Once upon a time there was a tire shop on Lauder Road.
But now — thanks to hard work, dreams and lucky timing — the same space is a colorful oasis of eye-popping food, drink and festive fun. And it’s easy for customers to take pandemic precautions there.
The place is Caballo Stop and Drive Thru, the third Houston restaurant concept developed by Lucio Amador after he spent years working for others’ eateries. Caballo’s manager is Arturo Campa, who met Amador in the food industry after starting out as a waiter.
Caballo is Spanish for horse. Horses thrive outdoors. And so does much of this outpost. Many customers drive through the hangar-type building, load up on juicy, spicy items and drive out — sometimes while honking at customers seated nearby on outdoor picnic tables, indoor bar stools or a free-standing car seat. The set-up is why the place is great for hungry or thirsty folks who want to avoid COVID exposure by dining-in where a breeze can blow.
But Amador said the drive-through aspect was part of his plan before the coronavirus arrived. Not bad!
The centerpiece of Caballo’s menu is the alcoholic (made with beer) or non-alcoholic (Topo Chico) meal in — and on! — a cup. The underneath beverage, spiced with hot sauce and other flavors, is a michelada, a drink many local Mexican restaurant regulars are familiar with. But on top is a juicy rainbow of shrimp, cucumber, jicama, carrot and pork rind. And there’s always room for fruit and other fresh items, too.
The concoction, officially the camarones botanos,is Caballo’s “golden goose,” Campa said, because it’s popular and a food-and-drink combo that can be tweaked in many ways, according to taste.
A chef consults on original recipes for other goodies such as ceviche (seafood “cooked” in citrus juice), tostadas covered in seafood (throw in mango pieces, too) and, accompanying every michelada, some spicy Cheetos in cheese. Also, prepare for flavorings throughout the menu from chamoy (pickled fruit) tajin (chili and lime seasoning) and allspice.
Caballo offers a variety of bottled beers and cocktails, with or without the paper umbrella-on-a-toothpick to make you think of being at the beach or on a boat.
And the party-friendly menu takes on added meaning when Caballo brings in live music on the weekend or shows pay-per-view fights on its big video screens — all while helping to fund local youth athletics like the programs Amador joined as a student in East Aldine. On weekends, a taco truck operates at Caballo with hot cooked foods.
Texas-grown country-rocker Robert Earl Keen wrote and sang the song about how “the road goes on forever and the party never ends.” Amador has a similar vision for the expansion of what took the place of his tire store.
“We want a Caballo in every neighborhood,” he said.
Caballo Stop & Drive Thru
2611 Lauder Road
Open Mondays 2-10 p.m., Tuesdays-Sundays 11 a.m. -11 p.m.
— by Alan Bernstein