Traditional recipes

The Best Margaritas in Town: Berryhill Baja Grill

The Best Margaritas in Town: Berryhill Baja Grill

What to drink (besides margs, obviously) at Berryhill

Berryhill's famous margaritas.

It's not just the "fresh-mex" food that keeps people coming back to Houston's 12 locations of Berryhill Baja Grill — it's the award-winning margaritas and drinks that keep the bars crowded.

Jeff Anon, the current CEO of Berryhill Hot Tamales Corp., recently shared with Houston Culture Map that the margarita recipe at Berryhill is a classic, thanks to its high-end silver tequila and (secret) mixture of fresh juices. "Berryhill's margarita recipe has been the same since day one," Anon told Culture Map.

On top of the margarita menu, there's the frozen screwdriver menu. The most popular? The "Screw the Moon" screwdriver, a Blue Moon beer tipped upside down in a frozen screwdriver. (Yes, please!) Another popular drink, the Baja Breeze, takes vodka or rum with Berryhill's special fresh-squeezed mint lemonade. No matter what, there's no shortage of drinks at Berryhill.


Berryhill Baja Grill and Cantina

Beautiful Atmosphere and Super View – I love the location . Its not to far out ,Its not that hard to find . If you like to drink there is lots on the menu . They have what i wanted , plenty of food to choose from "vary tasty" not your traditional texmex though, but that is a good thing . My wife and I love the romantic view . If you want the place to yourself (going on a date)show up on the week days (MON - THUR) and the place is yours . I highly recommend this to couples . Oh and bring your wallet its not that pricey but just come prepared you will definitely want to order more than one drink :)

I would go there, but it's in the middle of nowhere – it would be nice it they got a better location

Fish tacos with an amazing view! – Try the original fish tacos. Sooooo good.

Salsa is also really good with fresh jalapenos and cilantro like all good salsa should.

Service was outstanding and margaritas are top notch.

The view is amazing! One of the best kept secrets on 360. Try it out, especially if you don't want to deal with the wait at Maudie's across the highway.

Fundraiser with Berry Hill – Berry Hill catered a fundraiser we had at our salon, and everything from the fresh food to the service was outstanding. They were prompt for set-up, the food was hot and abundant, and the staff was prepared and accommodating to our every need. Our guests loved the appetizers, especially the shrimp diablo. I've worked with several catering companies, and they stand out from the rest because of the high quality in their food and customer service. I'd definitely recommend Berry Hill to anyone throwing an event, or even just a small get together at their home!

Excellent Service, Great Food, Highly recommended! – My wife and I visited Berry Hill on Capital of Texas Highway on Friday night. We have been fairly regular visitors for several years, having first been hooked on the chain when we lived in Houston. We wanted to let you know that our visit on Friday night was the best one that we have ever had. The service was excellent, the food was great (brought to us quicker, tasted better, seemed fresher), and because our server offered us a dessert tray we went ahead and ordered dessert! The tres leches was fantastic, and we wouldn't have bought anything had it not been presented to us. I don't think we've ever had dessert at your store before.

Our server was very conscientious and seemed like he cared, which was an improvement. We liked the changes that we saw on Friday, and we will recommend your restaurant to our friends and family. Thanks so much!

Thank you, as we are very excited to have made such a wonderful evening for your wife and yourself.

No no no – They allllwayyyys mess the order up and you end up getting a hot greesy mess. go to Maudies across the street much better and much more friendly. Berryhill doenst even care when the mess up. they dont even apologizeeeeee!

Best Place for Mexican food and Margaritas. – Well I have been dining in Austin for many moons now, but have not had the opportunity to dine with Berryhill Baja Grill. This place was phenemonal, the very second you walked in you felt as if you were transformed into a big kid in your favorite toy store. The view here is breathtaking while you eat, and the margaritas will have you thinking out loud, "Man I'm having a good time". The music that is playing is what you will find other patrons in the restaurant singing along with. Oh and the transformation of counter service to full service at night here at berryhill is new, but definately a perk. My waitress was very knowledgeable and got all my food correct when I ordered it. She also seemed to enjoy her job so much she never took the smile off her face. Thanks Jill you were awesome. Anyhow get in there and check it out, I promise you won't be unhappy. Oh and the food is the best thing there but I always try to save the best for last.

Great Tacos, Rude Servers – Three weeks ago my husband, children and I visited for the first time. The view is great, the fish tacos and enchiladas are great, great kids menu, but very disappointed in our service. Our waitress was very rude, and got our order wrong. My husband and I were especially disappointed when we couldn't even flag down our waitress to let her know the mistake. The gentleman who actually brought our food hardly even spoke English. On our way out, another gentleman behind the bar waved, smiled and thanked us for coming in. My husband actually approached him, asked his name - Andrew - and thanked him for being the first person to smile at us since we came in. Too bad for the rest of the service.

Seafood Burritos are awsome – Love the atmosphere, and the food is great! I recommend the seafood burrito, queso, and the spinach & corn tamales. I wish the restaurant had a better location, closer to downtown, but it was so good I will definatly be making a trip back soon.

Wonderful Mexican food! – If you haven't tried the corn and spinach tamales and the white queso, you are missing some great tastes. The tamales are all overflowing with great fillings (not a big chunk of masa with a dab of filling, like so many other Mexican restaurants). Berryhill catered an event in our home and did a spectacular job--all of the food was piping hot, tasty, and well organized. The catering manager, Alexis, made sure that everything was perfect--everyone raved about the food and the service. We have several favorite Mexican restaurants, but this one definitely vies for top place. If you are still going to the Oasis (great views, but middle-of-the-road food and drinks), you should give Berryhill a try--it's addictive :-)

Reality Check – I happen to know Rick at Berryhill and know that this particular location has had problems like all restaurants. I think CookiemonsterIIIII posting a negative rant on a review page is petty and bad form in general. She sounds typically disgruntled and I can guarantee it will be a long road of disappointments in the biz. go visit an industry website and air your dirty laundry there! I have worked in the restaurant business for 20yrs off and on and have dealt with good and very, very bad managers! Rick is a hard working man, and an honest individual. By the way, the personal information is incorrect. This location has a breathtaking view and good food.

Great Party Place – I recently had a birthday party for my daughter at Berryhill Austin. Wow, I cannot say enough about the service and the view. From the minute we walked in we were treated like regulars. Our table was near the back window and we had a great view of the famous Austin sunset.

The staff was professional and quick to respond to our (seems like) always empty margaritas. The party was a big sucess with the family and several are now going back regularly for fish tacos. I had the fajitas and they were about average for the price (I always want more meat, less onions)

Overall I would highly recommend this restaurant if you are visiting Austin and want to see pretty people, a great sunset and have a cold Texas margarita.

awesome view - overall good atmosphere – they have great food and relaxed atmosphere. I was there last saturday with some buddies after it rained and saw one of the most beautiful sunsets ive ever seen in austin not to mention they happened to have $3 margaritas . overall good experience i would definatly reccomend going to berryhill.

Worst Tacos in Town – Worst fish tacos in town. I can't tell you how bland they are. My whole office was complaining and had to somther them with salsa and hot sauce to get any flavor. $4 for one taco and it's not a big one either. This place wont' last too long. Don't waste your time or money.

WAY overpriced and completely unremarkable. – Allow me to say, if you received more food for the price, or BETTER food for the price, it wouldn't seem like such a rip off. The fact of the matter is this: The average meal price there, for a combo and a drink is like 11 or 12 dollars, even more if you get a "BIG" combo. The food wasn't horrible it was definitely edible. But, it's definitely not worth 9.50-10 for a plate of food, and an extra 2 dollars for a soda. When we went, the guy that seated us acted like it was too much to ask to be seated. Then, he pranced us all over the restaurant, like he didn't know where he was going. When we were finally seated, we found out there was only one waiter and he had all the tables in the retaurant. So, needless to say, service was slow. I mean, it was lunch rush on a Sunday, after church, and they only had ONE waiter? Ridiculous. Also, of the 5 adults at the table, they messed up 2 orders. It was pretty sucky.

Overall, the food was edible, but not spectacular, and it was DEFINITELY not worth the money. Luckily for us, my fiance's parents were paying, so we didn't have to waste any of OUR money. Still, I felt bad that they were paying for an overpriced, unremarkable meal. The sentiments about the restaurant were shared by all but 2 that were there for the meal.

Brassy yet casual, this Tex-Mex place is a draw for real tamales. – In Short
From its humble beginnings as a tamale stand in Houston in 1928, Berryhill Baja Grill has graduated to a small Texas chain. The sun-drenched colors--yellow, azure blue, green and gold--are reminiscent of a taqueria south of the border. Take a seat at the bar, or next to big picture windows gazing out on an unspoiled Hill Country vista. A parrilla pescado burrito fills the plate and the chipotle-rubbed catfish is stuffed with rice and beans.

A ROOM WITH A VIEW – I was looking for a new place to dine. A very good friend of mine told me about a place off of 360 and Westlake, with the Best Sunset view in Austin and incredible food, so I said I would check it out. We ordered at the bar and was cheerfully greeted by the friendliest waitstaff, who made us feel right at home. The Baja Burger was awesome. a fresh beef patty served on a fresh sweet jalopeno bun topped with grilled fajita vegatables, and french fried potatoes with a side of queso, unbelievable, I'm hooked!

After dinner we relaxed, enjoyed the view and talked over a couple of frozen margaritas, made with freshly squeezed lime juice, the best I ever had. I've been back several times and brought my friends. THEY LOVE IT Check it out, I promise you won't be disappointed!

It's the food that matters – We gave Berryhill's about a year before returning after many disappointments with service and cleanliness. So many restaurants in Austin and so little time. The place had changed very little physically in the past year. The view is still great and the customers are still noisy, inconsiderate and have little regard for their fellow diners with their cell phones and uncontrolled children. The good news is the food. Delicious fish entrees, sauces, and margaritas now overshadow the poor presentation and diner atmosphere. Better to try to blend in and relax with the situation to concentrate on the cuisine. We now even go with the takeout option to fill that Berryhill Original Fish Taco craving.

Super8 – I love Berryhill. Their breakfast taco is absolutely addiciting. And their veggie breakfast taco has a huge mound of avacado which is absolutely fabulous. I definitely recommend. It's best just to eat up at the bar counter--you get service right away, and if you're looking for a quiet spot, this is not it. Kids everywhere, but the food is worth even the loudest screams. Go there and try it for your self.

I could have gone somewhere better. – I went to Berryhill for happy hour for my birthday. We sat on the patio to enjoy the view only to be surrounded by screaming children running around the tables. The waiter forgot about us but had no problem getting everyone else's orders out and checking on them repeatedly! The final straw was when a neighbouring table asked what kind of margarita I was drinking and he looked over at my EMPTY glass, told them what kind then ignored us for another 10 minutes to go get them one!

The food was boring and watered-down even by Americanized standards. When we got our bill, the waiter had charged us full cost for our drinks and appetizer which we would have received, eaten, and paid for before the 7P cutoff if he had remembered we existed. [We ended up leaving after 8:30 because of his incompetence]

Below average – This place was recommended by a friend, & we were appalled by it. Our server was rude, the food was cold and wrong, & the management was unhelpful. Avoid the beans- there are none, just mush. Good margaritas though.

Go for seafood tacos and tamales! – The original Berryhill's in Houston served Veracruz-style seafood tacos decades before most Texans were familiar with them - and tamales. It is a tiny place with a short menu, a bar/counter for ordering and some tables for eating.

To make this classic hole-in-the-wall into a "Baja Grill" concept franchise, the new locations fill out the menu with a variety of Texmex standards not found at the original location, including quesadillas, enchiladas, burritos, and chimichanges, with varying degrees of success.

