Dude Factor: 10, or Jerry Haynes, on a scale of 1 (Mary Kay Ash) to 10.
Honestly, if it weren't for El Fenix, I wouldn't be the dude I am today. You see, my family made the weekly pilgrimage for the Wednesday enchilada special for years. So often, in fact, that I could draw the interior of the Casa Linda El Fenix from memory if you asked. We'd even go the night before Thanksgiving.
When I moved away to college, I left El Fenix behind for the greener pastures of Austin Tex-Mex, only visiting the Dallas institution a handful of times over several years. I've been back in Big D for a little over five years now, though, and I'm proud to say I'm back on the El Fenix wagon. I think, maybe, it's because I'm getting older.
Walk in to any branch of the Tex-Mex institution and you're likely to spot a few tables of elderly diners, or as we affectionately refer to them here at Observer HQ, "The Olds." You must remember the following facts when discussing the Olds: The Olds do not brunch on Henderson. The Olds equate the term "fusion" with the Manhattan Project, and not food. The Olds do not care who your Sous Chef is.
Basically, The Olds go to El Fenix because it has always been there. For 91 years as of last week, as a matter of fact. The chips have tasted the same for as long as they can remember (and frankly, they are awesome). They get their own ramekin of salsa, but they call it a cup, because they don't know what a ramekin is. And no matter how much the menu grows--the El Fenix menu is practically the War and Peace of Tex-Mex--they will probably get the same thing almost every time. The staff will even dispense helpful medical advice, as I learned this week while dining with The Girl Drink Drunk.
Girl Drink Drunk: Would you get the Beef Enchiladas or the Tamales?
El Fenix employee (herself a semi-Old): Well, those are two different things.
Girl Drink Drunk: I know, but I'm having a hard time deciding (Note: The Olds do not usually have this particular problem; it is a more modern malady). I was just wondering which was your favorite.
El Fenix employee: Well, if I had to pick I'd probably say the tamales 'cause of my ulcer.
Have you ever had had a waiter at Luna del Noche discuss their ulcer with you? I didn't fucking think so.
After the picking of combos and dispensing of medical advice, the Olds' food will magically find its way to their table in a matter of seconds. I am not exaggerating. In the time it took me to write this paragraph, some Olds ordered and received their enchilada specials. It's amazing.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the Observer's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Dallas's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Their food is greasy, heavy and good--a slop of lard, cheese, meat, beans, rice and tortillas that appears to be floating on their plate because it actually is. It will not be the best Tex-Mex they've ever eaten, but it will be the best Tex-Mex they've eaten that day. And it will be consistently so.
Their waitress will bring The Olds tortillas on the side. If they request butter, she will bring them enough Land O' Lakes to sustain a racer for the entirety of the Iditarod. The Olds like butter.
When they finish, the staff will tempt them with a sopapilla. The Olds will probably get one. They might be facing a Death Panel soon anyway, so why the hell not?
The Olds will pay at the front counter so they can march past the chips, salsa, pralines and mints for sale. If they're dining with their grandchildren, these candies will be purchased. The children will remember this, and take their own grandchildren to El Fenix, like some Tex-Mex re-imagining of a Werther's Original commercial. And so the cycle will continue, for 91 more years, and perhaps even longer...