Ooooh, fajitas

Having had a very busy week between work, my baby daughter and wife being sick, and a number of other commitments, I found myself deprived of a blog topic for this week and not a whole lot of time left to do this one if I wish to maintain my goal of doing one per week. So I turned to the newly released service from the good folks at Twitter known as Jelly for inspiration. Most of the provided topics were either not something I felt qualified to write on or just not that interesting, but one person’s suggestion of “food” did stir up the neurons in my brain.  I am one of those rather particular people when it comes to restaurants who has a “usual”, the dish they order every time they go to that particular dining establishment. Or rather, I used to be. I admit since Karen entered my life I have found myself branching out more and more, but at certain places, I retain those habits from earlier years of my life.

One such place, or rather genre of places, is the Tex-Mex restaurant. Being from Texas, and living in a major metropolitan area, there are a fair number of such places within an easy driving distance no matter where I happen to be. Needless to say, I’ve tried a number of them in my life, and have developed an appreciation for a number of dishes common to that particular variety of cuisine, but none so more than the Fajita.

I recall having fajitas for the first time at a chain establishment known as Don Pablo’s. Today I believe they’re all gone, but in my childhood, it was a common establishment, and one with my mother and I, along with a family we were very close to, enjoyed on a number of occasions. In those early years, i was very picky, and insisted on only ever having tacos, only with meat, lettuce, and cheese. Anything else, I wouldn’t have it. At some point, somehow, I tried some of my mother’s fajitas, and enjoyed it immensely. I’ve continued to enjoy it, and now I tend to judge the quality of Tex-Mex establishments by just how good their fajitas are, specifically their beef ones. I enjoy other meats of course, but the beef fajita is the gold standard.

I’ve developed a number of criteria around which I judge an establishment’s beef fajitas, which I’ll outline below.

The beef strips themselves are, of course, the primary factor in the overall enjoyment of the dish, and consequently the hardest for someone to nail. It’s not surprising really, if you think about how many times you’ve ordered a steak and had it come out over- or undercooked. Beef has a very narrow window of doneness where it’s not too cool but still not overdone to the point where it is overly chewy. Fajita beef is no different. Cook it too long and the meat will be tough and stringy. Don’t cook it enough and of course it will be cold or worse, unsafe for eating. The latter is much more rare, I find, restaurants are paranoid of food-borne illnesses caused by undercooked meat and consequently ruin it by giving it the consistency of shoe leather in the name of “cooking it thoroughly”. The beef in fajitas should be incredibly tender, practically melting in your mouth, never offering resistance as you take a bite. It’s an extremely rare event to enjoy an entire plate of fajitas and never encountering one stringy bit of connective tissue that you have to tear off, and even more rare is the restaurant that can reliably replicate such excellent preparation on repeated visits. Thus far I have yet to encounter one that is perfect every time, but I have located a number of places that get it more often than they do not.

There are typically two vegetables that are prepared with fajitas, the onion and the bell pepper, and they normally serve as a bed in the skillet on which the beef strips themselves are served. They taste excellent together when wrapped in a tortilla of course, and are the second factor by which I judge my fajita meal. I avoid eating the peppers themselves (I find the consistency too rubbery) but I thoroughly enjoy the spice and flavor they add to the meat. The onions, however, are another matter. I feel fajitas should be served with a VERY high ratio of onions to peppers, and never so thin that it makes them difficult to pile on top of my tortilla before I add the beef.  Rarely (thankfully) I have been served fajitas with more peppers than onions, and it is disappointing in the extreme to run out of them before running out of beef. The onions themselves should not be underdone of course, but it matters little to me if they are done to the point where charring is forming. I enjoy that taste equally as well.

Finally, we come to point three, and that’s the side condiments. This is, after overcooked beef, the other most common area in which restaurants screw up fajitas, because there are a number of different sins I run into.
1. If you are serving any type of beans other than refried, SHAME on you. Rice is not usually my cup of tea, so I’ll ask that you substitute it for a second side of beans, but really, not having refried beans is just a sad choice. Chili’s, I’m looking at you.
2. If you insist on charging me for wishing to have all three of sour cream, guacamole, and shredded cheese, then you clearly care more about making extra money than the care and quality of the plate you are presenting. That’s perfectly well within your right of course, just be aware of the choice you make and the reflection it makes on you! Sadly, this particular sin is rather common
3. If you insist on serving your pico de gallo (which I have no interest in) on a bed of lettuce, fine, but do not even THINK about doing the same for your guacamole. It ruins the texture and the flavor. Another one that’s rather common, I’m afraid.

I’ve had what I consider “perfect” fajitas (ones which conform to all of the above criteria) before, but never consistently every time I go to a particular establishment. The Mexican Inn locations in Bedford and Burleson, as well as Cristina’s location in North Richlard Hills, have gotten it closest to perfect more often than not, and if you enjoy fajitas I highly recommend all of those establishments.

I continue my search for the location that consistently delivers the perfect fajita, however. And when i find it, I may never eat at another Tex-Mex location again!

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  1. This is one of my favorite posts. Almost like ever. In terms of all posts that have ever been posted.

    I.

    Love.

    Fajitas.

    You have no idea and I am in love with your dissection of a wonderfully served fajita. I agree with you except for peppers. I like peppers. And rice. I also love that. But everything you said has stars in my eyes.

    And it is because of this post that I see a love affair with a fajita place in my future. I am sad that I am not near these wonderful places that you hold in high esteem for their fajitas.

    You, sir, are a boss.

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