The real reason to go here is for the things that made the original location famous: the fish and shrimp tacos, and the tamales. If you order these, you'll get a terrific experience. If you order anything else, expect average to above-average Texmex, but nothing special.

Give Berryhill's a try. Judge it on what makes it famous, and you'll be glad you did.

Forgettable, overpriced food – For the prices, you would expect top-notch tex-mex. Not at this place. The food was very mediocre, and served fast food-style. And the staff didn't seem to care. A real disappointment.

Berryhill rocks! – I've been a "regular" at Berryhill since they opened last spring. This is one of my favorite restaurants in town. Service has been hit-or-miss in the past, but it has been constantly improving over the last few months. The food is consistently stellar, and the portions are huge! The grilled shrimp taco alone has enough shrimp to fill two tacos. The salsas are spicy and very flavorful. They "placed" at the Hot Sauce Festival last August! The spinach/corn tamales and chicken enchiladas are some of the best in town. The view from the patio overlooking West Austin is amazing. Top it all off with a tasty 'rita, and you've got a great meal!

The worst tex/mex in Austin – I joined 4 co-workers for lunch at Berryhill's Grill in Westlake today, and I must say that it was the worst food I've eaten in the 5 years I've lived in Austin.

Their salsa was watery and had no signature flavor or "kick," and their chips were average.

My enchilada combo was poor. The sauce was watery, and the cheese had curdled and separated inside the soggy tortilla. The chicken had a distinct "store-bought" flavor, and the black beans must have come from a can.

To add insult to injury, my LUNCH cost more than ten dollars! What a rip!

The only saving grace I experienced was their tres leches cake. It was moist and tender, and tasted of fresh, sweet milk.

You should have no trouble finding much better tex/mex food in Austin, and for certainly less money.

Two words: Shrimp Quesadillas – The Shrimp Quesadillas keep bringing me back. I agree with the other posters who said that the food was overpriced for the portion size. However, that is not true with the Shrimp Quesadillas. They are huge, with good chunks of shrimp and a creamy spicy sauce -- Delish!

The views are spectacular too.

Overrated and Overpriced – For ten dollars you recieve a good tasting meal, but it isn't enough food to feed a four year old. My first and last trip to Berryhill's was very dissapointing. Like many things that get put into Davenport/San Clemente area,the food is way too expensive in comparison with other places to eat.

My tacos were a little soft and the meat inside, albeit, good was hard to find. It seems as though the portion was made for a child and then thrown inside an adult size tortilla. The service was marginal and unpleasant. I was not impressed at all, and being a Houstonian it was extremely sad to see an institution such as Berryhill's fall this far short.

Good tex-mex – Berryhill seems to be have good tex-mex at a reasonable price. We liked the fish tacos and burritos that we had. Definitely would go there again, atleast for the fish dishes! Service was kind of ok. lot of young kids who didn't do to much of a good job.


Berryhill Baja Grill

I love this place - I've gone to several of their locations and they are all good (except the one in Bellaire - food doesn't taste the same and staff not real friendly) This location has great staff members who make it a point to learn

I love this place - I've gone to several of their locations and they are all good (except the one in Bellaire - food doesn't taste the same and staff not real friendly) This location has great staff members who make it a point to learn

I like to eat and this place got the food to me fast, it wasn't overly expensive though a bit more than some I thought it was worth it. Sometimes you pay more and get less. here that wouldn't be the case!

I like to eat and this place got the food to me fast, it wasn't overly expensive though a bit more than some I thought it was worth it. Sometimes you pay more and get less. here that wouldn't be the case!

Pros: just plain good food

My husband enjoyed the food very much, probably too much as he had an upset stomach for days. They use quite a bit of creams, butters, oils, etc. and perhaps not the place for health-freaks.

My husband enjoyed the food very much, probably too much as he had an upset stomach for days. They use quite a bit of creams, butters, oils, etc. and perhaps not the place for health-freaks.

Four adults, 3 kids went to Webster store for Monday special---$1.99 fish tacos. Good buy. Good tacos (especially the fried fish) but amount of sauce/dressing was inconsistent----some tacos barely had any at all, some just right. One of the kid's meals had refried beans that smelled as bad as they tasted. Didn't eat after 1st bite. Another had fries that had so much salt, she refused to eat. One adult complained that a side of corn tasted terrible. Two previous trips to Webster location I ordered tamales and had no complaints (maybe a little expensive, but tasted good). But based on most recent visit, this kitchen better keep it's head in the game before somebody gets sick.

Good fish tacos, bad sides

Four adults, 3 kids went to Webster store for Monday special---$1.99 fish tacos. Good buy. Good tacos (especially the fried fish) but amount of sauce/dressing was inconsistent----some tacos barely had any at all, some just right. One of the kid's meals had refried beans that smelled as bad as they tasted. Didn't eat after 1st bite. Another had fries that had so much salt, she refused to eat. One adult complained that a side of corn tasted terrible. Two previous trips to Webster location I ordered tamales and had no complaints (maybe a little expensive, but tasted good). But based on most recent visit, this kitchen better keep it's head in the game before somebody gets sick.

Berryhill's use to be a pretty good restaurant. It was busy but the staff was friendly and the food was fresh. The last 3 times I've been I've seen a decline in the level of service, taste and presentation and a rise in prices. I'm sorry to see that this is no longer a restaurant I can recommend to a friend or one that I'll be visiting. It's turned from a nice place to have a tasty mexican lunch to a high priced Taco Bell.

Not as good as it once was

Berryhill's use to be a pretty good restaurant. It was busy but the staff was friendly and the food was fresh. The last 3 times I've been I've seen a decline in the level of service, taste and presentation and a rise in prices. I'm sorry to see that this is no longer a restaurant I can recommend to a friend or one that I'll be visiting. It's turned from a nice place to have a tasty mexican lunch to a high priced Taco Bell.

It is a lacarte service and the food is excellent. It tops a lot of 5 star restaurants. It is a great place for birthday parties or just hanging out after a long work day. The one on Revere is a little small for a large group. There is a couple larger ones that I have been to several times on Post Oak and and another one on Montrose that we had my wifes Pre Birthday party at on the patio. Try it, trust me, you will return.

This place has been it since I first started going in 1995

It is a lacarte service and the food is excellent. It tops a lot of 5 star restaurants. It is a great place for birthday parties or just hanging out after a long work day. The one on Revere is a little small for a large group. There is a couple larger ones that I have been to several times on Post Oak and and another one on Montrose that we had my wifes Pre Birthday party at on the patio. Try it, trust me, you will return.

Pros: Excellent Authentic Mexican food at Very Affordable Prices

Cons: They close too early

The food is excellent but $9 for 3 tamales and some rice and beans seems a bit steep to me. Also, the service can be spotty - sometimes helpful and sometimes not. However if you live in the neighborhood, this can be a good place to while away a summer evening.

Food is good but expensive for what you get

The food is excellent but $9 for 3 tamales and some rice and beans seems a bit steep to me. Also, the service can be spotty - sometimes helpful and sometimes not. However if you live in the neighborhood, this can be a good place to while away a summer evening.

Pros: Good food, centrally located

Cons: expensive, poor service

Having been a patron of Berryhills since it opened on Revere, I must say the service quality of food and friendliness of the servers has stayed consistently high. With each visit you are greeted with a friendly smile and a relaxing atmosphere. If you are looking for a friendly neighborhood restaurant for a quick bite to eat or a fun place to meet great people and have fun! Berryhills is the place for you.

Having been a patron of Berryhills since it opened on Revere, I must say the service quality of food and friendliness of the servers has stayed consistently high. With each visit you are greeted with a friendly smile and a relaxing atmosphere. If you are looking for a friendly neighborhood restaurant for a quick bite to eat or a fun place to meet great people and have fun! Berryhills is the place for you.


Best Of :: Food & Drink

One of the last of Houston's old-time tamale men was an American Indian named Walter Berryhill. Dressed in a white jacket and top hat, Berryhill sold tamales from his pushcart in River Oaks. He rigged the cart with a propane burner in order to comply with health department regulations and kept selling tamales long after most tamale men had disappeared. Berryhill's tamale cart is now chained to a pole at the corner of Westheimer and Revere in front of Berryhill Hot Tamales. The tiny restaurant sells five kinds of tamales based on Walter Berryhill's recipes: beef, pork, chicken, bean and spinach. These unique East Texas tamales are made with cornmeal, and they have a Southern corn-bread stuffing flavor and a satisfying heaviness. The bean and spinach tamales are both vegetarian, made without any lard. The beef, pork and chicken tamales have lots of meat, and Berryhill's chili gravy is served on the side.

If you think good tunnel food is an impossibility, and if you think the only stuff you can find down there is doled out by chain fast-food eateries, stop by Panini for a pleasant lunchtime surprise. Homemade soups. Freshly baked pizzas. Wonderful salads. Terrific sandwiches (we particularly like the homemade meatball with a light tomato sauce and lots and lots of gooey melted cheese, served with or without the cool garlicky red pepper garnish, as well as the prosciutto, tomato and fresh mozzarella sandwich). There are even granitas. Owner Vittorio Preteroti has made a nice little shop for himself, down in the depths of the tunnels. Now if he only served a good veal-and-pepper sandwich.

Many will say this category is too broad. Do we mean best power lunch? Best place for ladies who lunch? Best place for a quick bite -- alone? How about all of the above? No longer a tiny cafe in an old house, Ouisie's has moved to more upscale digs, where it offers Southern comfort in a rustic yet sophisticated wood building. It still has its namesake community table, where you can munch with new best friends, and what's more, it has something on the menu for everyone. Fried oysters are compliments of Elouise Adams Jones's grandmother's recipe, as is the longtime favorite pimento cheese, which can be part of a taster plate with egg salad and a house salad. More adventurous roughage is found in the Stilton Kit, with romaine, arugula and endive, or the grapefruit sections with avocado and red onions. Longtime loyals also swear by the Ouisie's Spud with caviar -- yes, caviar. The wildly popular chicken-fried steak is served only on Tuesday, but any day finds the south-of-the-border treat grilled chicken à la Juanita, piled high with poblano pesto, green chilies, Jack cheese and a scrumptious corn sauté.

If you like your meat well hung -- gastronomically speaking, that is -- you'll love the dry-aged, certified Angus porterhouse steak ($30) at the Capital Grille. The dry-aging process takes place in an environment where the temperature, humidity and airflow are controlled. The meat cures for up to 21 days. Once the stuff that has turned bad is removed (up to 30 percent of some cuts), what's left retains the essential flavor. For a meat lover, it's 24 ounces of heaven, seared on the outside, pink at its core, with blood-red juices flowing freely from its mass. It is, without a doubt, the most tender and most flavorful steak we've ever tried. Its flavor can best be described as nutty, sour and musty. Its tenderness will amaze you on the first bite. Under the theory that the better the meat, the less it needs, there's not a sauce or side dish in sight. A mere sprig of watercress hides its nakedness.

The low-slung white building with its spreading porch housing Floyd's Cajun Kitchen almost looks like a home you might find in South Louisiana. Inside, the aromas of food definitely put you in Cajun Country. The five-page menu covers everything from crawfish boulettes (crawfish stuffing rolled into balls, breaded and fried, $6.50) to court bouillon (seafood stew, $12.95), the best crawfish étouffée you'll find in Houston ($10.95) and blackened catfish, served with a three-alarm rendition of red beans and rice ($8.95). Recipes have been in Floyd Landry's family since the 1930s. No skimping of portions here, either. The grilled flounder ($15.95) is bigger than the plate on which it is served. One look at the fried or broiled seafood platter ($14.95) will wilt the biggest appetite. It includes a catfish fillet, shrimp, crawfish tails, oysters, a crab cake and stuffed shrimp. The bowl of red beans and rice that accompany many entrées is a meal unto itself. Take it slow. A Cajun is rarely in a hurry.

