Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A Tex-Mex Giant's Fall from Grace

Next to Pancho’s Mexican Buffet, the child’s plate at Pete Dominguez restaurants like Casa Dominguez and Los Vaqueros was the most formative Tex-Mex experience of my young life. There was nothing fancy about Dominguez’ ‘Austin-style’ fare, but it was consistent and comfortably good. They also made a mean Roy Rogers.

After opening the first Casa Dominguez on Cedar Springs in Dallas back in 1963, Dominguez slowly grew into a celebrity restaurateur, hosting movie stars and athletes whenever they passed through Dallas. His restaurant walls were loaded with autographed photos. Former UT football coach Darrell Royal was the best man at his second wedding.

My family often ate at Dominguez’ Los Vaqueros when it was located in the Highland Park Village. When we moved to Houston in 1976, we switched to the Casa Dominguez on Kirby Dr. One night as we stood in line to pay the bill, my dad abruptly twisted me around and said, “Greg, look! There’s Alan Shepard!” I didn’t know Alan Shepard from Adam at the time, but it was pretty cool to see the first American in space and the fifth man to walk on the moon dropping by Casa for a plate of tacos al carbon just like the rest of us.

Casa Dominguez opened a location in Bellaire in the early 80s. Its proximity to our old house made it my parents’ second home for several years.

Given all this history, I’m saddened to read that Dominguez has fallen on hard times. According to a story in Saturday’s Dallas Morning News by Karen Robinson-Jacobs, bad debt, alcohol and family squabbles are the all-too-familiar culprits.

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