The Good and Bad about Mexican Food (Healthy Meals in Houston)

A few days ago I tried a local Mexican restaurant famous for their enchiladas. Their food was remarkably good (albeit a bit expensive).  My criteria for Mexican restaurants is extremely high; I’ve lived in Houston and San Antonio  for several decades and can’t say I’ve found more than 1 or 2 high quality Mexican restaurants. I’ve learned to eat Mexican food rarely (and in fact, I’ve eaten at restaurants a LOT less over the past two years because of the recession).

Hours later, the Mexican dinner didn’t sit particularly well with me. It didn’t make me sick; I just didn’t feel that the meal was satisfying. My stomach was a little queasy; it had to be the Mexican food. Then i remembered what I don’t like about Mexican food: It has no vegetables!

Instead, here’s what a typical Mexican dinner at a restaurant has to offer:

  • a meat dish, with a tortilla, cheese  and maybe some slight vegetable topping (i.e., pico de gallo sauce…a mix of tomatoes, onions and cilantro)
  • refried beans and rice. Refried beans provide a kind of filler. It doesn’t taste particularly good;  (especially if it is made traditionally with lard)
  • guacamole (onion  + avocados + lemon) with nachos. Nachos are a disgusting fried food which is also served with every meal.

So let’s look at this meal. I had some extremely delicious enchiladas and a bunch of  unhealthy crap. To be fair, this restaurant did have several vegetarian dishes – two or three of which seemed unique and remarkable – but that didn’t contradict the fact that the vegetable component was minimal and it still was accompanied by  crap.

It’s hardly necessary to mention that we live amidst  an obesity epidemic, that this problem affects the Hispanic population disproportionately and that restaurant food in general is fat and calorie rich. But when  did restaurants start  serving  crap (i.e. nachos and refried beans and rice) instead of healthy and high-fiber food?  I can afford a restaurant meal every so often, but I certainly can’t afford to eat food which is not going to make me feel healthy after eating it.

One can say that I should be willing to pay more for high-quality food. But that is not the point. I fully expect that if I went to a higher quality restaurant (Mexican or otherwise), I don’t just want  bigger and higher-quality portions of the usual crap.  How hard would it be for a McDonald’s to carry side orders of fresh broccoli or sweet potatoes or fresh fruit? (Real fresh fruit – not just a banana, or “fruit salad” or some proprietary  apple concoction). My rule of thumb about restaurant quality: you know you’re being gypped out of high quality and nutritious food when the dish has lots of lettuce on it.   Lettuce is just fluff  to ladle high calorie  sauce over. Ironically, the restaurants I have noticed with  the best vegetable sides are the steak places. They always have decent salads and all sorts of delicious and healthy vegetable sides.

(Because of the carbon footprint of beef, I mostly avoid it, but once in a while I find myself where I still will eat steak; believe me,  despite my global warming guilt, steak still tastes every bit as good as I remembered).

I am not a vegetarian, but I find that the reason why I no longer can enjoy any kind of restaurant food is that the dishes are unbalanced nutritionally. There are exceptions.  My brother manages an upscale burger place and I occasionally eat there (often I get free food). The hamburgers are delicious and unhealthy (no surprise), but there is one item on the menu which  is delicious and healthy and not crap.  Ironically, it is called Robert’s chicken and vegetables (although it has nothing to do with me). Basically it’s just grilled chicken with a heaping portion of real vegetables which are grilled with spices. I get the sense that it is not a popular menu item, and it’s easy for customers to miss it. But every time I finish it, I ask: why can’t more restaurants offer simple + nutritious meals like that? Is it really so hard?

Despite my familiarity with the Houston restaurant scene, there are very few dishes on menus that are balanced meals, affordable and not crap. I guess I should make a list of restaurant dishes which fit my bill of being tasty and nutritious and reasonably-priced. Overall, I think your best best is to visit Yelp and choose an Indian restaurant with lots of vegetable dishes (i.e., lentils and chick peas). I like these kinds of places, but don’t especially love them. They sound good in theory, but it’s usually mass-produced buffet food with ridiculous amounts of spices; I have nothing against spiciness, but that shouldn’t be the primary appeal of a dish; a dish should have a clear and distinct texture.