With its dark wood furniture, abundant greenery and well-stocked bar, Bombay Brasserie exudes a glory-days-of-the-British Empire sort of elegance. The $9.95 lunch buffet is one of the best samplings of Indian food we've seen. The long line of chafing dishes reveals one excellently prepared Indian dish after another. But dinner at Bombay Brasserie is even better. The menu includes chicken, lamb and seafood curries with prices ranging from $7.95 to $14.95, along with many elaborately seasoned vegetable, rice and tandoori dishes. The service is knowledgeable, friendly and extremely efficient, and there are seldom any crowds to contend with at night. Besides, in the evening you can get acquainted with the bartender (and what a place to drink a gin and tonic or a Pimm's Cup). Buffets are nice, but there's something to be said for getting a tall libation, a big dish of spicy lamb curry, some fluffy nan and kulchas and just settling in for the evening.

At this time last year, Charles Clark was making an impressive name for himself as head chef at Tasca Kitchen and Wine Bar. These days Clark heads up the kitchen at the new downtown Elvia's, where he proves he is a master of many culinary disciplines. The killer bee menu includes grilled sea bass, cold avocado soup, portobello mushroom tacos and seviche. After dinner on the weekends, stick around for live Latin music and dancing. After midnight, the dance floor is as lively as the food.

With south-of-the-border fare having gone gourmet, Felix is often dismissed by highbrow naysayers. They forget that it's the good old-fashioned grease factor that makes true Tex-Mex. It's in abundance here, although it's a little sad to see the disclaimer: "We cook with cottonseed oil only!" Felix also is keeping up with the changing times with its light, bright hacienda. A recent fire not only fanned the flames of Felix's popularity but also afforded the 50-year-old place a much-needed face-lift. Colorful linoleum floors and table settings now serve as a fanciful backdrop to cheese enchiladas smothered in onions, chili and the kind of cheese that sticks to your palate. Fried taco shells are stuffed with fried meat and then fried some more, but Felix aficionados -- like former hometown girl Linda Ellerbee -- most often praise the chili con queso, an oozy blob of that questionable cheese spread nearly a half-inch thick over a fried corn tortilla. Also good are such rare nonfried and cheeseless items as the oniony guacamole, served on a lettuce leaf. As the famous Fido says in the commercials for that other Tex-Mex place, "I think I'm in love."


Main Menu

Famous Tamales

Tamales are our namesake dish. Served traditionally in the husk with tamale sauce on the side. Any three, any six, any twelve, platter of three (with rice and beans).

Chicken

Spinach & Corn

Combos

Served with rice and your choice of beans. Black beans topped with sour cream, charro beans or refried beans. Add a single tamale to any combo. Order a la carte or a combo plate with rice & beans. Pick any one, pick any two, pick any three:

Baja Tacos

Original Fish Taco

Award-winning. Tempura fried fish with red cabbage, special sauce and cilantro

Grilled Fish

Chipotle chile marinated fish with dijon sauce, lettuce and pico de gallo

Grilled Fajita Chicken

With guacamole and pico de gallo

Crispy Shrimp

Tempura fried shrimp with red cabbage, remoulade sauce and cilantro

Original Shrimp

Sauteed in white wine with special sauce, red cabbage, pico de gallo and cilantro

Grilled Fajita Beef

With guacamole and pico de gallo

Pulled Pork

With red onions, red cabbage and chipotle vinaigrette

Korean Taco

Kolbi-marinated pork, sriracha chili sauce, julienne cut carrots and cucumbers, lettuce and cilantro

Fried Avacado

Tempura fried avocado slices with lettuce, black beans, tomato, cheese and creamy jalapeno ranch

Ground Beef

Seasoned ground beef with lettuce, pico de gallo and cheese

Enchiladas

Spinach

With whole kernel corn and red bell peppers, topped with red jalapeno sauce and monterey jack cheese

Chicken

Topped with tomatillo sauce and monterey jack cheese

Topped with tomatillo sauce and monterey jack cheese

Seafood

Shrimp and fish with monterey jack cheese and mushrooms in a cream sauce

Cheese

Pico de gallo topped with red jalapeno sauce

Whole kernel corn, red onions, anaheim chile and cream cheese, topped with tomatillo sauce and monterey jack cheese

Chimichangas

Tempura fried - made with a corn tortilla and topped with our special sauce, red cabbage and cilantro

Chicken or Beef Fatija

With pico de gallo and cheese

Seafood

With pico de gallo and cheese

Spinach

With whole kernel corn and red bell peppers

Breakfast

Breakfast Taco Platter

Two breakfast tacos with rice and beans

Original Breakfast Taco

Egg, bacon, chorizo, potato, pico de gallo and cheese served in a flour tortilla

Breakfast Taco

Choice of: egg & bacon / egg & sausage / egg & potato / egg & chorizo / egg & pico de gallo

Veggie Breakfast Taco

Egg, potato, pico de gallo, avocado and cheese

Breakfast Bunwich

Scrambled eggs and pepper jack cheese served on a jalapeno-cheese bun

Migas

Crisp corn tortilla strips scrambled with eggs, served with black beans

Baja Breakfast

Two eggs any style with bacon, rice, beans, salsa and flour tortillas

Huevos Hogados

Two eggs poached in our hogados sauce, served between corn tortillas with a side of black beans

Chilaquiles

Corn tortilla chips sauteed with our red jalapeno sauce and monterey jack cheese

Pancakes

Appetizers

Queso

Add beef, chicken, chorizo or shrimp

Gaucamole

Taquitos

Fried corn tortillas, stuffed with chicken served with guacamole, sour cream and pico de gallo

Nachos

Chicken, beef or mixed with guacamole, black beans, sour cream and pico de gallo and queso

Shrimp Diablo

Bacon-wrapped prawns with roasted bell peppers, monterey jack cheese and our special sauce

Soups, Salads, Burgers, Etc.

All soups made from scratch daily. Homemade dressings: chipotle vinaigrette, remoulade, ranch, caesar

Soups

Roasted red bell pepper corn and poblano chowder tortilla gazpacho (seasonal)

Small Tossed Salad

Greens, tomatoes and avocado

Grilled Chicken Salad

Greens, tomato, avocado, grilled chicken

Shrimp and Avocado Salad

Greens, tomato, avocado, sauteed shrimp

Chopped Chicken Salad

Lettuce, fajita chicken, avocado, tomato, bacon, cheese, and tortlla strips tossed in your choice of dressing

Baja Burger

Angus beef and pepper jack cheese on a jalapeno-cheese bun with grilled vegetables, lettuce and tomato. Served with fries

Tostadas

Two fried corn tortillas, topped with refried beans, lettuce, tomato, cheese and creamy jalapeno ranch. Add beef or chicken

Burritos

Hogados Burrito

Chicken or beef fajita meat mixed with monterey jack cheese topped with our famous hogados sauce

Parrilla Pescado Burrito

Chipotle grilled fish, rice, black beans, pico de gallo and dijon sauce topped with our red jalapeno sauce and monterey jack cheese

Seafood Burrito

Grilled shrimp and fish, rice, pico de gallo and cheese topped with a tabasco cream sauce, garnished with cilantro

Supremo Burrito

Chicken or beef fajita meat, guacamole and red cabbage topped with a chipotle vinaigrette cream sauce

Platters / Fajitas

Berryhill Fajitas - Served Sizzling!

Fajita beef or chicken breast with shredded cheese, grilled peppers and onions, sour cream, pico de gallo, guacamole and corn or flour tortillas, served with rice and beans

Chicken, Beef or Mixed

Pollo Berryhill

Grilled chicken breast smothered with mushrooms, onions, poblano peppers and cilantro in a cream sauce, served on a bed of rice

Berryhill Del Mar

Grilled fish and shrimp topped with mushrooms, onions, poblano peppers and cilantro in a cream sauce, served on a bed of rice

Quesadillas

Chicken or Beef Fajita

Fajita meat and monterey jack cheese

Chipotle Chicken

Poblano peppers, leeks, onions and monterey jack cheese

Chipotle Shrimp

Poblano peppers, leeks, onions and monterey jack cheese

Mushroom Poblano

Mushrooms, poblano peppers and monterey jack cheese

Cheese

Desserts

Tres Leches

Award-winning. 3 milk cake with a hint of brandy / vanilla

Killer B Cookie

Chocolate Chip Cookie

Sides

Black Beans

Charro Beans or Refried Beans

Basket of Fries

Sour Cream

Tortillas

Kids Menu

Served with french fries or rice & beans

Kraft Macroni & Cheese

Chicken Nuggets

Cheese Quesadillas

Ground Beef Taco

Tempura Fish

Mini Corn Dogs

Beverages

Fresh Squeezed Mint Lemonade

Strawberry Mint Lemonade

Fresh Squeezed Orange Juice

Bottled Water

Topo Chico

Sodas

Iced Tea

Coffee

Award-Winning Silver Margaritas

Disclaimer: Always check with the business for pricing and availability of menu items. SinglePlatform is not responsible for menu or pricing changes, but the information is believed to be accurate when posted. Listing of a menu does not mean that there is any affiliation, endorsement or sponsorship between SinglePlatform and the listed business.


Hometown Hungers: Best Fish Tacos Outside of San Diego

Baja fish tacos might just be the perfect fusion food. Their origin story begins in the Mexican state of Baja California, where locals reportedly learned about tempura-fried fish from Japanese fishermen working in the vicinity. This regional specialty — battered and fried fish served in corn tortillas slathered with a cabbage slaw, crema or mayo — began popping up at many a roadside stand in the 1960s. No one knows for sure exactly where this taco was created, but it’s a classic in Ensenada, San Felipe and other seaside spots. Today it’s a phenomenon that people on both sides of the border crave, having spread from Baja to San Diego and then beyond. Check out these Food Network-approved spots across America serving classic spins on the Baja fish taco.

Photo of Hugo's fish tacos courtesy of Penny de los Santos

The Original El Taco, Atlanta

This spot dishes up fresh Tex-Mex eats in a colorful, family-friendly setting with a playful vibe (there’s even a wheel of tacos!). Despite the focus on Tex-Mex fare, the kitchen sticks close to authentic Mexican tradition when it comes to the fish tacos, which are made in the Baja style. This simple yet delicious rendition channels the flavors of Baja with its fried fish and creamy caper mayo. Each taco comes topped with a bright crest of spicy pickled chiles reminiscent of escabeche, that classic Mexican condiment found at most taquerias.

Photo courtesy of The Original El Taco

Little Water Cantina, Seattle

The little fry stands along Baja’s seashore serve as an inspiration for the fish tacos offered at Little Water Cantina, as Chef-Owner Shannon Wilkinson used to surf and camp along that sandy stretch of Mexico. His version of the dish is loaded with Alaska cod dredged in a house beer batter made from a mixture of rice flour, maseca, cornmeal and all-purpose flour, along with a flurry of spices and a generous pour of local Rainier beer. This combination makes for an airy coating that still lends plenty of crunch. Each taco comes adorned with a vibrant mound of toppings: house-pickled red onions, cabbage dressed in an orange juice vinaigrette, a traditional fire-roasted salsa verde and pickled habanero tartar sauce.

