All-American is a series that looks at beloved, longstanding North Texas eateries and examines their histories while exploring how the food has changed — for the good or bad — over the years.
It’s early. There’s a merciful quiet inside the cafeteria at the Los Lupe's Cafeteria on Riverfront. There are a few sounds — the light clatter of plastic dishes on trays, a buzzing fridge and, if you get close, the faint sound of steam simmering out of the cauldrons of sauces.
If your head is hammering from mixed liquors the night before, the cafeteria line is a long embrace in the form of food. Dark beans and darker enchilada sauce sit alongside orange rice and tamales. Chips are handed over in a plastic basket that's rimmed with wax paper, salsa comes in a small paper cup, and there’s a picture of the pope on the wall blessing everything else. Forty-six years after opening, Los Lupes is the quiet, serene breakfast that you need.
There are five locations in the area, but the Duncanville location isn't part of the franchise. The flagship, on Riverfront, always opens at 6 in the morning — the exact moment when your head feels like it’s being smashed and gravity-squeezed like the last bit in a tube of toothpaste. The breakfast tacos will need to come later.
As it turns out, 6 a.m. is the perfect time for barbacoa.
The original Lupe’s cafeteria food satisfies the immediate need for flour tortillas and slow-cooked meat. The buffet line (Who else has an all-you-can-eat buffet of food that doesn’t suck at 6 a.m.?) is a short, merciful thing with a few sauces, entrees and Tex-Mex favorites. It’s no overwhelming Vegas buffet with tons of prefab small dishes. Lupe’s buffet is more home-cooked, more honest. You can point at things and grunt, hungover-like, in a way that you’ll want to apologize for later. Embrace the shame; you’ll be understood at Lupe’s.
One server, who’s heaping piles of enchiladas onto my plate, has been working at Los Lupes for 44 years.
“It’s been too long,” she says with a smile.
A family of five eats nearby, sleep lines on their faces. They’re wearing pajamas. This is the kind of frill-free joint that the city needs to keep going. Lupe’s Mexican Cafeteria lives outside of time, trends and the overwrought design ideas of restaurant groups.
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In true dedication to hangover cessation, menudo is served every day. Lupe's is a peppery, hot broth that’s optimal when devoured right as the morning sun bleeds over the horizon. Tortilla chips and salsa on the side are the right crunch.
Green salsa, salty and tangy, arrives with the lightly pressed flour tortillas. Barbacoa inside is simple and loaded with juices. Everything, including a barbacoa breakfast taco and an egg and cheese breakfast taco, amounts to a little over nine bucks. There’s little else but meat, oil and juices.
If you're considering more breakfast tacos, one after the other until bad feelings are crushed like a car at a junkyard, the Lupe's staff seems happy to assuage your soul with more food. In other words, it’s a perfect meal for a harsh morning, and it’s been served in the city for four decades.
Los Lupe's Mexican Cafeteria, 1400 N. Riverfront Blvd. (Design District)