This eatery occupies the spot long held by El Chico in this town, and is a more focused eatery than the stock Mexican chain. Their focus is fajitas, and they do a solid, not spectacular, job of providing this Tex-Mex staple.

img_6831

img_6833

We came at lunch, and they plate a better lunch fajita than most do.

img_6834

As you can see, the fajitas are served in a metal liner on the wooden plate. Plating on metal is important, as it’s part of the presentation. A good shop will spray citrus juice into a hot liner before serving, so the dish arrives steaming.

img_6837

Chimi V’s manage to do a solid job with things like tacos and enchiladas as well. In all, Chimi’s is a respectable lunch spot, and can be recommended on those grounds.

Chimi V’s
2050 Old Minden Rd
Bossier City, LA 71111
(318) 741-3144

Chimi V's Fajita Factory on Urbanspoon

Advertisements

My last visit to Pure Taqueria was so successful, people at work were wanting me to make another food run. And if I were going to do that, I thought it worthwhile to eat there myself. This is the one new dish I tried:

They call it tres ceviche, with shrimp, fish, and octopus in each of the three containers.  I took most of this dish back to work, and it disappeared around 5 pm. Delicious.

Later this weekend, we went to the new Uncle Julio’s in Sandy Springs. Our timing couldn’t have been worse, as three large groups arrived before we did and the wait was quite long. And after the food arrived, I had the joy of watching my mother-in-law take the long strips of chicken fajita meat and steadily cut them into thin 1.5 inch long strips that would have been suited for a stir fry, perfectly sized for chop sticks. She was persistent in her resizing, even though she didn’t have any chop sticks.

These are Uncle Julio’s beef fajitas. I’m guessing, given the grain of the meat, that they are using something like flank. The fajitas are really good, though they arrived without a hint of steam or smoke and the onions are just turning transparent, let alone caramelized. So on taste, they are an A. On presentation, maybe a B.

Uncle Julio’s has good pork ribs (my wife had a plate they call a Juarez, a mix of fajitas and ribs) and an interesting tomato based sauce. And in fact, most of the dishes the waiters will steer you to are grilled foods. This restaurant is more like Outback or Longhorns than I realized at first.

If you go to the site spanishdict.com and type in the word “faja”, you get this result, which says the word translates as “corset”.  Alternate translations are “strip” and “band”, which approximates the band of diaphragm muscle in the cow that yields the cut we call a skirt steak (photo here). The skirt steak is tough but tasty, and is the original source of the beef used in fajitas, an entree made of thin sliced and grilled skirt steak.

So who invented the fajita? According to Robb Walsh in his article on the original Ninfa’s, Spanish cowboys called vaqueros deserve the honor:

… the originators of what we call fajita tacos were the Hispanic ranch hands of West Texas who were given the head, intestines and other unwanted beef cuts such as the diaphragm as part of their pay. They pounded the diaphragm, marinated it with lime juice, grilled it, then cut it up and ate the meat with salsa and condiments on flour tortillas, which became common in Texas in the 1930s. (Although the name fajita and the serving style are unique to Texas, a similar grilled diaphragm “steak” is also common in Nuevo Leon, where it is called arrachera al carbon.)

To note, there is inside skirt steak and outside skirt steak. The inside is one source of cheap supermarket fajita meat. The outside is notably more tender, and that’s the cut of meat Ninfa’s uses on their fajitas. But the problem for the rest of us is the Japanese are now buying almost all of our fajita meat. As Robb Walsh explains:

In 1988, the U.S.-Japan Beef and Citrus Agreement reclassified outside skirt, the cut that started the fajita craze, as tariff-free offal. The Japanese, who used to pay the equivalent of a 200 percent tariff on U.S. beef, now buy our outside skirt steak with no tariff at all. They are currently importing 90 percent of it.

This means all kinds of meats are used these days to make fajitas, because cost and supply have cut us off from the original meat (see Robb’s article on fajita meat for more details). So as a practical matter, a fajita will often be a tougher cut of meat, usually marinated, grilled and then served on a hot comal along with brown carmelized onions and grilled peppers. Other people disagree about this course of preparation. Jim Payton of the site lomexicano.com insists that fajitas not be marinated at all, though he yields to tenderizing the meat. He also suggests adding lime juice to your hot griddle at the end, in order to juice up the smoke and steam.