Photo courtesy of Amelia Armstrong

Gran Electrica, Brooklyn

Sampling the dishes at Gran Electrica is like winding your way through Mexico, as the owners of this hip Brooklyn spot wanted to highlight some of the country's more renowned regional dishes, starting with Baja. Chef Robert Stauning believes the secret to a soul-satisfying fish taco lies in the batter it needs to be bold in flavor and yet delicately crisp in texture. Stauning’s formula has been greeted with much favor, as the Pescado Estilo Ensenada is touted as the most-popular taco option on Gran Electrica’s menu. Each one comes colorfully adorned with a bright flurry of slightly pickled cabbage, along with a healthy squirt of housemade chipotle aioli.

Photo courtesy of Gran Electrica

Bartaco, Atlanta

Bartaco taps into the beach cultures of North and South Americas, offering street food-influenced dishes served in seaside-inspired surroundings. The Baja taco is a menu favorite, made with mild, delicate cod that is dipped in a chile-spiked, light and crunchy tempura batter. Once fried, the fish is served on a base of creamy, crunchy lime-forward coleslaw layered on a hot corn tortilla. Don’t be deceived by the simple presentation. This taco smolders with subtle smokiness and heat from the chipotle peppers in the dressing, which is balanced by a surprisingly light acidic finish. The combination of contrasting flavors, textures and temperatures make for a memorable bite.

Photo courtesy of Manny Vargas Photography

Hugo’s, Houston

As an award-winning ambassador of his native Mexico’s cuisine, Chef Hugo Ortega felt traditional Baja-style fish tacos were a “must have” for his restaurant in Houston. No longer relegated to the beachy shores of Baja, these tacos can also be found in the urban areas of Ortega’s home country — including his birthplace of Mexico City. Ortega’s version combines deep-fried fish with napa cabbage and chipotle mayonnaise. Light-colored beer is used in the batter to ensure that the fish beneath will retain its beautiful white hue. Once fried, the fish is piled into housemade blue or white corn tortillas.

Photo courtesy of Paula Murphy

Big Star, Chicago

Tacos inspired by Mexico’s street food take center stage at this honky-tonk joint in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood. A standout in a sea of tempting options is the Taco de Pescado (fish taco). A batter laced with the Mexican beer Tecate makes for a crunchy coating on the tilapia, which comes nestled in a housemade corn tortilla and topped with a generous squirt of spicy chipotle mayonnaise and a mound of lime-marinated cabbage slaw. This combination makes for the perfect balance of spice, acidity and crunch, ideal to pair with margaritas on the patio.

Photography courtesy of Sandy Noto

Loteria! Grill, Los Angeles

Mexico City native Jimmy Shaw opened the first Lotería Grill in 2002 at the Farmers Market in Los Angeles, focusing on the regional specialties that he grew up eating in his homeland. That humble stall has since grown into a multi-locale operation with both casual and more upscale dining spaces throughout Los Angeles. Crowds head to Lotería Grill for a taste of Shaw’s authentic Mexican dishes, including his tacos. The Hauchinango Estilo Ensenada tacos may sound like a mouthful, but they’re named after the beautiful red snapper that’s the star of this dish. Beer-battered red snapper is piled into tortillas, then crowned with green and red shredded cabbage, chipotle-avocado aioli and fresh pico de gallo salsa.

Photo courtesy of Loteria! Grill

Buena Onda, Philadelphia

Last year, Iron Chef Jose Garces opened Buena Onda — a casual fish-forward taqueria in Philly inspired by the relaxed spirit of Mexico's Baja Peninsula. Not only do Garces and his team source sustainable seafood, but they’ve also developed a flavorful yet airy batter to ensure that each morsel of fish comes coated in a truly crisp crust. Once fried, the fish is piled onto a fresh corn tortilla and finished with simple, fresh taco toppings such as chipotle remoulade, avocado, red cabbage and jicama slaw.

Photo courtesy of Jason Varney

Berryhill Baja Grill, Houston

Billed as a “fresh Mex” restaurant chain, Berryhill Baja Grill was started in 1993, but the roots of its menu can be traced back to the 1920s. It was then that the restaurant’s namesake, Walter Berryhill, introduced Houston to his homemade tamales and other Mexican-inspired cuisine, including that Baja staple, the fish taco. Berryhill peddled his dishes through the streets of the city via a pushcart until he retired in the 1960s. The recipes were rediscovered in the 1990s, and the Berryhill taco was revived by the restaurant’s owners, who have garnered much acclaim for the dish. Their tacos feature tempura-fried fish that’s topped with a special sauce, then finished with a bright combination of red cabbage and cilantro.

Photo courtesy of Berryhill Baja Grill

Lure, Atlanta

The menu at this nautical-themed Midtown restaurant is swimming in American seafood classics, so the Mexican-influenced fish tacos are a definite standout. Executive Chef Brent Banda’s interpretation of the Baja staple is brimming with lightly battered and fried fish punched up with a tangy, sweet and piquant swirl of salsa fresca, crema and pickled onions. The tacos are served individually on the lunch menu only.

Photo courtesy of Lure

Tacolicious, San Francisco

The chefs behind Tacolicious believe one of life's biggest pleasures is the perfect balance of crisp, creamy and crunchy, so their Baja-style fish taco doesn’t stray far from the original recipe. This straightforward interpretation brings together Pacific cod, cabbage and cumin crema. The taco can be eaten as is or, for a little piquant heat, topped with a spoonful of the housemade escabeche, a spicy mixture of pickled vegetables that serves as an indispensable condiment at most taquerias.

Photo courtesy of Sara Deseran

Tenoch, Medford, Mass.

Brothers Alvaro and Andres Sandoval — the culinary minds behind this Massachusetts-based Mexican chain — may have grown up in Veracruz, Mexico, but their taco de pescado (aka fish taco) channels Baja all the way. Their take on the Mexican seaside staple features battered fried fish that’s colorfully adorned with generous squirts of chipotle mayo, along with a vibrant flurry of cilantro, chipotle and shredded greens. The taco is finished with a bit of cucumber for crunch. Tenoch has three locations plus a food truck.

Photo courtesy of Tenoch

Seward Brewing Company, Seward, Alaska

A taste of Mexico may be a somewhat unexpected find in the midst of Alaska, but that’s just what you’ll get at this seasonal spot. A highlight of Seward Brewing’s eclectic pub menu is the fish tacos. They’re reminiscent of the ones sold up and down Mexico’s Baja Peninsula, albeit with a few Alaskan-inspired tweaks. Locally sourced seafood is featured prominently in the menu, so it’s fitting that the star of Chef Erik Slater’s tacos is Alaska Rockfish. He batters and fries the fish, then adds pickled corn, bacon relish, and a sweet and spicy tomatillo sauce. The standard cabbage is switched out for local microgreens, but Slater’s decision to double up on the tortillas makes for an authentic Mexican touch.

Photo courtesy of Seward Brewing Company

Pedro’s Tacos, Boston

A haven for hungry surfers when it first opened in San Clemente, Calif., back in 1986, Pedro’s brought its beachy vibe and hand-battered fish tacos to shores of a very different sort when the chain expanded with a locale in Boston. Head to this Beantown spot and you’ll find a sea of tempting taco options, but the fish is a definite standout. Order it and you’ll be presented with warm corn tortillas (specially made for the restaurant) brimming with hand-battered cod fillets that have been fried until crisp and golden, then crowned with shredded cabbage, freshly made pico de gallo and Pedro's special sauce.

Photo courtesy of Pedro's

Arguello, San Francisco

Alma Cocina, Atlanta

With a name that translates to Soul Kitchen, this upscale restaurant is helmed by Executive Chef Chad Clevenger, whose passion for Mexican cuisine shines through in the traditional fish tacos on the menu here. His version stars crispy cod and a creamy cabbage slaw, wrapped up in a corn tortilla. Clevenger adds pickled jalapenos for heat and passion fruit vinegar for a bit of acidity. The tacos can be ordered off the lunch menu as a pair, which come with a side of rice and beans.


5. Taqueria El Paisa

This is a chain around Mexico, but the quality of the meat and cooking varies greatly (it may be a franchise). Whatever the situation, the one in San Jose del Cabo is probably the best El Paisa I’ve ever been to.

I usually order one of three things (or, let’s be honest, one of each of these things) carne asada tacos, pastor tacos, or a papa rellena with carne asada.

If you’ve never had a carne asada taco before, you should go to El Paisa and order one. It’s a baked potato that’s been wrapped in foil and heated to perfection on the barbecue. It is then topped with carne asada (or another meat of your choice) and topped with cheese and sometimes sour cream.

They serve the papa rellena with tortillas so you can make your own tacos. It’s decadent and delicious and top it with some spicy salsa to really get the full enjoyment.

An aguachile tostada from Claro Fish Jr


Guest Blogger Review: Berryhill Baja Grill

You only know him as Food Czar. He’s a lean, mean dining machine. Here he goes on Berrryhill Baja Grill. Go Food Czar:

Quixotic as it may seem, there is an establishment here in town that combines California-style Fresh-Mex with genuine old-school Tex-Mex tamales, complete with red sauce. In 1928, Walter Berryhill bought a bicycle and began selling his homemade tamales from a pushcart in the decidedly upscale River Oaks section of Houston. Sadly, Mr. Berryhill retired in the 1960’s and both pushcart and tamale recipe sat idle until 1993, when the concept reemerged as the taqueria Berryhill Hot Tamales. Now morphed into the Berryhill Baja Grill, the mini-chain currently boasts 14 locations, including two right here in Big D. Acting on a tip from a fellow blogger, and always on the lookout for authentic-Tex-Mex-combined-with-Fresh-Mex restaurants, my lovely wife the Rock Star and myself motored on over to Berryhill Baja Grill one recent evening.

ATMOSPHERE
Despite its rather humble Houstonian roots, the atmosphere at Berryhill is genuine California, from the adobe walls with faux bricks peeping thru to the wooden barrels topped with surfboards that serve as tables. Plenty of signage, from Happy Hour specials to notices of Texas Hold’em poker tournaments. A live music area and a smallish patio. We were escorted immediately inside, where JoJo took charge of us almost at once.

FOOD
A quick glance at the menu reveals that Baja Grill’s cuisine is all over the map, from fish tacos and Hawaiian shrimp salad to more familiar Tex-Mex offerings such as enchiladas and chimichangas, not to mention breakfasts. Whatever direction your taste bites take you, make sure you order the queso, a thin concoction with the satisfying bite of Rotel and one of the best we’ve encountered recently. For me, when evaluating a new place, I tend to begin with the basics. Tamales are what made Berryhill’s reputation, and I was resolved to try them. Let’s face it: At most Tex-Mex joints, the tamales tend to be on the dry side, in some cases utterly devoid of liquid and therefore flavor. Not so with Berryhill’s Famous Tamales, as all three I tried proved to be quite moist and fresh. The beef tamale and the spinach & corn tamale were both very good, but the pork tamale, kissed with lime and delectably juicy, may be one of the best non-taqueria tamales in town, particularly when dipped in the absolutely-authentic red sauce. Charro beans were meaningfully soupy and full of flavor as well. The Rock Star found the fish taco excellent, but really squealed with pleasure over the corn enchilada, made with whole kernel corn, red onions, Anaheim chili and cream cheese, and topped with zesty tomatillo sauce and Monterrey jack cheese. In short, our dinner revealed the full spectrum of Mex choices that Berryhill Baja Grill has to offer, and we are making definite plans to return.

SERVICE & WEBSITE
JoJo was quite efficient and friendly, tending to our water and cerveza (Dos Equis, which paired well with everything) needs with ease. Website is http://www.berryhillbajagrill.com/, which gives some info on Happy Hour specials. When you visit, be sure to pick up a takeout menu, which goes into much more detail concerning Daily Specials and karaoke and other local activities.

