Cheap Bastard

Dinnertime at El Fenix Is Tex-Mex Heaven

Follow the Cheap Bastard as she scours the city, looking for a good -- or at least non-lethal -- lunch for less than 10 bucks.

Grandpa and grandma double-date count: 4 Praline count: 7

One could go to El Fenix at lunch. But it's much more fun to go for Old Lady Dinnertime (OLD). It's in the 4:50-5:15 p.m. range and is the sweet spot of the El Fenix scene.

You can go to El Fenix during OLD any day of the week, but if you go on Wednesday, you can get an entire plate of enchiladas for $5.99. I prefer to show up any other night of the week and pay full price for the Mexican Dinner ($8.99 for two cheese enchiladas and a beef tamale, rice and beans), as this is when the true die-hard (emphasis on the true and present possibility of "die") regulars are there.

Wednesday, the regulars spend the whole time annoyed and complaining about all the extra people who have filled up their favorite dinner spot. Wednesday at El Fenix is the karaoke night of your favorite dive bar. Things are different.

(To those of you who are newly El-Fenix-ed: Yes, you get your own salsa cup for salsa-ing. No, they're not different flavors. Yes, they take cards. No, you don't pay at your table. Yes, really, it's only $8.99 for dinner. And yes, lunch is even cheaper.)

I prefer Tuesday. Ten or so other diners are in the place, and they're all a happy, free-salsa-chugging 200 years old. The squeal of hearing aids being adjusted clashes against the sizzle of fajitas. Old Marrieds don't even open the menu before they order. A gentleman relates the story of his afternoon shart to his hard-of-hearing best friend, and the entire dining room. Every chip basket is full. Every entree is served in T-minus two minutes.

There are no 30-minute waits. There is no tasting menu. Nobody here knows what a Paleo is. They've never heard of Amanda Bynes. And if you call them "basic" they will squint at you, give their server the "The fuck did that kid just say?" look, and then squint at you again. It's the opposite of hip; it's heaven. Tex-Mex heaven.

Every bite of the enchilada here will send you right back to your Texan youth. And if you aren't from Texas, they will create a new Texan youth memory for you. They will rewrite whatever shitty Tex-Mex-less youth you had, and add enchiladas all over it. This Tex-Mex is your forever Tex-Mex. It's not trying to be new-fangled. It's strictly regular-fangled. And it will never try to be anything else. In a world of foams and "this is my take on a classic"-ing, regular-fangled can be so comforting. Long live El Fenix. Because sometimes, you just need a fuckin' enchilada, man.

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Alice Laussade writes about food, kids, music, and anything else she finds to be completely ridiculous. She created and hosts the Dallas event, Meat Fight, which is a barbecue competition and fundraiser that benefits the National MS Society. Last year, the event raised $100,000 for people living with MS, and 750 people could be seen shoving sausage links into their faces. And one time, she won a James Beard Award for Humor in Writing. That was pretty cool.
Contact: Alice Laussade