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The "mucho más" is the best part.

Image: Alice Levitt

I could have grabbed some fast food at the start of my road trip. But why would I do that, when I could visit my first roadside Tex-Mex buffet?

I was prepared for more idiosyncrasy than I would have found, say, at Wendy's. But I was not steeled for this. And though Ranchero King Buffet looks big from the outside, inside, it goes on apparently forever, girded with animal skulls and taxidermy on nearly every surface.

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Jacko remembered just as he would have wanted to be—in glitter.

Image: Alice Levitt

The description on its own sign as "Mexican & Texan Cooking Y Mucho Más" made me fear a horror show of seasoned ground beef, hard taco shells and yellow cheese. And I found it among the vast offerings. But I skipped that in favor of this.

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Insert "I can haz" joke here.

Image: Alice Levitt

Turns out, there was plenty of legitimately Mexican food, too. In fact, both tortillas and tamales are made in-house, the latter stuffed with spicy strands of tender pork. A salsa bar was varied and disarmingly fresh. The spicy salsa verde actually tasted like cilantro, though there was plenty of the herb presented on its own, too. 

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Ignore the pineapples with tags still on them and just look at the nopales.

Image: Alice Levitt

A breakfast tostada, slathered in hot sauce, was more than the sum of its parts and the pupusa hiding beneath the husk of the tamale wasn't bad, either, especially when dipped in salsa. The meats I tried, costillas de res and something that appeared to be bistek, were unfortunately oversweet buffet standard issue.

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Not an attractive plate, but at least it's stacked high.

Image: Alice Levitt

But not all the meat necessitated skipping. Was I taking my life in my hands eating a whole fish off a buffet? Maybe, but it was actually, dare I say, kind of good. OK, if I had been served that crispy little guy at Kata Robata, I would have been deeply disturbed, but on a $9.49 buffet, I was elated.

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Yes, there's a pile of these sitting on the buffet.

Image: Alice Levitt

Of course, food cost is low because the salad looks like the salad above, but I also ate a whole darned fish that remained moist inside and crisp on the outside despite its time on a steam table. And I was able to dip it in fresh salsa and squeeze it with all the lime I wanted.

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El Niño hits Houston.

Image: Alice Levitt

It was an extra $1.99 for a beverage, strangely, but I was in my glory at the school cafeteria-style aguas bar. If only I'd had more time, I would have tasted them all and compared their sugary, artificial merits. But I had to hit the road for an adventure.

I grabbed a bright-red concha and got in my car. But next time I want to see a sparkly shrine to Selena and eat my fill of handmade tortillas among a forest's worth of animal heads, I'll know where to go. 

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Ranchero King Buffet

$ American/New American, Mexican/Tex-Mex 5900 North Fwy.

This gigantic buffet is stocked with practically every Mexican food you can imagine. Tamales? Check. Nopales salad? Check? Whole fried fish. They've got that...