OVERALL
Whether you seek Tex-Mex, Cal-Mex, Fresh-Mex, or whatever-Mex, Berryhill Baja Grill is definitely worth a visit or three. Drop by soon, and remember: Life is too short to eat mediocre food.


Houston's best restaurant salsas

2 of 47 Hot or mild, salsa generally incorporates garlic, tomato and peppers. Houston restaurants can rise and fall by the quality of their versions. The following are ones the Chronicle food team has tasted over the past several months. Michael Ciaglo/Staff Show More Show Less

3 of 47 El Tiempo Cantina Greg Morago Show More Show Less

4 of 47 Ninfa's on Navigation began the tradition of serving both a creamy green and red salsa in the 1970s. The green is a Houston classic and then some. Courtesy photo/Freelance Show More Show Less

5 of 47 Spanish Flowers Mexican Restaurant Greg Morago Show More Show Less

6 of 47 Teotihuacan Mexican Cafe Greg Morago Show More Show Less

7 of 47 Chiloso's Taco House Greg Morago Show More Show Less

8 of 47 La Tapatia Greg Morago Show More Show Less

9 of 47 Chapultepec Lupita Greg Morago Show More Show Less

10 of 47 Goode Co. Taqueria Greg Morago Show More Show Less

11 of 47 Last Concert Cafe Greg Morago Show More Show Less

12 of 47 Cyclone Anaya Greg Morago Show More Show Less

13 of 47 El Patio Mexican Restaurant Greg Morago Show More Show Less

14 of 47 The Pastry War Julie Soefer Show More Show Less

15 of 47 100% Taquito Greg Morago Show More Show Less

16 of 47 Sylvia'?’s Greg Morago Show More Show Less

17 of 47 Eight Row Flint Greg Morago Show More Show Less

18 of 47 Armandos Greg Morago Show More Show Less

19 of 47 Lupe Tortilla Mexican Restaurant Greg Morago Show More Show Less

20 of 47 Cuchara's three salsas alone are reason enough to love the restaurant. Staff photo/Staff Show More Show Less

21 of 47 El Big Bad Greg Morago Show More Show Less

22 of 47 Saltillo Mexican Kitchen serves four different salsas with house-fried totopos. Melissa Phillip/Staff Show More Show Less

23 of 47 Table salsas with a margarita at Gringo's Mexican Kitchen Alison Cook Show More Show Less

24 of 47 Red and green salsa at Los Tios Mexican Restaurant Jody Schmal Show More Show Less

25 of 47 Tacos A Go Go salsas, clockwise from top: Verde, Fuego, Diablo and Roja Jody Schmal Show More Show Less

26 of 47 Taco Palenque Alison Cook Show More Show Less

27 of 47 Spanish Village Alison Cook Show More Show Less

28 of 47 Green and red table salsas at El Pueblito Patio Alison Cook Show More Show Less

29 of 47 Doneraki Alison Cook Show More Show Less

30 of 47 Macha salsa at Hugo's Alison Cook Show More Show Less

31 of 47 Avocado/tomatillo salsa at Hugo's Alison Cook Show More Show Less

32 of 47 Red and green salsa at Pico's Mex-Mex Alison Cook Show More Show Less

33 of 47 Habanera and the Gringo Alison Cook Show More Show Less

34 of 47 El Jardin Alison Cook Show More Show Less

35 of 47 Ula's Mexican Restaurant & Cantina Show More Show Less

36 of 47 Guadalajara Hacienda Show More Show Less

40 of 47 Los Cucos Mexican Cafe Show More Show Less

44 of 47 Lopez Mexican Restaurant Show More Show Less

47 of 47 Salsa as served at Berryhill Baja Grill. Syd Kearney / Chronicle Show More Show Less

Try to imagine Houston without salsa.

This city would be but a pale shadow of itself without our birthright Mexican condiment in all its manifold forms: the raw and the cooked the red and the green the gold and the blackened the toasted and the charred the chopped and the puréed the fiery and the mild.

Salsas are nothing less than the spice of our civic life. They are there for us at the end of a trying day, an impossible week: poised to inject a thrilling dose of capsaicin into our systems, to make our palates come to attention and our flagging nervous systems come alive.

Not only are these many-hued, invigorating elixirs therapeutic, they are redemptive as well.

Even an average Mexican restaurant can be redeemed by a superior salsa, and who among us has not made a favorite out of a workaday neighborhood joint purely for the joy of scarfing its table salsa with as many tortilla chips as it is humanly possible to ingest?

In fact, we would suggest that if you do not have two or three regular salsa fueling stations scoped out within, say, a three-mile radius of your home, you cannot truly call yourself a Houstonian.

OUR RATINGS

Extraordinary: The ultimate Houston salsa

Excellent: Among the very best Houston salsa

Very Good: Must-do Houston salsa

Good: Dependable salsa

Just OK: Average salsa

So we're telling you about ours, with the caveat that salsas are, in the end, highly personal affairs.

How much chile heat, how much salt, whether to add cilantro or garlic, to roast or not to roast the raw ingredients, to toast the dried chiles or not: these are the myriad quirks each salsa lover must decide for her- or himself. Ask any home cook about his or her special salsa recipe and you'll quickly find out how individualized our taste for these life-giving potions can be.

Houston's salsa methodology and repertoire has evolved over the decades, too. In this age of electric blenders and food processors, few cooks take the trouble to achieve the kind of variegated textures that result from blending the raw or cooked ingredients with a traditional mortar and pestle.

Some of chef Hugo Ortega's salsa recipes in his cookbook "Street Food of Mexico" (Bright Sky Press) call for very specific food-processor pulse counts to get the salsa consistency right. Houston's Adán Medrano, author of the recently published "Truly Texas Mexican" (Texas Tech University Press), offers some salsa recipes made in the blender. But for an elemental salsa featuring his favorite serrano chiles, with their straightforward vegetal heat, he advises readers to put a sliced serrano pod into a molcajete along with 1&frasl8 teaspoon of salt and ¼ cup of water, "and have fun!"

As recently as the 1970s, cilantro was not a widely used ingredient in Houston the flowering of New Southwestern Cuisine, advanced by Houstonian Robert Del Grande, helped earn this distinctive, piercing herb the publicity that has helped make it nearly ubiquitous today in green salsas, enchiladas, pico de gallo and more.

Even green salsas were once much rarer than red versions, until restaurateur Ninfa Laurenzo introduced the city to her wildly popular, creamy green avocado salsa. From its advent at the original Ninfa's restaurant on Navigation, the world of Houston salsa has been a binary system. Her tradition of putting a red and a green salsa on the table with a basket of chips lives on in many restaurants.

The chiles we use in our salsa have evolved, too. The mid-20th-century days of fresh jalapeño and serrano-gigged salsas, many of them tomato-based, have been supplanted by an era in which all kinds of dried red chiles are prized for the different levels of heat and earthy flavors they provide. Anchos, pasillas, guajillos and murderously hot little chiles de arbol now make our salsas sing, and the smoke-dried, ripe jalapeños known as chipotles are widely used.

Gabriela Santamaria, a server at Hugo's restaurant, recalls a Houston where she pined for the habanero chile salsa she grew up with in the Yucatán - and her happiness when she finally found some, in 1988, at Merida restaurant. The fact that she had to ask for it did not lessen her pleasure. Today, the fierce fruity sear of the golden habanero pod is second nature here. At Sanatamaria's place of employment the habanero salsa is a popular sidekick to Hugo's lechon, pulled pork barbecued in a banana leaf.

Sunset orange, Hugo's habanero salsa slaps you with its bright lightning, a high-pitched heat that quickly moves across lips and tongue until it moves in to stay on the back of the palate. Thirty years ago, it might have been considered too extreme for most Houstonians' comfort. Today, diners dab it onto a tangle of pork shreds folded into little blue-corn tortillas, to be strewn with raw onion and cilantro cut into the tiniest mince.

Each bite of the ad hoc taco seems to call for more and more of the salsa, until you're finally spooning it on willy nilly and weeping the happy capsaicin-induced tears that mean, as a Houstonian, you're having a really good time.

That's the enduring beauty of salsa in all its guises, and why we'll keeping cherishing it. Salsa lets you know, in no uncertain terms, that you're alive.

Salsa reviews by Alison Cook, Syd Kearney, Greg Morago and Jody Schmal

100% TAQUITO

3245 Southwest Freeway, 713-665-2900 100taquito.com

Salsafication: Served piping hot, the tomato salsa is hearty with a well-rounded flavor. With each dip you wanted more.

Multiple salsas? Yes. The second salsa is a bright, vivid green charmer that's tangy and heat-forward. There's also a third: a straightforward, unexciting pico de gallo.

Free: No $2.29 for an order of chips and salsa.

Chips: Unsalted chips kept warm until you order.

Grade: Good.

Other: We love the refried black beans here as well as the use of fresco cheese on the addictive tostadas, sopes, and banderitas (crisp beef or chicken flautas sauced to resemble the flag of Mexico).

Salsafication: The red salsa is a soupy concoction almost like a stewed tomato sauce. It's got body but not a lot of flavor depth. But Armandos regulars crave it let's call it a sentimental salsa (if you grew up with it, it's what you want).

Multiple salsas? Yes, and the house tomatillo is a winner &mdash verdant, fragrant, delicious.

Chips: Nice, and served in a cone we always end up wanting more.

Grade: Good (red) very good (green).

Other: Even when it's going full tilt (especially on Thursday nights when it brings out River Oaks' dancing fools), Armandos servers manage to take good care. There's always another cocktail heading your way almost before you ask for it. Love the cheese enchiladas.

BERRYHILL BAJA GRILL

Salsafication: A self-ser salsa bar is one of the signature features of this Houston-born chain. The bar offers an option not available at table-service restaurants. Using the ladle you can decide how saucy or chunky you want your salsa. The large-diced veg in this tomato-forward salsa tastes super fresh and complements an order of Berryhill's famous tamales. But those looking for heat will be disappointed.

Chips: Thick cut and probably tasty if they didn't spend so much of the time under a heat lamp.

Grade: Good.

Other: The salsa may lack heat but not so the Killer B cookies, one of the chain's dessert options. The chili-flecked cookies - a take on a pecan sandie - are delicious and deceptively spicy.

7620 I-10 at MarqE Center, 713-688-1700 2329 Texas 6, Sugar Land, 281-277-1700 cafeadobe.com

Salsafication: What has happened to our favorite party palace Cafe Adobe? The red salsa recently presented looked familiar, but had zero flavor.

Multiple salsas? Yes, a verde version that is pleasantly tart but otherwise unremarkable.

Chips: Medium thickness. On our most recent visit, the chips could have been fresher.

Grade: Just OK (red and green).

Other: The "Perfect" Margarita &mdash a best frozen blend of Sauza Conmemorativo, Cointreau, Grand Marnier, Triple Sec, orange juice and freshly squeezed lime juice &mdash remains perfect and potent.

CHAPULTEPEC LUPITA

Salsafication: This no-frills, combo-plate joint offers some darn tasty salsa. It's the kind of personal, familial elixir your favorite tia might have made - a brilliant kitchen salsa with vivid, satisfying flavors. Plenty of chile sting, tomato and fresh cilantro brightness, and a slightly rough, scoopable texture that have you consuming a bowl even before your second beer arrives.

Multiple salsas? No.

Chips: Fine chips, but they could have served us cardboard we'd use whatever vehicle to attack this hot, homespun charmer.

Grade: Excellent.

Other: Chapultepec is open 24 hours, so you can get this wonderful salsa whenever the craving hits you.