My list so far:

  • Loving Hut. A  remarkable vegan restaurant with lots of conventional dishes prepared with vegetarian substitutes. Overall, excellent, but my main complaint is that the dishes are never big enough for my appetite. I usually need to order two things to remain full.
  • Beck’s Prime. Robert’s Chicken with Vegetables.
  • Chatter’s Cafe. Chicken St. George.  Chicken with fresh vegetables
  • Chili’s Restaurant. I tried a great light entree called “Mango  chili tilapia” (or “Mango chili chicken”).  Chicken with avocadoes, chili, mango and sides of broccoli and rice. What a terrific combination — and less than $10!
  • More (forthcoming)






7 responses to “The Good and Bad about Mexican Food (Healthy Meals in Houston)”

  1. Sky Avatar

    You need to understand what is “healthy” and “crap” before you start accusing certain foods of being so. First of all, rice & beans together form a complete protein. Beans are very high in fiber, low in fat (ask for borracho or black beans unless you know they don’t use an unreasonable amount of lard in the re-fried), and high in protein. There is nothing wrong with rice. A generous portion of rice is served at mexican restaurants, as well as bottomless tortillas, however no one is holding a gun to your head telling you to eat all of the rice and 8 tortillas. Show some self control, and the rice & beans are actually quite healthy. Guacamole is high in fat, but the GOOD fat (and again, moderation is key). Lastly, request that they go light on the cheese or hold the cheese altogether (a little cheese won’t hurt). Mexican can be quite healthy. Try some vegetable/chicken fajitas mixture with corn tortillas. Just by making some minor adjustments to your order, and requesting some small things, you can eat healthy at just about ANY restaurant.

  2. nicole Avatar

    Oh lord. First of all, nachos = chips with cheese or beans or SOME TOPPING. Why do Texans always refer to tortilla chips as nachos?

    Secondly, MAcDonalds? Couldn’t you have proofread this crap before citing statistics about the obsese Hispanic population in our country without as so much as a reference???

  3. Marie Avatar

    It is a shame that you have never tasted traditional and original mexican food. I can assure mexican people eat fresh vegetables and the menu is not only nachos burritos tamales tacos chiles as you believe. Mc donald’s? I’d rather eat pescado a la veracruzana than that shit full of fat.

  4. mercy Avatar

    If your going to be picky, don’t eat out! And you talk about Mexican food as crap? Please everyone loves our culture and food,.they love it so much they claim to be part Indian or some type of mexicano. Your ignorant.

  5. John Avatar

    I will say that I do not like Mexican generally. How honest can I be – its just not interesting or nice a cuisine. One still never gets away from tacos even after I looked up professional recipes oriented to that food given to me by people I told I did not like Mexican cuisine

  6. Stephannie Avatar

    First us Hispanic food is healthy not you thing
    You eat the same thing
    As for McDonald’s is beef
    Pork is not good for you
    I agree that Mexican food is high on
    Sodium but salad is good for you
    Not eggs

  7. Jamie Avatar

    Hi! I do agree with the author that most of America’s Mexican food that “sells well” or is most popular tends toward fried tortillas as chips and tostadas (rather than toasted), nachos (ahem… clearly a dish with friend or toasted tortilla chips and topping), and the fattier of meat dishes (chorizo, ground beef, most pork dishes) if not sure how they are prepared at that restaurant .

    Next time you try a Mexican restaurant, ask for extra bell peppers,tomatos, nopales (cactus), or other veggies; whole pinto or black beans rather than re-fried, and try the shrimp or chicken or anything “asada” (grilled) option. Also, FYI sour cream as eaten in the US is not a Mexican food.

    Keep in mind that what sells in mainstream is 1) not always authentic Mexican food – look up American Chinese Food as an aside to this- and 2) not always what the cooks themselves are eating.

    Nachos served with every meal. Hah.

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