Original Mexican Restaurant

Robb Walsh, the food critic at the Houston Press noted in a 2000 article that:

At the turn of the century, tamale vendors, chili stands and other such street sellers supplied the Mexican food in Houston. But in 1907 a public crusade for better sanitation began to force them out of business. The civic reforms of the Progressive era brought about the first health inspections and rules for safe food handling. William McDuffie Brumby, Houston’s crusading health officer, led these reforms and then went on to become president of the Texas Board of Health, where he wrote a statewide sanitation code. While some tamale vendors and chili stands remained in business after 1910, their numbers dwindled as permanent Mexican restaurants with more hygienic facilities began to take their place.

In the same year that restrictions were placed on Mexican street food in Houston, what history suggests was Houston’s first Mexican restaurant – the “Original Mexcian Restaurant” – opened. Walsh states:

The first Mexican restaurant listed in Houston’s city directory was the Original Mexican Restaurant at 807 Fannin. It was opened in 1907 by George Caldwell, an Anglo from San Antonio. Caldwell was no doubt inspired by the Original Mexican Restaurant in his hometown, which opened in 1900. Caldwell’s place was quite popular and a favorite of mayor Oscar Holcombe’s. Caldwell’s slogan was “Genuine Mexican food, properly prepared.”

A book on Houston published soon after the opening of the Original Mexican Restaurant (Pen and Sunlight Sketches of Greater Houston, an electronic version of which has been made publicly available by Rice University through a Creative Commons attribution license) included the following description of the restaurant:

Of all the first class restaurants of Houston none is better known nor more widely patronized than the Original Mexican Restaurant, which is located at 807 Fannin street, an ideal location for a business of this kind. The place is handsomely furnished throughout in true Mexican style, and the very best of Mexican dishes cooked by native Mexican cooks, are served. While the business has been established only about five years, it has during that time gained fame throughout the state, and is one of the most popular resorts in Houston, being patronized by a large circle of its best citizens. Mr. G. E. Caldwell, the proprietor of the restaurant, is a native of Texas and a former citizen of San Antonio, where he spent the larger part of his life, and where he also learned the ways of the Mexicans and gained his experience in preparing the delicious Mexican dishes. Regular meals are served at 35 cents, all of Mexican dishes, while short orders are to be had at any time between noon and midnight. Mr. Caldwell makes a specialty of catering to parties, and does a big business in this line.

Walsh also notes that Felix Tijerina, the founder of Felix Mexican Restaurant, took a busboy job at the Original Mexican Restaurant in 1918, at the age of 13, and that Caldwell encouraged Tijerina to open his first restaurant in 1929.

In 1922, the Original Mexican Restaurant moved from 807 Fannin to 1109 Main, and is presumed to have closed sometime thereafter.

2 responses to “Original Mexican Restaurant

  1. Marion Wright

    I remember going to Felix Mexican Restaurant when I was in 5th grade – probably during the 1930’s. I think I read that the the the last owner ?.Tijerina died in 2009 and the restaurant closed. Am not sure of my facts and would love to see a photo of the restaurant that I think was on Westheimer in Houston, TX – River Oaks area.

    • Houstorian Tracey

      Marion – Felix’s was very close to the intersection of Westheimer and Montrose Blvd., and closed in 2008. Here is one of a number of news articles about the closure. If you do a Google Images search for “felix mexican restaurant”, you’ll see a number of photos of the restaurant.

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