With the addition of an adjoining dining room, including a private party room and colorful bar area featuring Southwest landscapes topped by beautiful blue skies, the wait goes quickly at La Familia.
The wooden tabletops are branded with the LF logo, and stucco walls are stained in a mocha hue that provides the perfect backdrop for the family photo gallery unfolding across them.
Al Cavazos serves as both patriarch and proprietor. The enthusiastic 80-year-old (who just celebrated his birthday last September) arrives at 6 a.m. every day to begin preparing the freshly made sauces and the complimentary bean soup that accompanies every meal.
After graduating from culinary school in Chicago, he ran kitchens there. He even did a stint in Alaska before moving the family to Fort Worth. Cavazos has been perfecting his methods all along the way.
Cavazos watches his employees like a hawk and does spot checks of plates as they leave the kitchen. "Give people quality and don't cut corners," he says. "It will catch up with you."
For the handmade salsa and chips, Cavazos uses fresh tomatoes instead of the typical canned variety. He explains that there is less sodium, and it is easier to control his seasoning using the fresh tomatoes. But because there are no preservatives, that requires that a fresh batch be made every two hours throughout the day.
The addictive blend is made with onion, cilantro, granulated garlic and salt. They are served alongside crispy corn chips that are dusted with a mixture of paprika, garlic and salt.
The bean soup is also made fresh twice daily. Once for the lunch crowd, who are treated to many specials written on huge rolls of butcher paper that are hanging on the wall, and another batch for the dinner service.
We sampled the Chorizo Queso ($7.95 bowl). It was creamy with lovely chunks of not-too-spicy chorizo sausage stirred in. Cavazos told me the secret was to actually burn the sausage in the pan in order to remove most of the greasy texture, leaving only the flavor to permeate.
There is a lot of showmanship at La Familia as well. The House Margarita and the frozen Family Slush are served with a lime wedge and a sugar cube set on fire tableside. Cavazos warns, "Be careful, they'll sneak up on you." Orders of Fajitas are also flambéed upon presentation, so the pyrotechnic displays are never ending.
Sour Cream Enchiladas ($11.45) are draped with a pearly white sauce. Diced chicken breast is hand-rolled into corn tortillas each day. The sour cream sauce is simple and has bright flavors of Grey Poupon mustard and lime juice.
The Tomatillo Chicken Breast ($14.95) is topped with grilled onion and bell peppers and a tangy fresh tomatillo sauce. The flavorful butterflied chicken is marinated overnight in a combination of soy sauce and orange juice before being grilled to perfection. A side of lard-free refried beans and light Mexican rice round out the plate.
"When I went to culinary school, I wanted to cook Mexican food like nobody else," Cavazos says. And he has been doing just that for decades. We would like to wish one of our favorite perfectionists a happy belated birthday!
- by Courtney Dabney