo shrimp, beef and chicken fajitas, and one poblano pepper stuffed with gooey cheese. This feast is fit for a whole family, so come prepared!
The name Teotihuacán comes from one of the most notable religious sites in pre-Hispanic Mexico, often considered the “the place where the gods were created.” The history of fajitas goes back even further. It was the Spaniards who brought beef, pork, chicken, and cheese to this continent, and most Texans are so glad they did! Without them, fajitas would be nothing more than a fantasy.
ROSARIO’S – San Antonio, Texas
You can practically throw a stone in San Antonio and hit a taqueria serving up some fantastic fajitas, but few do it as well as Rosario’s, which has two locations: one near the airport and the original restaurant minutes from downtown in the Southtown Arts District.
Rosario’s and its owner, Lisa Wong, are deserving of at least some credit for the success of this revitalized neighborhood, which is a culinary destination in town. Rosario’s is one of the first restaurants to have set up shop there back in 1992.
Wong started working for a catering company as a young teenager, learning the ins and outs of the industry. By the time she was eighteen years old, back in 1981, she had taken $7,000 of her college money to open up Lisa’s Mexican Restaurant, which became the launching pad for her now illustrious restaurateur career, which includes other successful concepts including Ácenar, located along the River Walk.
Rosario’s menu includes both Tex-Mex and traditional Mexican dishes, all made with Wong’s contemporary influences. When it comes to the beef fajitas, they stick with skirt steak, which is marinated for up to three days to ensure the meat is properly infused with tons of flavor. Once marinated, the steaks are quickly grilled on high heat and served on a sizzling skillet over a bed of bell peppers and onions.
“Our most popular dish is the Fiesta Special Parrillas,” Vice President Michelle Gonzalez said, “which is grilled shrimp and charbroiled beef or chicken fajitas, served with frijoles a la charra, pico de gallo, and fresh guacamole.” Do not forget to order a prickly pear margarita, the La Tuna, for the ultimate fajita feast!
What sets Rosario’s apart from the rest is strict adherence to standards. “If avocados come in, for example, and they’re not the right color, our lady Angie will send them back,” Gonzalez said. “If they’re not right, they’re not going to taste that flavorful.”
Tortillas are handmade fresh every day. “The trick is they have to be hot, soft, and fluffy,” Gonzalez said. “You have to get that right mix of everything so that they almost melt in your mouth like butter.”
It is also worth noting that Rosario’s makes excellent Mexican rice, a recipe that comes from Wong’s mother. However, the real secret to Rosario’s success is Wong’s dedication to her staff and their equal dedication to her and the restaurant. “She’s an extremely smart businesswoman, and she takes care of her family and employees,” Gonzalez said as an employee of 20 years. “The reason for our long-term success is we have really loyal employees. We’re putting out the best product that we can, making sure the recipes are how they are supposed to be.”
JOE T. GARCIA’S MEXICAN RESTAURANT – Fort Worth, Texas
One of the oldest restaurants to fire up the grill and serve fajitas in Texas is the renowned Joe T Garcia’s, open since July 4, 1935. Mr. and Mrs. Joe T. Garcia, along with their five children, served up food in their restaurant that could only seat sixteen diners at a time. Today, this local favorite is still a family-owned and operated business, specifically by three brothers and two sisters. Everything served here is a family recipe. Although the restaurant has been serving hungry guests for almost a century, they did not start offering fajitas until the ‘80s. They must be good, though. Today, fajitas are their most ordered entrée, followed by enchiladas. Nachos seem to be the most popular choice when it comes to appetizers.
“It’s kind of an unorthodox restaurant if you really think about it,” Director of Special Events and Catering Jody Lancarte said, who is also the wife of the restaurant’s president and CEO Lanny Lancarte. “Who in their right mind opens a restaurant with no menu, two choices for dinner, and doesn’t take credit cards? But it’s the way it’s always been done, and it works, so we don’t change it.”
Perhaps the reason it works is because they still make everything in-house and “old school,” as described by Lancarte. “The way we serve it is a little bit different than everyone else,” she said. “It’s [technically] called Steak a la Mexicana. Usually, fajitas are skirt meat cut into strips, but we get the whole tenderloin and cut it ourselves.”
They season the meat with their special blend of spices and then grill it on a flat-top. The fajitas, either beef or chicken, are served with house-made flour or corn tortillas and the usual guacamole, pico de gallo, rice, beans, chips, and hot sauce. It is safe to say that when guests eat at Joe T. Garcia’s, they are continuing a Texas tradition!
LA PALAPA – Austin, Texas
La Palapa serves up several fajita options, including Fajitas Rancheras, covered with ranchero sauce and melted cheese, as well as a vegetarian option, served with sizzling fresh mushrooms, bell peppers, yellow squash, zucchini, potatoes, and onions. You would expect nothing less from plant-forward Austin.
TAQUERIA JALISCO #6 – Alice, Texas
People refer to the family-owned and unassuming Taqueria Jalisco in Alice, Texas, otherwise known as TJ’s Mexican Restaurant, as the best Mexican food restaurant in town. They serve up some Poblano Fajitas with either beef, chicken, and sausage, along with bell peppers, onions, and tomatoes. The fajitas are topped with their special poblano sauce and served with the usual suspects: rice, beans, and pico de gallo.