The family-run Houston Tex-Mex restaurant is celebrating its 80th anniversary

Molina’s Cantina opened its doors in 1941 and is the oldest Tex-Mex restaurant in Houston with 80 years of service. During this time, three generations of the Molina family created a Tex-Mex legacy. The restaurant has a long history starting with Raul and Mary Molina’s Old Monterrey Inn in what is now River Oaks. With few other Mexican restaurants in Houston at the time, the family restaurant was able to develop into Molina’s Mexico City Restaurant and later Molina’s Cantina as it is today.

The menu offers many recognizable dishes that give Tex-Mex cuisine its unique identity, such as Fajitas, taquitos, tamales, nachos, flour tortillas and crispy peeled tacos filled with ground beef, plus more than half a dozen varieties enchiladas, many smothered in melted yellow cheese unfamiliar in traditional Mexican cuisine.

chiliThe chili con carne in Molina’s Cantina is a staple. Photo by Kimberly-Park.

Though historically rooted in Mexico and other cultures, few dishes are as synonymous with Tex-Mex as chili, the meaty, caraway-flavored chili-style sauce. The version at Molina’s is known for its thicker texture that works both as a sauce and as a stand-alone dish. At Molina’s, it’s standard on most Tex-Mex-style enchiladas, available as a sauce for tamales, and served in the bowl as a side dish or appetizer. The downright Tex-Mex-Chile con Queso is also a prominent starter at Molina. Over the years, a number of family members and friends have been immortalized on the menu with namesake dishes. One of them is Jose’s Dipthat combines melted cheese, onions, peppers, tomatoes, and ground taco beef.

Molina’s dessert menu is short and sweet, but the three dishes featured are iconic pieces of Mexican food culture. It’s tight cake with a sticky caramel topping, Soup (pillow-like, deep-fried dumplings comparable to fritters) and of course three milk – this rich, dense, sugary vanilla cake soaked in three types of milk.

Table with Mexican vintage menus and decorMolina’s Cantina menu collection dates back to the 1950s. Photo by Ryan Baker.

There is a full bar where guests can find a wide variety of tequilas and nearly two dozen types of beer. Two cocktails stand out from the crowd: the Mojito and Margarita. The latter is available in different flavors, frozen or on the rocks.

The interior is also inviting and fascinating. An eclectic mix of decorative elements makes customers feel like they are traveling through several different restaurants, starting with a front room with an interior awning made of adobe bricks. One area is highlighted by vivid murals of the fauna, while in another, bright white subway tiles take center stage. The spaces in between are filled with well-known pieces of jewelry and tributes to Mexican celebrities like the comedian Cantinflas.

Today, Molina’s Cantina operates three locations, open Sundays and Mondays from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Tuesdays to Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 9.30 p.m., and Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 10.30 p.m.

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