“Commitment. Total commitment,” said Sylvia Casares in response to me asking how she has made it this far. Since 1995, Sylvia has been the chef and owner of restaurants specializing in enchiladas. The most known incarnation is Sylvia’s Enchilada Kitchen, which now boasts locations at Woodway, Westheimer, and on wheels – that’s right, even a food truck: No Borders. It was a week or so ago that I got to gather at the Woodway Sylvia’s Enchilada Kitchen with Sylvia herself and other members of the media to have an intimate dinner in celebration of a ten year extension of her restaurant’s lease.
You would never know that prior to 1995, Sylvia had never even worked in a restaurant. She talked about the restaurant industry like the seasoned professional that she has become. What’s amazing is that she’s learned it all on her own, with nothing more than a passion for cooking and hospitality, and a willingness to learn and go through trial and error.
With her big smile and empowering bright red dress, you would also never know that Sylvia suffered a gun wound last year that could have easily been fatal. As I got to know her, it basically became evident how she recuperated – she is a strong-willed woman, made of steel and with a heart of gold.
And boy, does she make some delicious enchiladas. How could she not? “My name is on the door,” Sylvia says, as an indication that her product has to be stellar, something she can stand behind. The seventeen different enchiladas that she serves are a product of her recipes, all perfected over many years.
Her enchilada menu is divided into two categories: “South of the Border” and “North of the Border”, with the first category dedicated to authentic Mexican-style enchiladas and the latter focused on Tex-Mex enchiladas. I loved this, as — all too often –people confuse Tex-Mex for Mexican cuisine. While both styles of food have many elements in common and are delicious in their own ways, they are also quite different. This menu separation really allows for guests to see and taste these differences.
I chose to try the “South of the Border” enchilada sampler plate, partly because I was craving true Mexican food, but also because I wanted to see how authentic the enchiladas were. The verdict? 100% authentic. And 100% delicious. My sampler plate came with rice and beans, and one of each of the below enchiladas:
Mexico City – enchilada stuffed with chicken and topped with salsa verde and sour cream. This one was fantastic. The tomatillo sauce was nice and tangy, and the chicken was quite moist – something that many restaurants fail at.
Morelia – this was an enchilada roja, or red enchilada, named so because of the red sauce that the tortilla is bathed in, a spicy sauce made from dried chiles. It was filled with queso fresco, a dry, crumbly salty cheese, as well as raw onions, which wilt slighty due to the heat of the tortilla and sauce. Topping it was more queso fresco, lettuce, and radishes -> a true sign of authenticity. Again, the sauce was a winner and the composition was spot-on.
Hidalgo – a grilled pork, or carnitas enchilada that was drenched in a “verde sauce,” a tomatillo-based sauce that was fresh and similar in taste to the salsa verde, but was creamier. Avocado slices made the texture of the Hidalgo enchilada even creamier, a.k.a. more heavenly.
Puebla – by far the show-stopper, the Puebla enchilada was stuffed with tender chicken and blanketed with traditional mole poblano. At the risk of sounding like an impromer Mexican, I’ll admit that I’m not a huge fan of mole. This one, however, was divine. It was rich without being overwhelming, and it was an excellent balance of the savory and sweet flavors that compose this labor-intensive sauce.
Sylvia explained each and every one of my enchiladas to me, with rightful pride in her voice. For a moment, I forgot she had been a stranger to me a few hours prior to my meal with her; her graceful hospitality made me feel like family. As I walked out the restaurant door, I ran my fingers along the restaurant’s name. I loved experiencing Sylvia’s enchiladas, alongside the “Enchilada Queen” herself. I can’t wait to savor the other side of the border on my next visit.
Sylvia’s Enchilada Kitchen
6401 Woodway Dr
Houston, TX. 77057
Urban Swank did receive a complimentary tasting, but the opinions expressed are our own.