Wednesday, February 9, 2011

If We Were Just Passing Through . . .

San Marcos, TX, we never would have found this place. In fact, I’m still surprised that we found it.

We turned off Hopkins onto Riverside Drive, which, since it was undergoing repairs, was bereft of concrete or asphalt and led over railroad tracks. Just as I was convinced that there couldn’t be a restaurant down this rather desolate road, there it was. Herbert’s Grocery & Taco Hut.

One look at the exterior, and we knew we were going to like this place.

Founded by Herbert senior in 1976, the eatery has been run by Herbert's wife and three sons since his death in 2002. Herbert’s has been voted as the “Best Mexican Food” for “The Best of Hays County” numerous times and specializes in what is known as Tex-Mex food (a term given to food based on the combined cultures of Texas and Mexico, encompassing a wide variety of dishes, such as burritos, nachos, and tacos.)

A reviewer on described Herbert’s as “…classic tex-mex. Herbert's is a San Marcos tradition. I've never seen so many owners of other restaurants at one place. George Strait was a regular when he lived here. I don't know anyone who doesn't love this place. God grant me the pleasure of another 30 years of dining here.”

When you open the main doors, you enter a long narrow space outfitted with benches for those who must sit and wait. We were lucky and were immediately escorted to a table in one of the four small dining rooms. This place is a profusion of color with the walls decorated by murals that reminded one of Mexico, the Florida Keys, and the Middle East at the same time. I can’t tell if those cone-shaped white objects (left) are supposed to be clouds or pyramids.

And the generous use of neon beer signs (below) advertising Corona, Bud Light, and Tecate provided both additional illumination and color.

The menu was the standard listing of enchiladas. flautas, tamales, tacos, burritos, chile relleno, fajitas, and combina-tion plates. There was also a section of “American” dishes that included chicken fried steak, chicken fried chicken, chicken tenders, hamburger steak, pork chops, and a t-bone steak. But the menu also listed chalupas—something new to me. According to Wikipedia, chalupas are “a specialty of south-central Mexico, such as the states of Puebla, Guerrero and Oaxaca… made by pressing a thin layer of masa dough around the outside of a small mold, and deep frying to produce crisp, shallow corn cups.”

My choice was the chicken enchilada plate, which I upgraded to include the verde sauce instead of the ranchero sauce. While the meal came with rice and beans, I requested “double rice and hold the beans.” (This may have been a mistake, since my small sample of Chuck’s beans tasted really good, while the rice was just OK.) My plate contained two good-sized enchiladas filled with juicy white meat chicken smothered in green sauce. Like green chile in New Mexico, every Tex-Mex restaurant seems to have its own recipe for verde sauce. To me, it’s not a real verde sauce unless it contains tomatillos, and I am happy to report that this verde did and that it had that bright almost tart flavor that you get from this fruit. While I missed the heat of a New Mexico green chile, I did enjoy this milder enchilada topping.

Chuck selected the Vegetarian Herbert’s Special which included one bean taco, one bean chalupa, and one cheese enchilada and came with rice, beans, and guacamole. (The latter very quickly made its way to my plate. I am so glad that he doesn’t like guacamole, and this was an especially good one.) The bean chalupa came topped with shredded lettuce and chopped tomato, and sure looked like a tostado to me.

He really liked the beans and declared that it was the beans that made the taco and chalupa delicious. The ranchero sauce on the enchilada was light and thin and tasted primarily of tomato. Again, a departure from the red chile sauces of New Mexico.

Our lunch for two came to less than $15.00 before tip and provided great value for the money. While Tex-Mex will never take the place of New Mexican food, Herbert’s Taco Hut still earns a 4.0 Addie rating.

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