CHILOSO'S TACO HOUSE

Salsafication: The red is a wow: an honest, homey sauce sporting intense chile flavor. A loose brew, its components are obvious: discernible, real tomato, onion and chile seeds. We had to ask for squeeze bottles of the green and one taste assured us that this is fiery fuel of the salsa gods. It's incendiary, intense stuff that will blow you away if you're not using it sparingly. But for those who crave the zenith of salsa heat, this green is chile heat heaven.

Multiple salsas? Yes, the delicious red and powerful green.

Free: No, $2 for basket of chips and salsa.

Chips: Warm, and house made. Slightly greasy but we appreciated the fresh, hot chips effort.

Grade: Excellent (red and green).

Other: A popular spot for obvious reasons: fresh flour tortilla tacos, abundant portions, fresh ingredients and Mexican realness in the kitchen.

Eight Houston-area restaurants chuys.com

Salsafication: The chunky concoction that Austin-born Chuy's delivers with its chips is related more to pico de gallo than salsa. The color may be anemic, but those peppers sure aren't. The burn just builds, in a good way.

Multiple salsas? Sort of - there is second condiment that often comes to the table automatically. The jalapeño ranch dip is addictive and soothes any residual burn from the salsa. If it doesn't appear, just ask.

Chips: So light and thin that they often make the chunky salsa a challenge to eat.

Grade: Good.

Other: The complimentary fully loaded nacho bar at happy hour is one of the best deals in town.

Salsafication: A grand, verging-on-baroque salsa presentation of ridiculously delicious salsa flavors you won't find anywhere else in Houston. The salsa trio features Salsa Tia Martha (a green tomatillo version sporting an unexpected undertow of crushed peanut) Salsa de 5 Chiles (toasted chile heat enriched with porky chicharrones) and Salsa Quemada (a bold, fragrant stunner boasting "burnt" arbol chile skin).

Multiple salsas? Yes, three, and they're all fabulous.

Chips: They call them tortilla "fritters" we call them tortilla chips.

Grade: Extraordinary.

Other: Last year, Cuchara had an in-house salsa competition, La Mejor Salsa de Mi Mama, among six mothers who cook at the restaurant. They were all salsas the cooks had learned from their mothers and grandmothers. It was magisterial stuff. The salsa program alone is reason enough to love Cuchara.

CYCLONE ANAYA'S

Six Houston area locations cycloneanaya.com

Salsafication: Tomato bomb. And we mean that in a good way. The salsa here is so tomato forward it almost feels like an Italian marinara. It's got great body and mild heat but it's darn tasty, addictive even. Delivering Roma Red respect for Houston's salsa hounds.

Multiple salsas? If they have a green, we don't know about it.

Chips: Nice, crispy, plentiful.

Grade: Very good.

Other: We love the wrestler story at the heart of Cyclone Anaya (and the Midtown store is one of our favorite places to spend a chips and salsa afternoon).

Salsafication: The red sauce here is so good it's an attraction in and of itself. Served warm, the salsa roja has a runny, pureed texture amplified by dried red chile seeds, dark flecks of toasted chile skin and spindles of roasted tomato skin. It sings with roastiness and plenty of chile heat that blooms on the lips and the tongue. One bowlful is never enough.

Multiple salsas? No.

Chips: Thin, delicate, lots of crunch.

Grade: Excellent.

Other: The salsa roja is particularly good on the Fajitadillas, one of Doneraki's better dishes.

EIGHT ROW FLINT

Salsafication: Chunky, vegetal and well-balanced, this good fresh salsa does this contemporary Heights icehouse proud. Mix some into the pure avocado-mash guacamole and you have yourself a treat you might find hard to share.

Multiple salsas? No.

Free: No, $5 for chips and salsa.

Chips: The star of the show, these hot fresh chips are fashioned from house-made tortillas prepared with heirloom corn. Thick and substantial, they deliver excellent corn flavor.

Grade: Very good.

Other: This new, always-packed icehouse is from the partners of Revival Market and Coltivare, Morgan Weber and chef Ryan Pera. There's an almost overwhelming bourbon menu here that might take you a year to get through. But isn't that the point?

Salsafication: El Big Bad goes El Big when it comes to salsa. Four imaginative, chef-driven salsas grace the menu. Each brings something unique to the table. There's a satisfying charred tomato salsa shot through with onion, serrano chile, garlic, lime and cilantro a vibrant salsa verde (tomatillo and serrano) with just the right amount of fresh green flash Jalisco Vinegar (a tangy wallop of tart heat laced with subtle flavors of toasted seeds, baking spices and chile de arbol potency) and Cranberry Picosa (fruit forward sweetness slammed by a habanero scorching).

Multiple salsas? Yes, four.

Free: $3 for one $8 for three $10 for all four.

Chips: Made in-house they're warm, satisfying corny comfort.

Grade: Excellent.

Other: A great place to drink, but don't confuse this gastro-cantina with a margarita mill El Big Bad has some wonderfully rich, satisfying, true-flavors cooking going on.

EL HIDALGUENSE

Salsafication: Chiles rayados, the dried and wood-smoked pods of an heirloom jalapeño unique to Mexico's Hidalgo state, are the key to the deep, dark, thrillingly intense table salsa at this family-run regional spot. The salsa made from these chiles is so dusky it can appear almost black, and the varietal is hotter than your average jalapeño by a good bit.

Mutiple salsas? No.

Chips: Do the job.

Grade: Extraordinary.

Other: The house salsa is a serious enhancement to the Hidalguense specialties of lamb barbacoa cooked in maguey leaves and whole cabrito al pastor. Just add corn tortillas.

Salsafication: The warm red table salsa here is not fooling around. A good tart tomato bite and an edge of cliantro leaves and stems are backed up by a deep dried red-chile burn (we're guessing guajillos) that spreads slowly and doesn't quit. The closer to prime tomato season, the better it gets, but it is formidable even in mid-winter.

Mutiple salsas? No.

Chips: Medium-thick with a bubbly crunch, with a few red and green ones scattered through the basket for color.

Grade: Excellent.

Other: This family-owned East End staple makes a mean enchilada verde de pollo, and mariachis make it festive on weekends.

EL PATIO MEXICAN RESTAURANT

6444 Westheimer, 713-780-0410 elpatio.com

Salsafication: The salsa set before us looks on the thin side, innocuous even. But that bowl of red has some welcome heat and packs a lot of flavor. Served cold, it's a great condiment for El Patio's classic Tex-Mex menu.

Multiple salsas? No.

Chips: Incredibly thin and crispy. Light vehicles for the house's spicy tonic.

Grade: Very good.

Other: Club No Minors memories are plentiful (or are they?). Blame the blue margaritas everyone swears have to be the most potent in town. Great happy hour prices make El Patio a perfect day to smash the afternoon into a million golden pieces.

EL PUEBLITO PATIO

Salsafication: That pale green potion on your table looks like a regular old salsa verde. But surprise: The base is roughly puréed pineapple, and the salsa comes on all innocent sweetness, followed by sneaky green chile heat, an edge of cilantro and a savory note of onion. It seems odd and insipid at first blush, until the heat kicks in. Then, despite your better judgment, you're hooked.

Multiple salsas? Yes. Pueblito made its name originally with that pineapple salsa, which caused a stir when the restaurant opened as El Pueblito Place in 1997. But the red table salsa is even better. A cool, rough tomato purée that creeps up on you with a big front-of-the palate sear that migrates to the back of the throat as the heat subsides, it has a nice balance of salt, tartness, cilantro and onion flavors.

Chips: Deep-gold, medium-thick, slightly bubbled surface. They're decent-quality commercial specimens but nothing special.

Grade: Good (pineapple) very good (red salsa).

Other: Despite the outrageous charms of the big Las Vegas pool-club-style patio - complete with draped semi-private dining pavilions, huge palms and a waterfall - the vaguely coastal Mexican food here is so-so at best. You're safest scarfing the salsas while sipping one of the surprisingly good, tart frozen margaritas at the bar.

Salsafication: Red comes to the table warm and redolent. Its toasted red chilies are pleasant but lacking the bold heat that some Houstonians crave.

Multiple salsas? Yes. Want more heat? Ask for the "other" sauce. It is green and garish. You're welcome.

Chips: Arguably the best in town. Freshly fried, expertly salted and feather light.

Grade: Very good.

Other: El Real is one of the neighborhood's best traditions. If you live in one of three ZIP codes (77006, 019 or 098) or dine with a friend who does, you get 50 percent off your food purchase open to close on "Montrose Mondays."

EL TIEMPO CANTINA

Salsafication: The fact that this brand comes from Mama Ninfa's talented clan is assurance enough that you're getting authentic Houston salsa at the many El Tiempo outposts. The green seems more emulsified than the original Ninfa's on Navigation but no less crave-inducing. The red, though, is a thing of beauty - a vivid, tomato-forward sauce that is visibly potent and full of flavor. It's not terribly chile hot, but it is as well rounded a red as you can get.

Multiple salsas? Yes, both green and red served automatically.

Chips: Abundant crunch replaced automatically and often.

Grade: Excellent (red and green).

Other: It's hard to believe that the restaurant's enormous menu is delivered in such top-notch fashion. But it is, and that's why El Tiempo, for many, is the ultimate go-to Tex-Mex.

Six Houston-area restaurants escalantes.net

Salsafication: How does such a high-end Tex-Mex chain get by with such a lowly salsa? On the day we visited the red potion was wimpy and watery.

Multiple salsas? No.

Chips: Pedestrian and crying out for salt.

Grade: Just OK.

Other: The newest location is lakeside at Hughes Landing in the Woodlands. It really is lovely on a sunny Sunday afternoon when the lake is dotted with paddlers and your only big decision is Mimosa or Margarita.

GOODE CO. TAQUERIA

Salsafication: We might wish for more capsaicin sting from this loose-textured red salsa but it's the kind of sauce you want to pour every everything &mdash your taco and fajita dinners, midges and all the other huevo-based day-starter options. With its discernible roasted bits and mild tomato goodness, this is a serviceable salsa that aims to please all palates. Want more chile kick? Load up on the free pickled jalapeños.

Multiple salsas? No.

Chips: Nice, friendly chips.

Grade: Very good.

Other: The Goode quality stamp is at play here as it is throughout the Goode family brands. You might be paying a bit more for your Tex-Mex than at other joints, but the food and service are hard to beat.

GRINGO'S MEXICAN KITCHEN

Salsafication: The red table salsa from this suburban chain is a fairly pureed, cool fresca version that packs some very pleasant heat. It hits the front of the palate and the tongue, and flecks of cilantro give it an herbal bite. It's not complex, but it's lively.

Multiple salsas? Yes. A creamy green salsa that's very mild, without much going on other than a tiny hint of cilantro and a mere touch of heat on the finish.

Chips: Standard issue.

Grade: Good (red).

Other: These popular suburban Tex-Mex spots give you a lot of serviceable food for the money, and the happy-hour margarita prices ensure that they're busy even in mid-afternoon.

GUADALAJARA HACIENDA

Salsafication: Served icy cold, the tomato-forward red salsa has a pleasant pulpy texture and vinegary bite.

Multiple salsas? No, but Guadalajara does serve alongside their salsa a fairly forgettable creamy cilantro sauce.

Chips: See-through thin and well-salted.

Grade: Good.

Other: This locally owned chain recently renovated its Southwest Freeway location and gave it a spiffy new name. It is Guad Texas Chef-Mex.

HABANERA & THE GRINGO

Salsification: Brightened with both lemon and lime and rounded with garlic, the red table salsa resembles a marvelous, slightly soupy pico de gallo. Meticulously chopped tomato, onion and jalapeño impart a fine fresh texture, and cilantro adds an herbal twinge.

