Across the high plains of north Texas sits dusty Wichita Falls. You may know the city from the giant tornado that hit it in the early 80’s or because the Dallas Cowboys held training camp there or the world renowned Hotter ‘N Hell 100 bike race that takes place in the hottest part of August every year. You may not know the city at all…there are only about 100k people that live there at one time, however the city is home to Sheppard Air Force base so there are quite a few of our brave servicemen and women who have spent some time there at some point over the last 60 years.
Either by bike or plane, a trip to Wichita Falls can be a bit underwhelming. At one time the city was a bustling boom town, and was the “big city” destination in The Last Picture Show that was set in Archer City, Texas. However, now it can seem like a city that is hanging on by a thread to past glory. Depending on when you go, the downtown can seem almost like a ghost town. There are gorgeous buildings down there, but the style harkens back to a time when people around the country thought all Texans looked and acted like the characters on the tv show Dallas.
With that long-winded intro, let me say that love to go to downtown Wichita Falls. There’s a great kitchen supply store there, and you can usually catch some pretty unique events at the Kay Yeager Coliseum/Multi-Purpose Event Center (MPEC). As well, one of the better steaks in all of north Texas resides at McBride’s Land and Cattle right at the corner of 6th and Scott. However, the greatest joy in Wichita Falls comes from a visit to Casa Mañana, the “Home of the Red Taco”.
Confused? Yeah…just hang on. This is a good ‘un.
If you don’t know what you are looking for, you will miss it. It’s on a street next to a shoeshine place that I’m not sure is still open, and that’s next to a store that I’m pretty sure is closed also. Look for the red door. On the inside, it looks like a simple Mexican food joint you can find in any strip mall. If you are looking for authentic Mexican food, then you are going to be disappointed. I’m not really sure exactly how you’d describe this food other than being authentic Wichita Falls. It’s definitely TexMex but it’s unique.
The menu is about what you’d expect from any other Mexican food place, complete with the stereotypical sleepy Mexican picture and random bullfighting image.
However, right on the inside cover at the bottom, you notice something very telling: Home of the Original “Red Taco”. Red taco? Oh, hell yeah. Red Taco.
Ask anyone from the area about the Red Taco and you’ll see their eyes light up. I’ll get there in a sec. First…
Oh, yeah…there’s a sombrero…
…and the vexing young Alicia, our server for the evening. Ask for her.
They start you out with a nice cold beverage and a bowl of chips. These chips are as thick as sheet metal and are extremely crisp and tasty. Along with…
…some really tasty salsa, it’s a great way to start this meal. The chips are really good, but that’s only the beginning of this unique experience. Every table gets a bowl of queso. Check this stuff out:
Yeah, it’s kinda orange. The first time I ate at Casa Mañana I made a funny face when they brought this stuff out. Don’t be scared, though. The queso is thick and it is good.
It hangs on those chips. The next unique item comes in a plastic bottle.
You might have to ask for a bottle, but it’s worth it. They call it “red wine sauce”. I have no idea what it is…it might just be catalina dressing, but it’s sweet and tangy with the slightest bit of spice. You squirt it out like ketchup right on the chips, and the locals tear into it like lions.
Weird, huh? Weird but delicious. Now then…let’s talk about those Red Tacos. You can get the Taco Plate, which is just two red tacos.
No rice, no beans. Just tacos. And onion rings (what?). What’s so special about them, though? Well, first of all they are red. That’s easy to do with food coloring. However, the texture is soft yet crispy.
Now, the tacos are what these guys are known for, but I’m here for the star of the menu: the Casa Relleños, a plate full of chile relleños. It just so happens that the Casa Rellenos comes with a Red Taco to start along with a big ol’ dollop of guacamole. So, let’s talk about these tacos to start off.
The flavor is hardcore corn, but there’s some toothiness to it.
They are stuffed with meat, cheese, and lettuce. And folded over perfectly.
They are chewy, but when you bite into them you get a snap. I’ve postulated that they make these with extra lard in the masa but I have no earthly idea how they do this. However they do it, it’s something that you’ll crave after you have it the first time.
The first few bites of the experience is something you want to savor (claw and antlers to RC Slocum). Get crazy and squeeze a little of that Red Wine sauce.
Great warm-up to the main event:
The chile relleños. Two peppers stuffed with creamy cheese and topped with tomato ranchero sauce and tons of cheddar. No fancy garnish…just a slice of onion and jalepeño. Let the food speak for itself.
The rice is perfect, with a taste of spice but still fluffy and al dente. Same goes for the beans:
Perfect consistency, with a starchy texture but not creamed to the point where it feels like bean dip on your tongue. The plates are served in the traditional Tex-Mex style of being so hot that it will burn the bones in your fingers if you touch it when it’s first served. Somehow, the waitresses can hold them without a towel, though. Never have been able to figure out how they get used to it.
Cutting into the peppers yields melted cheese that you’ll have to wrap around the fork using your knife. The breading is light and crisp, even under the tomatoey ranchero sauce. At home, I’d try to replicate this with an egg white base, but this is done so well. They don’t try to overcomplicate the stuffing…just cheese, but that’s all you need.
You come to Beef Country, you expect a good steak. I can find you a good steak in a few places. However, if you want a meal that is unique and will be like nothing you can find anywhere else, head up north to Casa Mañana in Wichita Falls.