As a critic, I’m looking for these things in a beef fajita.

  1. An appropriate cut of meat. I prefer my fajitas marinated, under most circumstances. The meat should not be too tough, but it shouldn’t be fall off the bone tender either. If you’re not tenderizing the meat, why bother cooking this way?
  2. Meat cut into strips across the grain, and thoroughly cooked, on all sides. And by cooked, I do mean grilled, not roasted or baked.
  3. Great flavor.
  4. Fajitas served hot, and served on an adequately hot plate. A cast iron comal is preferred. Like Japanese one pot dishes, the spectacle is part of what I should be paying for. Further, the plate needs to be hot else I’ll end up eating cold food before I run out of tortillas.
  5. Appropriate sides. I want caramelized onions and grilled peppers. I want hot steamy tortillas. I want, and seldom get, the quantity of pico de gallo I really like in fajitas.

I’ve largely avoided eating fajitas in reviews of restaurants because the average restaurant outside Texas botches their fajitas. But as I’m going to begin doing so, I thought people ought to know what criteria I use to judge fajitas.

Random thoughts afterwards:

Although Ninfa’s claims to have invented the fajita are probably incorrect, it is true that the original Ninfa’s on Navigation helped ignite the fajita craze in the United States. Houstonians have been grateful ever since.

Another interesting view of the origin of the fajita is here.

According to Houston ex pats, Tex-Mex in the big Apple genuinely sucks.

Robb Walsh has written some great food articles. If anyone has ever wondered where American kobe beef came from, he has an answer.

And almost certainly off subject, but since the fajita craze has driven the costs of things like flank steak to absurd proportions, please also note that chicken wings are now more expensive than chicken breasts, due to the public’s taste for buffalo wings.

If I had to choose an inexpensive cut of meat for fajitas at home, some of the milanesa steaks that can be found at the International Markets (usually about $3.99/lb or so) would be a place to start.

I was asked to make something fast for my daughter and myself, and I had a hankering for something a little different. I can pan sear steak with the best of them but I wanted something fast and simple. My daughter suggested tacos, but I was thinking what I would see in a plate of fajitas, and it is essentially marinated steak, bell pepper strips and onions. So, I went to the local carniceria and found a beautiful red pepper and some nice thinly sliced steak (0.7 lb), so I also bought the chicken my wife wanted and some flour tortillas and headed home.

We prepared a fajita style marinade as so:

Juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced.
salt to taste
1 teaspoon red pepper
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
add water till the steak was covered.

The steak and marinade were placed in a bowl, wrapped in plastic and allowed to sit in the refrigerator.

In the meantime we cut up 1 green and 1 red pepper and 1/2 yellow onion and 1/2 red onion. We placed the veggies in a bowl for the time being.

The longer you marinate, the more flavor you’ll get. Some people add cumin to the marinade, others add cilantro, and still others add jalapeno pepper. Some even add tequila! Still others marinate the peppers with the steak.  In Keith Law’s blog, he uses a dry rub for his fajitas. This is a place where some inventiveness will help you. Look at some other recipes for fajita marinades to get ideas.

After the steak was marinated enough (the longer the better for sure, and overnight is probably best. We did it an hour. We were hungry), we took it out of the fridge and cut it into thin strips. This aids in the cooking. For that matter, if you cut the steak before marinating, it will marinate faster (increased surface area).

If you want the steak to have a more grilled appearance, you’ll need to use a pan at a high heat and probably start cooking the steak first. As this can leave a kitchen absolutely full of smoke, I chickened out and just added a tbsp of oil at medium-high heat, let the pan warm up and tossed in everything – steak, onions, peppers – at once. I cooked until the steak was done, no hint of red and with the vegetables soft and moist. I had my daughter try the meat and when we were satisfied, we removed the food from the skillet, drained the juices, poured it all into a bowl. We provided a spoon and flour tortillas and allowed anyone to have at it.

It looked great, and would have been great over a bed of rice, too.