By Jeff Herman
East Aldine Management District has no shortage of Tex-Mex options to choose from but few have the chops and longevity of Alma Latina. Since 1984, the Marquez family has been preparing their soulful, authentic Mexican fare, and Houston is all the better for it. Starting as a small chain of taquerias, the family expanded their vision to eventually include full Mexican restaurants with sister locations in Porter and the Heights.
We walked into the cornerstone location at Aldine Mail Rt and 59 for lunch on a dreary late winter afternoon. Immediately, the scent of barbacoa tacos, carnitas, mole enchiladas and other Tex-Mex favorites greeted us like an old friend. As we got settled, removing our hats and coats, the waitress sat chips and salsa down on the table, along with complimentary bowls of sopa aguada. Sopa aguada is a traditional favorite of light pasta in a tangy Mexican broth. The unexpected arrival of this warm treat was the perfect antidote to the cold and wet day outside.
We also felt absolutely no guilt filling up on two bowls of chips (super light and airy) and salsa (simple but unexpected lingering, smoky, pepper flavors) before our meal. They were just that good. We had not even placed an order yet we were already satisfied with our lunch.
For our mains, we choose the Mexican Dinner ($5.99 for two crispy beef tacos, one cheese enchilada, beans and rice) and soft tacos (barbacoa and carne guisada, but there is plenty of seafood to choose from as well, including shrimp enchiladas–a crowd favorite–boiled crab legs, lobster, shrimp, and grilled oysters. Choose between the Cajun, lemon pepper, garlic butter, or the “house sauce” seasonings. If you come for dinner try offerings from the Michelada Bar, served in terracotta mugs and exotic garnishes like spicy shrimp or crawfish. Whiskey, vodka and tequila, of course, are also available.
By the time our order arrived, the restaurant was packed. It was an eclectic mix of young and older couples, small groups of teens, and men in khakis talking business deals. The food was fresh, warm and hearty. Creamy cheese enchiladas were balanced by fluffy rice and lightly salted beans. We sampled soft and hard tacos, and while we enjoyed the flavors of both varieties, the crispy were edged out by the soft tortillas despite their delicious dollops of sour cream and guacamole. The barbacoa has the authentic flavor and textures you would expect and the carne guisada was an especially hearty choice for the cold day. The Alma Latina barbacoa taco lands on my best of East Aldine Management District and maybe the best of the Houston area as a whole!
Located on Aldine Mail Rt., just off 59, Alma Latina is tucked away in an unassuming small shopping strip. Look for the peach stucco exterior! Go early on your way to school or work for breakfast tacos or traditional eggs and pancakes, they open at 7:00 a.m., or stop by late night (open M-Th, midnight; Fri & Sat, 3:00 a.m.). Parking is limited.
4920 Aldine Mail Rd.
Houston, TX 77039