You’ve probably heard that the Martinez family has sold its El Fenix chain. Such sad news that another iconic local company has changed hands. There was a time in the 1950s, ’60s and early ’70s — in a Dallas that was far different from the international city we live in today — when El Fenix and its chief competitor, El Chico (owned by the Cuellar family), meant Mexican food to the majority Anglo population.
No offense to fans of the old Lakewood El Chico or the one at Lochwood, but I was an El Fenix guy. You’ve got to love a chain that founded a tradition that changed the way Dallas ate on Wednesday nights — those weekly enchilada specials that jammed parking lots at El Fenixes all over town.
In fact, I can say El Fenix made me love Mexican food. That I didn’t love it when I was a kid, I blame on my dad, who insisted when we moved to Dallas from the Northeast that we eat horrible tamales from a jar and Wolf brand chile as often as possible. This was his way of fitting in. I hated them, and avoided Mexican food (even the taco-flavored Doritos).
When I was about 16, some friends insisted I go with them to El Fenix on Northwest Highway. I think I had the Saltillo Plate, and I couldn’t believe it, but I actually liked it. And began going all the time. I had my first margarita at the El Fenix at NorthPark (very fancy, with those white table cloths) about the time I turned 18. (That was legal, back then.)
I’d like to think my Mexican food tastes have grown more sophisticated over time, but I still love El Fenix.