Once upon a time, Casa Dominguez was located in a charming spot on Bissonnet with floor-to-ceiling windows that allowed sunshine to stream in and bounce off the restaurant's cool saltillo tiles. Then, in 2011, the 27-year-old Tex-Mex restaurant was told to pick up and move; its landlord had sold the space at 4548 Bissonnet, which now houses an ugly, blocky office building. Casa Dominguez landed in the old Tio Pepe space on Cedar, a few streets away, which had been vacant for two years.
This "new" space isn't nearly as charming as the old one, bifurcated into two separate areas: a bar, which still houses the lively-ish drinking scene from the old Casa Dominguez era, and a dining room that was empty and half-lit when I visited last night. (Another couple finally joined my friend and me, to my great relief, though the restaurant still refused to turn the lights on in that darkened half of the dining room.) Despite these changes, the menu remains the same.
Like any good Tex-Mex restaurant with roots in its community, Casa Dominguez's menu contains a list of dishes named after regulars such as the "Leo and Fay" plate named for a local couple who've been noshing on chips and salsa here for the last 20 years, according to our executive editor, Cathy Matusow, who's friends with their daughter. What sets Casa Dominguez slightly apart in this grand tradition is the section of its menu devoted to Texas colleges and universities—at least the Texas colleges and universities many Bellaire kids have attended over the years (sorry, Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston State alum).
This section is where you'll find the Texas Tech plate, the Rice Owls plate, the Baylor plate, and even a list devoted to insider-y University of Texas plates. "What's the Big Bertha?" I asked my dining companion last night, a UT alum. "Oh, sweetie," he patronized me. "I always forget you had to go to Baylor." (Big Bertha is a drum used at football games, it turns out. Who cares.)
Sadly, I couldn't order the Baylor plate last night, as it didn't contain anything remotely appetizing (beef tacos at Tex-Mex restaurants are almost always disappointing, and queso puffs are an insult). I girded my Waco-loving loins and ordered an Aggie plate instead, regretting the words as they tumbled out of my mouth.
My betrayal was worth it, however, for the beef fajita taco and the cheese enchilada that came on the A&M special. I wished that the tortilla on my taco was homemade instead of processed, and that the beans weren't canned, but there was no arguing with the homestyle chile gravy that spread across the top of my cheese enchilada—nor with the tartly sweet frozen margarita I ordered to wash it all down, something that certainly wouldn't have been advisable with a Baylor plate anyway.