The last in a 5-part series on leaving behind the Bayou City after losing your job in oil and gas.
I didn't know anything about Mexican food before I moved to Houston. Growing up in Canada, we would occasionally have "taco nights" that consisted of "taco shells" filled with ground beef cooked with spices from a grocery story packet and topped with chopped tomatoes and lettuce, bagged shredded cheese, jarred salsa and sour cream. I actually dreaded these dinners. I thought this was Mexican food, and I wanted no part of it. No thank you.
I was 25 before I discovered real Mexican food on moving to the Bayou City, and I officially became a Houstonian the day I requested Ninfa's for dinner because I needed a bowl of queso and a margarita fix after a tough week. Is there anything more Houstonian than that? I soon learned what a real taco was too: a soft corn tortilla filled with braised barbacoa, topped with diced white onions, cilantro, a wedge of lime and served from the Tacos Tierra Caliente truck at the West Alabama Ice House.
Even better still, I discovered the Tex-Mex staple of breakfast tacos—the food I'll miss the most when I move out of Texas. Can anything be better for breakfast? The answer is no; nothing is better than breakfast tacos. Nothing. Thankfully everyone in Houston agrees, with two of my friends even deciding I couldn't leave town without treating me to Tex-Mex one more time.
My dear, sweet Katharine took me to El Rey on my last Friday morning to enjoy chorizo-filled breakfast tacos and some surprisingly good lattes. Katharine was on her way out of town for a camping trip and insisted we meet one more time to hang out since she would be missing my going away party that weekend. Though readers at Houstonia may know her as the managing editor of this magazine, I know her as my best friend. Katharine taught me so much about loving this city, always introducing me to the best parts of a pretty cool town. Houston couldn't ask for a better ambassador. I loved living here because of her. It knew would be difficult to leave here because of her.
I had more traditional Mexican fare with my dinner date that night. Alma hired me at an energy consulting firm three years ago—a firm neither of us work for anymore. I didn't think she liked me at first. She's a tough interviewer who wasn't buying my feminine charms, and she let me know it. Over the years, Alma became a good friend, introducing me to twerking and aerial dancing. At our energy consulting firm, we had a small crew of brilliant immigrant women, mostly female engineers like myself, whom we worked with and we all had a blast together.
Alma is Mexican like I'm Lebanese, which is to say she's originally from Mexico but grew up in Texas and is now married to a tall Swede, just as I grew up in Canada and my family is Lebanese by way of Senegal and France. We always bonded over being confused third culture kids, an experience I think many Houstonians these days can relate to. She took me to Las Llardas, an unassuming restaurant in a strip mall on the west side that specialized in food from her hometown of Mexico City. We gossiped over enchiladas while her 3-year-old daughter Freya danced to The Weeknd.
Towards the end of our meal, Alma said some words in Spanish I didn't understand to our server and, a few minutes later, a Mexican bread pudding magically appeared at our table. It was delicious, full of nuts, raisins, and topped with condensed milk. In my head, I silently added a new favorite Tex-Mex restaurant to a list that won't stop growing, will never stop growing, even as I leave this great city.