Spanish Village Is A Houston Treasure Serving Tex-Mex With The Original Recipes
From the outside, Spanish Village looks unchanged by the decades. Inside, though, there’s new management and a fresh take on Tex-Mex — along with reverence for the dishes Houstonians love.
Spanish Village is located at 4720 Almeda in Houston’s historic Third Ward just outside of downtown Houston. It is the city’s oldest Tex-Mex restaurant still in its same location. It was originally a house built in the 1920s that was later purchased by Larry and Alfonso Pico.
“Whenever someone new visits, the first thing I let them know is the restaurant was founded in 1953 by the Pico family,” says new owner Abhi Sreerama. “That makes Spanish Village 65 years old. All of the mosaic dining tables were cemented to the floor in 1955. The history surrounding you as you sit here is astounding.”
There two dining rooms, both outfitted with mosaic tables cemented to the floor. Originally, it was a house. In the 1970s, the secondary area finally got a roof covering to stave off Houston’s intense summer sunshine.
The story of Spanish Village is kind of “crazy,” to quote Sreerama. At one time, there were five locations. Larry Pico got embroiled in some legal battles. “He lost all but three of them,” said Sreerama. “His daughter was married to John S. Medina.”
Later, there would be a split between the Picos and the Medinas. John and his father, Joe, went off and opened another Spanish Village at 4811 Lillian while Larry continued running the Almeda location. (In fact, it was named “Larry Pico’s Spanish Village” for a time.) Then, there was another family dispute, this time between Joe and John. John went back to running the Almeda location. By that point, Larry Pico, now older and ready to retire, was happy to let him do so. Once again, the name became, simply, “Spanish Village.”
Another interesting backstory is Spanish Village’s time when it had a “drinking club.” “In 1952, Texas drinking laws stated that patrons had to be part of a club in order to buy drinks commercially,” said Sreerama. “You couldn’t have them in the restaurant so they served the drinks upstairs. In 1966, the laws changed. From what I understand, after that the owners shut it down since everyone could drink downstairs. That space is untouched since 1966.” Sreerama says that while it’s like a museum, the upstairs will need a lot of renovation before it’s usable again. He hopes to accomplish that but it’s going to take a lot of time and money.
To this day, Spanish Village still serves the classic dishes that patrons have treasured since 1953 — including the simple, pure margaritas with tequila, lime juice and orange liqueur enjoyed by those old drinking club patrons.
“Customers also love the enchiladas. This is one of the last places where you can get an “OG enchilada” with chile gravy. It’s not the cheddar cheese that makes the dish. It’s the chile gravy. I am very proud of our cheese and onion enchiladas. Most places just offer cheese but we still offer cheese and onion.” Instead of chopped raw onion being sprinkled on top (which has a rather harsh flavor), it’s cooked right in, which makes it mild and slightly sweet from the natural sugars.
It’s also one of the last places still serving a classic chile relleno. “It’s still made with a bell pepper instead of a poblano, and stuffed with cheese, meat, pecans, raisins—just like the original with the Creole sauce around it,” says Sreerama. (Creole sauce is an essential Tex-Mex ingredient made with tomato, onion and peppers.)
Spanish Village has an important asset when it comes to preserving old Tex-Mex favorites: the employees. “I say it as a joke that me and Ishita [Chakravarty, a pastry chef recently cited by Houston Chronicle restaurant critic Alison Cook as making “a mean tres leches” — a newly added dessert] are the shortest-tenured employees. Our longest tenured employee works in the kitchen and she’s been here 25 years. Our next-longest one is the lead line cook who has been here 16 or 17 years. Our servers have been here no shorter than seven years.”
Stop in today and get a true taste of culinary history at the “OG” Houston Tex-Mex restaurant, Spanish Village.