Cafe Reviewed: Wednesday, May 17, 2006
The food is cheap, hearty, and occasionally Americanized — but in a good way — at \r\nEl Tepeyac Café.
El Tepeyac Café\r\nChorizo huaraches $5.50\r\nTaco Loco Platter $5.95
Holy Frijoles

El Tepeyac Café’s blue-collar fare may not cause religious visions, but it’s pretty close to heavenly.


El Tepeyac Café

4036 E Lancaster Av, FW. 817-534-1900. Open daily 8am-11am (breakfast), 11am-3pm (lunch), 3pm-10pm (dinner). All major credit cards accepted.

Simplicity seems to be the reigning ethos at El Tepeyac Café, whether you’re talking menu or ambience. Truth be told, there isn’t much of the latter: white tile floors, plastic-covered white tables and chairs, red walls almost bare except for a neon-lit beer sign here and a string of garlic bulbs there. The uncluttered interior could double nicely as a small bingo hall.

The pages of the laminated menu, meanwhile, make it very clear that El Tepeyac serves both Tex-Mex and Mexican cuisine — a distinction that’s becoming increasingly blurred as items like tortas, gorditas, and huaraches pop up more frequently among the nachos and burritos of mainstream Ameri-Mex eateries. El Tepeyac’s proprietors hail from Mexico City and have come north not with the rarefied, high-kitchen experimentalism of Lanny Lancarte (of Lanny’s Alta Cocina) but with the urban diner/tamale-stand approach of rustic chic. Folks looking for complicated or subtle flavors and textures are advised to skip El Tepeyac. The chow here rests amiably in the belly without causing any gustatory scenes. It’s friendly, not dramatic.

The hot sauce was a medium-spicy, semi-puréed red-and-green concoction that bore the beautiful aroma of both cilantro and tomatillo. Served in a tiny stone bowl alongside a basket of what appeared to be store-bought chips, the salsa unfortunately came across as more of an afterthought, an obvious concession to Americanized taste buds. Likewise, you’re not going to want to visit El Tepeyac for the frijoles and sticky orange rice.

Go for the tortas and gorditas — firm, hot, cornbread-like pockets and sandwiches stuffed with thinly shredded lettuce, shaved avocado, diced onion, pinto beans, a dollop of mayo in the center, and whatever grilled or broiled meat you desire. And there’s a bunch to choose from: asado (fajita-style beef), barbacoa (shredded beef and brains), chorizo (spicy pork sausage), carnitas (pork), lengua (beef tongue), pollo (chicken), or chicaron (deep-fried pork skin pieces). The non-greasy pork and beef flavors of the chorizo and asado tortas and that of the thick, almost fluffy cornmeal bread made heavenly music together.

The chorizo huarache was a little more complicated, mostly because the damn thing was unwieldy and made you work to get it into your mouth. Huaraches (yep, that name also applies to sandals) are sandwiches made from oval-shaped corn tortillas with the thickness of flat bread. As wide and long as the plate it rested on, the delicacy was accompanied by a mound of whole pinto beans, shredded lettuce, ground pork sausage, avocado pieces, and a fine squirting of sour cream across the top. It was too big and messy to pick up, and the chewy tortilla didn’t yield easily under a knife blade. Once you got it into your maw, though, the whole symphony of fresh ingredients worked nicely.

The Taco Loco Platter offers five varieties of tacos served up chilango or Mexico City-style, which essentially translates as “simple.” The plate is an excellent way of surveying the array of meats prepared in El Tepeyac’s cocina. Indeed, there’s more livestock on the Loco Platter than a peckish T. Rex could handle: The tacos arrived as big deposits of steaming flesh inside two soft corn tortillas apiece, with chopped onions and cilantro on the side, as well as an avocado sauce that was thinner than traditional guac with a habanera kick to it.

El Tepeyac also serves menudo on the weekends and, every morning, egg dishes and fat breakfast burritos along with beans and fried potatoes. The name, by the way, is a place in Mexico where the Virgin Mary reportedly made one of her mystical visitations. If she was looking for a nuts-and-bolts Mex-Tex-Mex experience that will satisfy if not quite scintillate, she should consider dropping by Fort Worth’s El Tepeyac. She’s guaranteed to get a good table.

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