Multiple salsas? No.

Chips: Sturdy and house-fried, they snap, crackle and pop.

Grade: Extraordinary.

Other: The food at this southeast Houston newcomer near Hobby Airport is personal and frisky the salsa's just the beginning. Don't miss the frozen margaritas with hand-muddled tropical fruits and seasonings mixed in.

Salsafication: The sole table salsa, meant to accompany the house-fried totopos, is a salsa Mexicana so lively and fresh tasting and soft that it fools you into thinking it will be mild before socking you with its green-chile heat. Chef Hugo Ortega uses the chile pods with seeds and veins intact for more capsaicin oomph. A pulpy room-temperature mince, it's flecked with green chile and cilantro bits, deepened by onion and the garlic that is one of Ortega's favorite salsa touches. Those spindles of tomato skin bristling here and there? Proof that fresh tomatoes have been roasted to make the salsa, which intensifies the flavors.

Multiple salsas? Yes, many and varied, made to go with specific dishes. One of Ortega's newest potions is the salsa macha, an evil-looking blackish sludge gritty with solids: garlic shards, sesame seeds, cilantro seeds, dried red chiles. This specialty of Veracruz hits with a toastiness followed by a note of sweetness and then bam! Sudden, throat-catching heat that hurts so good. The avocado-tomatillo green salsa is killer stuff, beautifully coarse and bright with hunks of tart tomatillo and a controlled flare of green chile heat that lingers on the tongue. The avocado component subtly mellows the effect.

Free: No. Order the salsa Mexicana for $7 with totopos and guacamole. Salsa macha comes with roasted cauliflower salad avocado-tomatillo salsa comes with Tacos Dorados, soft little folds of puffy fried potato.

Chips: Sturdy house-fried totopos that emit a sharp crack with each bite.

Grade: Extraordinary (Mexicana, macha and avocado-tomatillo).

IRMA'S ORIGINAL

Salsafication: The only trouble with Irma Galvan's salsa is that we can't stop eating it. Served warm, the dark cherry-colored salsa tastes fresh and made with love. A sweet little heat just tickles the tongue.

Multiple salsas? No.

Chips: Perfection, crisped.

Grade: Excellent.

Other: This downtown Tex-Mex restaurant, as famous for its lack of menus as its food, was honored as an "American Classic" in 2008 by the James Beard Foundation.

Multiple locations in Houston latapatiahouston.com

Salsafication: Within seconds of sitting down you're met with a big, welcoming bowl of chips and both red and green salsa. The red sits nicely on chips and sports an almost perfect body and texture. It's textbook red that effortlessly balances the tomato/chile equation. The tomatillo green also nails the texture department flavor-wise it's got it all going on: tang, just the right amount of heat and easy likability.

Multiple salsas? Yes, red and green.

Chips: Solid, standard chomps.

Grade: Very good.

Other: Unfussy go-to Tex-Mex doesn't aim to outperform in the standard repertoire. And that's probably part of its easygoing charm.

LAST CONCERT CAFE

Salsafication: It might not be the first place that comes to mind when you're craving Tex-Mex (and that's your own fault), but you'll have a rewarding experience when you want to get on with a chips-and-salsa throwdown. The salsa is good-natured: bright-red tomato flavor churned with abundant cilantro and serrano chile. It's made daily, and you can tell from its direct, clean, fresh impact. It's the kind of salsa you wish you could make at home and would taste just as good.

Mutiple salsas? No.

Chips: Good, workmanlike chips.

Grade: Very good.

Other: You'll have to knock at the red door to gain entrance, but Last Concert is as unpretentious and welcoming as they come. In a city that has a high tolerance for artifice, this hippie, be-yourself cafe puts on zero airs, making it a true come-as-you-are social hall for dependable Tex-Mex and uncontrived atmosphere.

LOPEZ MEXICAN RESTAURANT

11606 Wilcrest, 281-495-2436 vivalopez.com

Salsafication: A mild tasting salsa fresca that has been served by this southwest Houston since 1978. More of a seasoning for topping tacos and nachos than a stand-alone salsa.

Multiple salsas? No.

Chips: Medium thick and pleasantly golden.

Grade: Just OK.

Other: The signature drink is the Dos Piñas. A summery drink whose base in pineapple-infused tequila.

LOS CUCOS MEXICAN CAFE

17 Houston-area restaurants loscucos.com

Salsafication: The red salsa at this Houston-born chain is served warm in a cup with a pouring lip. It's as pretty to look at as it is good to eat, with roasted bits of red chiles and tomato. Pleasant vinegar finish.

Multiple salsas? Yes. There's pale-green cream sauce perked up with fresh cilantro.

Chips: They are lighter than they look, and that's a good thing.

Grade: Very good.

Other: For a decadent lunch or afternoon snack, try the seafood nachos. A small order is plenty as this is one rich dish, topped with crab, shrimp, Monterey Jack, sour cream and guacamole. And it goes down swell with a pucker-inducing margarita.

LOS TIOS MEXICAN RESTAURANT

4840 Beechnut, 9527 Westheimer, 14006 Memorial, 3308 Highway 6 S. (in Sugar Land) lostiosrestaurant.com

Salsafication: The old-school Tex-Mex chain's duo of table salsas does the job, and certainly have their legion of fans. We give a slight edge to the sprightly red, a puréed blend that doesn't overwhelm the flavor of its fried-corn vessel. It has an occasional bite of spice, but for the most part you'll wonder how you polished off the bowl so quickly.

Multiple salsas? Yes. The sour-creamy tomatillo/avocado green sauce also is imminently devourable.

Chips: On the thin side but sturdy enough.

Salsa grade: Excellent (red) very good (green).

Other: The Adair Family Restaurants Group (Skeeter's, Adair Kitchen) acquired the Los Tios chain, which has been around for decades, in 2000.

LUPE TORTILLA

Salsafication: Not really a traditional table salsa at all, Lupe's chip dipper is really more a pico de gallo a chunky salsa fresca with a predominant tomato flavor and not much else. It doesn't carry a lot of heat it's watery too, which may be a let down to those who like to drown their tacos with a traditional blended salsa.

Multiple salsas? Not really. Instead of offering a second salsa, Lupe serves a bowl of charro beans. Warm, satisfying and a nice, unexpected touch. If you want extra heat with your food ask for a mess of the restaurant's delicious pickled jalapeños.

Chips: Light as air and addictive. They'll bring you as much as you can crunch down.

Grade: Just OK.

Other: Lupe's fajitas, which sport a special taste, have earned legions of fans.

MARIA SELMA

Salsafication: The cool, soupy red salsa here shows virtually no solids, but its hauntingly smoky and earthy red-chile quality gives it authority, as does a small but distinct afterburn.

Multiple salsas? No.

Chips: Smooth, thinnish commercial chips of absolutely no interest.

Grade: Good.

Other: Forget the chips and use the salsa on Maria Selma's competent Mex-Mex botanas.

MOLINA'S CANTINA

7901 Westheimer 4720 Washington 3801 Bellaire molinascantina.com

Salsafication: The "original" salsa - the recipe is more than 70 years old, just like the family-owned chain - is an acquired taste. It is super tart and vinegary, and you're likely to get tripped up by some of those finely chopped fresh jalapeños.

Multiple salsas? Yes. Molina's other red sauce is a less brash, toastier concoction with roasted jalapeño, arbol and pasilla peppers. It grows on you. Both red salsas are served automatically. If you'd prefer a salsa verde, request the Michael sauce that accompanies the popular chicken enchiladas.

Chips: Fresh and fragile (in a good way).

Grade: Excellent (both reds and green).

Other: One of Molina's best "para acompañar" is its mango pico de gallo. The warm salad accompanies a terrific sautéed camarones dish known as Raulito's Shrimp Special.

NINFA'S ON NAVIGATION

Salsafication: Ninfa Laurenzo's green avocado/tomatillo salsa caused a sensation when she introduced it back in the 1970s. Miraculously, it's as good as it ever was, perhaps even better. This cool, roughly puréed salsa fools you with its avocado suavity and sour-creamy dairy innocence, sharpened by a quiet tartness from its tomatillo component. Then its green-chile heat lights a little burn on the roof of your mouth and keeps it going. This salsa is not just a Houston classic - it's an American landmark.

Multiple salsas? Yes, green and red. The cool, roughly puréed red salsa doesn't have quite the roasty complexity it once did, nor the invigorating chile heat. But there's a nice balance of tomato tartness and salt, and chile seeds and blackened bits impart a pleasant, spreading warmth. Upend a chip, and the salsa clings - always a plus. The pickled vegetables with their tangy heat are a nice touch. Ask for them.

Chips: Great thin, crackly chips with small bubbles across a surface glossed with the lightest sheen of oil. Easy to consume a half basketful without thinking about it.

Salsa grade: Extraordinary (green) very good (red).

Other: Wallow in chips and salsa with one of the house frozen or specialty margaritas at the bar or apply liberally to everything from the mighty, served-here-first fajitas to anything else on this reliable Tex-Mex menu.

More than a dozen Houston-area restaurants pappasitos.com

Salsafication: Served warm, this light but spicy salsa is reason alone to visit this Houston-based, family-owned chain. The roasted vegetables and pepper always taste super fresh. If we had any complaint, it is that the salsa vessels just get smaller and smaller.

Multiple salsas? Yes. The creamy avocado dip is a pleasant accessory.

Chips: See-through-thin chips are served warm and satisfyingly salty.

Grade: Very good.

Other: Here's the way to do Pappasito's: Show up at 3 o'clock and order the addictive, butter-drenched Chipotle Shrimp that are available only at lunch, which is served until 4. The genius is that you've timed it just right for happy-hour pricing on your margarita.

PICO'S MEX-MEX

Salsafication: There's red table salsa and green, in the binary tradition Ninfa's made famous, but the green salsa is all tart tomatillo zip instead of avocado creaminess, which makes it wonderfully bright and memorable. There's just enough grippy green-chile heat to expand the tart-fruit, onion and cilantro flavors and keep them going.

Mutiple salsas? Yes. The red salsa has enough roastiness of tomato, onion and chiles to give it depth and complexity.

Chips: Well-made skinny totopos.

Grade: Extraordinary (green) excellent (red).

Other: The shaker margaritas, served straight up, have set the premium standards for this iconic Houston cocktail for three decades now. Order one with any of the well-made regional Mexican dishes.

SALTILLO MEXICAN KITCHEN

Salsafication: You get four-count-'em-four table salsas to play with, each one formidable in its own right. The champion? An unusual minced-red-onion salsa that's almost a relish, lit up by fruity habanero chile and twinged with fragrant Mexican oregano. A touch of olive oil and orange rounds out the flavors and textures. Brilliant on everything from chips to the mesquite-grilled, Norteño-style beef that's a specialty here.

Multiple salsas? Yes. The tomatillo salsa, the mildest of the four, is a tart, spring-green purée. The perfectly calibrated red salsa, slightly pulpy and flecked with chile seeds, gets an intriguing umami note from chicken broth, and it bursts with front-of-the-mouth heat that spreads and fades to a lingering warmth. Fourth comes a bright, sunny habanero/papaya purée in which the papaya's fruitiness tempers the distinctive habanero sear while salt sharpens it.

Chips: Sturdy, fried-in-house totopos with a layer-y effect.

Grade: Extraordinary (red onion red salsa) excellent (tomatillo, habanero).

Other: Though the salsas merit a trip in themselves, the Norteño-style food at this upscale, dining-clubby Bellaire spot is terrific, and the house margarita, shaken and served straight up, is one of the city's best.

