Cafe Reviewed: Wednesday, January 2, 2003
Slap Those Tortillas Softly

Dan’s ideas may cure your hangover; nothing will cure Dan.


In my misspent youth, pharmacology played a big role in curing my hangovers. A few Demerols or Quaaludes, washed down with tequila and orange juice, and I was ready for the sofa and Popeye cartoons or This Week: With David Brinkley.

These days, older and wiser, I prefer to treat the infrequent hangover with a good meal. Nothing fancy or expensive, but fast food is out: An Egg McMuffin, while pleasant enough going down, tends to cause the pyloric valve to seize up.

No, this mission takes food with the ability to bring one back to life. My criteria for a good hangover spot is fairly simple. The food should be cheap, so that if you feel the need to leave halfway through the meal to go lie down in the back seat of your car, you’re not out too much money. The restaurant must offer large glasses of iced tea to cool down the system. And there should be some hot peppers or spice involved to get a good sweat going. Good bread or fresh tortillas are necessary to soak up the previous night’s poison.

Lastly, it must be a place where you can get comfortable food. Not “comfort food,” an overworked phrase that has something to do with women eating ice cream out of the carton while they watch Friends. Just food that is not going to surprise your gastrointestinal system because some chef has been experimenting with “fusion” or “nouvelle” shit.

Two of my favorite hangover foods are hearty soups and stews, and one of my favorite places to get some is Pho 95, a Vietnamese noodle house in Haltom City. (Pho 95 also has locations in Arlington, Dallas, and Houston.) Start with the shrimp rolls, served with a silky sweet peanut sauce and loaded with mint, whose coolness sets up the stomach for the main course. The signature dish here is pho tai, a rice-noodle soup topped with rare strips of eye-of-round beef and served with jalapeño peppers, bean sprouts, fresh basil, and lime wedges on the side. The beef cooks in the hot broth, and the acidity of the limes, the fragrance of the basil, the heat of the jalapeños, and the crunchiness of the bean sprouts combine for a dish that has a lot of flavor but goes down quite easily. At Pho, it helps that you can fiddle with the chili pastes, fish sauces, and citrus liquids to create the right heat and acidity for the severity of your malady. Be sure to get a side of French bread and wash it all down with the individual pot-dripped iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk (it’s like liquid speed that tastes like chocolate milk) or iced limeade tea (a sweet combination of caffeine and fresh lime juice).

Everyone has their favorite Tex-Mex morning-after joint. Mine is Dos Molinas, on Northwest 25th Street near the Stockyards, because they serve simple, handmade Mexican food without any frills. When your eyebrows feel like they’re on fire, you don’t need weird cheeses or creative recipes. The salsa here is just spicy enough, the tortillas are fresh, the refried beans creamy.

I am not usually a menudo fan, but the tripe stew with hominy at Dos Molinas is not greasy or smelly, as some can be. The broth is flavorful and the stew chunky. Mixed with chopped jalepeños, onions, and lemon juice, it really does have the curative powers everyone says it does. If eating a cow’s stomach lining isn’t alluring to you, try the caldo de res, a beef soup with large chunks of meat and vegetables that can be sopped up with flour tortillas. The basic cheese enchilada plate is also a classic hangover helper: filling, flavorful, and not overwhelming. Sometimes, you just need to get some food in your system without having to work at it.

My last recommendation is the Fredburger with jalapeños and fries at the inimitable Fred’s Cafe, off West Seventh Street near the Cultural District. Asked for the key ingredients of a good hangover meal, Fred’s bartender Mark Farmer listed these: “Alcohol and grease. Once they mix up in your system, you’ll be fine.” If that’s all it takes, Fred’s may be the perfect hangover spot. But it’s not just the food, which is always good, or the beer, which comes iced in fishbowl mugs. Fred’s wins because of the atmosphere, which hovers like a weird uncle with his fly undone — at once disturbing and fascinating and without any pretension whatsoever. I like sitting in the sparkly plastic booth beneath the sign that says “Beer: Helping White Guys Dance Since 1842.” I like the old broken-down piano outside near the front door. I like arguing politics with the old guys at the counter. And I like how the bartender Angel sometimes wears a long velvet evening gown with black work boots and white socks. Makes your pain seems miles away.

There is something about a great burger when you’re hung over, and the Fredburger is that. The juice dribbles down your arm; the lettuce, tomato, and onions are fresh; and the bun is stale enough to absorb the grease. The fresh-cut fries are a bit on the greasy side, salty, a little mushy, and always more than you can finish. As a hair-of-the-dog accompaniment, I suggest a red beer (draft beer and tomato juice).

Regardless of your hangover cure, remember that every remedy needs the right after-care program. After your meal, go home, watch some football from the sofa, read the sports page, ignore the wife and kids, don’t do yard work, take a two-hour nap, and you’ll be ready to go back out that night.

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