Eats Beat

Once notorious for gambling, an 83-year Tex-Mex tradition places a bet on new chips

After 83 years, the newest Mexican Inn Cafe is the best yet.

Once known for its colorful founder, a local gambler accused of connections to Vegas mobster Bugsy Siegel, the restaurants are now known mostly as one of the last outposts for old-time Tex-Mex.

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The new Mansfield location’s menu has the same enchiladas, burritos, tacos on fresh tortillas and distinctive arroz con pollo, which one food historian says originated at Mexican Inn.

But you’ll also notice something new.

The chip basket is half filled with the same Fritos-style strips that managers Cataina and Jose Gallegos originated in 1936, only four years after a Oaxacan cook in San Antonio invented Fritos.

But the other half is filled with the more recent triangular tortilla chips.

Along with a dual basket and two kinds of chips, this Mexican Inn also offers dueling hot sauces: the legacy mild version and a new, spicier salsa.

From what I can tell on social media, half the commenters were begging for normal chips and better salsa, and half are offended at the very idea of tinkering with the traditions of founder and notorious gaming operator Tiffin Hall.

The dueling chips and salsas add a new dimension to Mexican Inn, now owned by the Carroll family and considered something of a Tex-Mex historic shrine along with The Original Mexican Eats Cafe (1930) and El Rancho Grande Restaurant (1948).

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So far, the new tortilla chips are served only in Mansfield. (The spicy salsa is available at the South Hulen Street, Camp Bowie Boulevard, Keller and Lake Worth locations.)

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Bud Kennedy bud@star-telegram.com

The Mansfield location is a turnaround. It opened 12 years ago as an old-time Mexican Inn, then was remodeled to a flashy “Latin kitchen” concept that flopped. Mansfield diners pleaded to bring back the Inn.

So the new location has a flashier decor and a showy tortilla counter. But most of the menu hasn’t changed.

Enchilada dinners or combos cost less than $12, or about $1 more for bnsket. There’s a new queso blanco, grilled or fried chicken dishes and chiles rellenos.

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Bud Kennedy bud@star-telegram.com

A basic chicken fajita platter ($15.79) upheld traditions, although the highlight was the stack of corn tortillas and the basket of fluffy flour tortillas.

The menu tells only a bit of the story of Helen Cruz Hall Hill and Tiffin Hall. To promote the now-gone downtown Fort Worth location, the Halls would turn a burro loose downtown trailing the message “Follow me to Mexican Inn.”

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When Tiffin Hall came to Fort Worth from Missouri in 1920, he was arrested within a year for vagrancy. He would be arrested 16 times, mostly for illegal gambling.

At one trial, Hall told The Dallas Morning News: “The whole trouble is that gamblers in Dallas stir up trouble that reflects on Fort Worth.”

All 10 Mexican Inn Cafes are open for lunch and dinner daily. The new Mansfield location is at 1722 U.S. 287; 817-601-6578, mexicaninncafe.com.


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Columnist Bud Kennedy is a Fort Worth guy who covered high school football at 16 and has moved on to two Super Bowls, seven political conventions and 16 Texas Legislature sessions. First on the scene of a 1988 DFW Airport crash, he interviewed passengers running from the burning plane. He made his first appearance in the paper before he was born: He was sold for $600 in the adoption classifieds.
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