SKINNY RITA'S

607 W. Gray, 832-834-4430 4002 N. Main, 832-831-6895 srgrille.com

Salsafication: A chunky roasted veg salsa without much heat but solid flavor.

Multiple salsas? Yes, a creamy and fragrant avocado/tomatilla salsa.

Chips: Sturdy but flavorful.

Grade: Good red very good green.

Other: This small chain puts a lot of emphasis on its hormone-free meats and its abundant vegetarian and gluten-free options.

SPANISH FLOWERS MEXICAN RESTAURANT

Salsafication: Spanish Flower is a Houston institution but its salsa is bewilderingly weak. Chunky, yes, but bland and watery. There is practically no chile flavor in this soupy, almost tinny tomato brew that does little to please die-hard salsa fans.

Multiple salsas? Only red is served to us. It's a disappointing chips and salsa encounter.

Chips: Flavorless.

Grade: Just OK.

Other: Open 24 hours. According to website the restaurant takes a break on Tuesday nights when it closes at 10 p.m. (reopening Wednesday at 9 a.m.).

SPANISH VILLAGE

Salsafication: The fierce red table salsa here has hardly changed a jot over the 50 years we've been scarfing it down with chips and more chips. It's thin and soupy, shot through with onion and a sudden wall of jalapeño heat strong enough to clear sinuses. It's not about depth or nuance it's about feeling the elemental burn. Food photographer Penny de los Santos says it's a dead ringer for the salsa she grew up with in the Rio Grande Valley.

Multiple salsas? No.

Chips: Thin, crackly, salty.

Grade: Good.

Other: This quirky Tex-Mex mainstay dishes out classic cheese-and-onion enchiladas, cult fried chicken (!) and amazing margaritas bristling with slivers of frozen lime juice.

6401 Woodway, 1140 Eldridge Parkway, 12637 Westheimer sylviasenchiladas.com

Salsafication: The red salsa is served so hot the bowl was steaming at the table. There must be a cauldron in the kitchen gurgling with this humble brew that sports visible feathers of tomato skin and roasted flecks. This is a loving, mama-style salsa that isn't chile hot but pleases with its homey, flavorful goodness.

Multiple salsas? Not advertised but there's a habanero version of this table salsa ask for it if you need the heat.

Chips: Hot, thin yumminess.

Grade: Very good.

Other: Owner Sylvia Casares &mdash known as Houston's Queen of Tex-Mex Cuisine and/or Houston's Enchilada Queen &mdash is a born educator. Her cooking school classes help preserve Tex-Mex culinary traditions.

TACOS A GO GO

3704 Main and 2941 White Oak tacosagogo.com

Salsafication: The colorful, locally-owned fast-casual joint offers four varieties at its serve-yourself salsa bar. All are meant to complement the menu's taco variety just ladle your choice(s) into tiny plastic ramekins to pour and dip as you please. Our go-to? The green Diablo, the hottest of the bunch, is all juicy-fresh with raw serrano peppers tempered slightly by a bit of tomatillo, lime juice, cilantro and onion.

Multiple salsas? Yes, four. The sweet/medium-spicy traditional Roja blends roasted tomatoes with plentiful garlic, cilantro, chopped onion and chile de arbol specks. The smooth, mostly-mild Verde stars roasted tomatillos with a kick of serrano, while the deep, rust-red Fuego sauce is all smoke with dry-roasted chipotle chiles.

Chips: Medium-thick housemade chips come with orders of guacamole ($4.59), queso ($3.99) and salsa Roja ($2.99, a larger portion).

Salsa grade: Excellent (Diablo), very good (Roja, Verde), good (Fuego)

Other: The oft-overlooked nachos here &mdash a heaping pile of queso-laden chips topped with black or refried beans, crisp shreds of lettuce, tomatoes, pickled jalapenos and any taco meat &mdash are arguably among the city's best.

TACO PALENQUE

Salsafication: The standout on the serve-yourself salsa bar is the deep-red Salsa Picosa, which hits the palate with a profound sun-baked roastiness and spreading heat. Flecks of charred chile and plenty of seeds keep the slightly puréed texture real. Salty, tart and dusky, it's hard to stop eating.

Mutiple salsas? Yes, three. The good basic tomatillo green salsa hits with a quick flare of green-chile heat and the dark, blackened Salsa Tatemada strikes with a major delayed sear that can make your nose run.

Chips: Thinny-thin and brittle.

Grade: Excellent (Picosa) good (tomatillo and Tatemada).

Other: The meats from the Rio Grande Valley-based chain are merely serviceable, but the earthy bean-and-cheese tacos wrapped in flour tortillas are primal, the salsa bar's fun, and the agua fresca jamaica is wonderful in its refusal to cloy.

TEOTIHUACAN MEXICAN CAFE

Three locations in Houston teomexicancafe.com

Salsafication: The red is a warm, flavorful mash with specs of roasted tomato. It separates a bit if left alone but there's no threat of that because it sports a nice chile kick you want to keep eating. The green is better &mdash a deceptive pale-colored sauce that offers clean flavors of lime, cilantro and green chile brightness.

Multiple salsas? Yes. Both red and green are distinguished salsas that makes Teotihuacan an inviting chips and salsa experience.

Chips: Light, warm and crispy but we added some salt.

Grade: Very good.

Other: The restaurant has a great atmosphere where family gatherings and obvious regulars are happy to call home. The nachos are great and the guacamole fantastic.

THE PASTRY WAR

Salsafication: Swamp creature. The boggy chile stew served at this serious downtown mezcal bar takes no prisoners. It is unapologetically combustible with ferocious chile heat. A red, tomato-based salsa, it almost tips to green in color for all its nearly flammable chile glory. We've asked what's in it they won't tell. Whoever is making this fierce, verdant sludge is a salsa master.

Multiple salsas? Nope, but this one practically straddles two worlds.

Free: No. $5.99 for chips and salsa.

Chips: Get rid of them. The awful, red/white/blue supermarket tortilla chips are unworthy of such glorious salsa.

Grade: Extraordinary.

Other: The chicken and pork tamales are dreamy. We also like the queso. And that's it for food at this bar that boasts what is surely the state's most intelligent agave spirits program.

ULA'S MEXICAN RESTAURANT & CANTINA

5555 Washington, 832-491-0510 9009 Sienna Christus, Missouri City, 281-778-9345 texmexicanfood.com

Salsafication: Served warm, this brick-colored salsa suffers from a lack of heat and depth. Thanks to a heavy hand with the onion, it recalls a slightly sweet marinara.

Multiple salsas? No, but the chips do come with a bowl of thickened, bacon-flecked charro beans.

Chips: Medium thick, which is a requirement if you're using them as a vessel for the bean "dip."

Grade: Just OK.

Other: Try the Mexican smoked ribs, which are char-grilled and basted with chef/owner Ulises Gonzalez's spicy barbecue sauce.

UNCLE JULIO'S

20526 Interstate 10, in Katy unclejulios.com

Salsafication: Roasted onions, jalapeños and tomatoes give this salsa a pleasantly smoky flavor the little bits of cilantro provide a fresh touch. Served warm, the thin salsa is a perfect match for Uncle Julio's ethereal chips.

Multiple salsas? No.

Chips: Deftly salted and whisper thin.

Grade: Very good.

Other: Make it a celebration with this Dallas-based chain's Chocolate Pinata. Diners use a small hammer to crack the egg-shaped chocolate, and out pour mini churros and fresh fruit.


The Best Margaritas in Town: Berryhill Baja Grill - Recipes

Becoming a successful Mexican restaurant chain in Texas is no small feat with competition on every corner. But Houston-based Berryhill Baja Grill has a unique story and a first-class menu that has helped this restaurant chain and its Baja-style, south-of-the-border menu become a local tradition. Recently, the chain has gone international and is drumming up excitement in neighboring states.

The Berryhill Baja Grill story began in 1928 with Walter Berryhill and his homemade tamales, which were sold from a pushcart in River Oaks before he retired in the 1960s. He sold his recipe and tamale cart, and eventually the first Berryhill restaurant was born in 1993. Today, the company has 15 stores and has been named &ldquoBest Mexican Restaurant in Houston&rdquo by AOL City Guide.

&ldquoWalter Berryhill&rsquos tamales were famous in Houston, and when they opened up the original Berryhill location here in Houston in 1993 and announced that Berryhill tamales were back 30 years after Walter retired, it just took off from there,&rdquo CEO Jeff Anon says. &ldquoI was a customer and loved the concept, so I bought majority control in 1994 and complete control in 1995.&rdquo

QUALITY ABOVE ALL

Five Berryhill Baja Grill locations are corporate-owned, while the rest are franchise operations. Most are in the Houston area, although the brand has a presence in Austin and Mexico, too. Whether a store is a corporate or franchise unit, Berryhill Baja Grill is meant to invoke a relaxed and inviting atmosphere where fresh food rules the day.

&ldquoWe are 100 percent focused on food quality,&rdquo Anon says. &ldquoEverything is homemade every day: sauces, desserts, margaritas, lemonade. Everything is made from scratch and it shows in the quality of the food. The concept is five-star casual dining.
&ldquoWe constantly go around to check our stores and ensure quality,&rdquo Anon continues. &ldquoIt is difficult to make everything from scratch every day, as a lot of our products are produce-based. But our cooks and chefs are seasoned and have been with us for a long time. Our main supplier is Sysco, and they do a great job of making sure our quality stays consistent.&rdquo

The Berryhill Baja Grill concept can work in a variety of locations. The footprint of its stores varies from about 1,200 to 4,500 square feet. Irrespective of the location or the owner, however, the customer can tell it is a Berryhill location. Branding efforts through color scheme and the look and feel of locations is similar, and all locations employ the quick-casual concept where customers order food, get their own drink and munch on chips and salsa while they wait for their order.

KEYS TO GROWTH

Franchising is seen as a key part of Berryhill Baja Grill&rsquos growth strategy. The company has a detailed road map to help franchise operators get the business off the ground successfully. Anon looks for experienced franchise partners who are looking to add a Mexican concept to their portfolio.

Although the company has been extremely successful in Texas, it is eager to test out its concept in other locations. Anon says the company is pursuing possibilities in North Carolina and Florida currently, and further efforts to expand are likely.

&ldquoMy plan is for us to grow internally and start an aggressive franchise program,&rdquo Anon says. &ldquoI can see us in the Midwest and in places like Atlanta, Columbus, Charlotte and New York City because I think what we offer can succeed anywhere.&rdquo

Anon knows that quality and variety of food is critical to success, as well. The Berryhill tamale is a staple, and Texas Monthly has credited Berryhill with introducing the fish taco to Texas. But the company also constantly looks to change the menu.

&ldquoWe&rsquore always trying to stay ahead of the curve, trying new items to see what customers like,&rdquo Anon says. &ldquoWe do have sacred cows that will never go away, but we&rsquore always adding and subtracting to keep it fresh.&rdquo

Catering is another area of strength for Berryhill Baja Grill. The company has an extensive catering menu, and it recently invested in a food truck that can be used for catering.

&ldquoIt has a full kitchen, so we can cook anything on our menu with that truck,&rdquo Anon says. &ldquoWe are going to send it out to special events like sporting events and festivals, and since we do a lot of catering, this will be an add-on to that aspect of our business.&rdquo

It seems there is no end in sight for just how far the Berryhill Baja Grill concept can go. It has already come a long way from the pushcart that Walter Berryhill used to make his tamales famous. Now, Anon is focused on helping it make the next step forward.

&ldquoThe big challenge will be to find right franchisees in the markets we explore,&rdquo Anon says. &ldquoThey need to have a successful track record and the infrastructure in place that will allow them to take on another concept and make it work.&rdquo