April 2004–Exit 59 South at Kirkwood /Dulles and take a drive down Dulles. There isn’t much to see here; there are merely a few buildings and the friendly confines of a softball field to represent an area “with master-planned communities, country clubs, oaks tree-lined roadways and a shopping mall” (Chesser). In reality, there is nothing really that catches your eye here. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the place to grow up. This, my friends, is SugarLand, and in Sugar Land you must dig to find the smallest wonders to treat yourself to.
In this place called Sugar Land , right on the outskirts of southwest Houston is a blossoming community trying to find its own identity with its vast growing population. Sugar Land is Houston , and is made of the hard working people that work downtown, in the Medical Center , and various other places everyday. Many would think that Sugar Land has very little history, but it has many historical landmarks. The most notable landmark would have to be the Imperial Sugar Factory and Sugar Land ’s old town hall. Although these are the more famous landmarks that would be used to describe Sugar Land , I personally have a landmark which I have known since I moved to Sugar Land in 1989. This is a small restaurant, if you can even call it that, on the shoulder of Dulles in between South Main and Lexington Blvd. Soliz is the name of this establishment, and it has been part of the community for far longer than I can recollect.
As I drive by and look at this tiny store on the shoulder of Dulles, I can only imagine what people think about it. Probably it would be along the same lines my first impression of the place was; a run-down store painted a light yellow shade with a red roof. As a child, I sat there in the back of my parent’s car just wondering to myself, “How can anyone possibly eat there?” People would refer to this store as a hole in the wall. Growing up and going to the school directly across the street from Soliz, I would pass by every day, only to see that the store had survived another day. At one point my sister and I referred to the place as the “diarrhea factory” because of its unpleasant exterior appearance. It was not for many years afterward that I would actually begin to drastically change my opinions about Soliz.
By 1998, the hype about Soliz had began, their tacos were just “to die for.” Being from Houston , I am naturally a lover of Mexican food, and nothing describes Houston better than honest-to-goodness Tex-Mex. “Here the traditions of northern Mexico and Texas continue to blend to this day. It is a blending of traditions and cross-cultural borrowing that gave rise to the style of cooking known to us as Tex-Mex” (Simons 132). So one day during the summer, my friends and I decide to give this Soliz place a try. As we drove up to the restaurant I could not help but notice how many cars were already parked outside the restaurant. “How can this restaurant possibly be packed if it looks so bad? It seems that they do not have enough money to rent a better place.”
I walk in only to discover that all types of people are in the restaurant, and not only that, the line to get food is running outside the door. The interior did not offer a much better first impression than the exterior, with just two booths that have extremely hard, orange seats that look like the old 80’s styles booths featured at any other fast food restaurant.
So I placed my order and waited patiently, noticing that there was only one chef and one cashier. No wonder people had to wait! It could not be good for business, either. Both the chef and cashier were Hispanic, and as I would find out from my subsequent visits, they are very joyful, always willing to say “Gracias” after you place your order. As I received my food I sat down, eager but nervous, to see what Soliz had to offer. I opened the brown paper sack, which was like any other lunch bag, to find three tacos wrapped in tin foil with my order number written on them and three small cups of red sauce.
The tacos were of reasonable size for the $1.50 that they charge for each. I opened the first taco, which had a potato, bacon, and cheese, and smelled the aroma of freshly made bacon, a greasy smell that reaches down to your stomach and makes it growl. I eagerly dipped the taco into the red sauce. As soon as I put it in my mouth, it was like an explosion of taste and I could do nothing to help my mouth from watering. The sauce, although a bit spicy, has great flavor and makes you only want to use it more and more.
This gave way to a saying that has been passed down from generation to generation, and that would be: “Never ever judge a book by its cover.” Soliz made me learn this lesson well, because I have only grown to love this place. This lesson can be extended to all things in this world, and I believe it is something that fits very well with the Houston community. If people treated everyone else the way I thought about Soliz in the beginning, we all would be missing out on a lot of good things in life. I love to eat, and in learning this important lesson in life I can only hope that I use it in all aspects. Hoping that everyone treats people with this attitude, I can hope also that people will be able to not judge Soliz on its appearance but rather on the quality of its food.
I sit here today only being able to reminisce on my first experiences here. Nothing has changed; the exterior appearance is still the same and unfixed in places that look overdue on repairs, and the inside still provides the same, old orange booths, a place to enjoy your meal and read a newspaper. This place is something special. Both the chef and cashier are the same people that I have remembered for the last five years, still the same jolly people. I sit there and wonder to myself if this establishment is theirs. Although the day is not busy for most — probably because it is Sunday and church has yet to let out — there are still various people churning in and out of the store to get their favorite tacos. Every so often, I see some old friends from high school who come to eat and chitchat, but sitting here taking in the aroma makes me appreciate this little establishment even more. Through the years, strip centers has been built right next to here and a few fast food chains like Sonic and Subway have opened, but it doesn’t seem to bother or hinder the business that Soliz gets. When the first strip center opened in 2000 they had a restaurant named Taco King. This restaurant was better located and definitely had a better exterior appearance. To my own personal belief, I think that Soliz’s local customers drove Taco King out of business, but of course this is only my opinion. I cannot remember a time when I haven’t enjoyed a good Soliz taco, because quite frankly, I think everything on the menu is great.
“Most real Tex-Mex food is not hot, but has a bold full flavor that can easily be enjoyed and not feared” (Bush 2). Soliz is no exception to this statement. Soliz is outstanding in my mind, not only for the great food, but compared to the regular Taco Bell or Taco Cabana, the environment is just cozier. Although it may not seem like the most friendly or high-class place, Soliz has become a symbol of something simple. Soliz has good food, good company, and a good all-around aura when you walk in. The prices at Soliz may not blow you away and the portions will not amaze like the local Chipotle or Freebirds, but the flat-out taste and freshness will leaving you wanting more and more. Even now at this very moment I am probably craving a good Soliz number eleven taco with cheese.
In a discussion with the owner of the shop, a burly man that may be about 5’ 8” with a few tattoos and at least five piercing, I discovered that Soliz opened in the mid 70’s and is a family venture that has been passed down. He was quick to say that without the high school being directly across the street, at least eighty percent of Soliz’s business would be gone. Their menu includes an assortment of Mexican foods that range from breakfast tacos to lunch specials and other things like desserts and nachos. Personally, I enjoy their breakfast tacos the best and would recommend that you try the one with bacon, egg and cheese. The mixture of freshly cooked, crispy bacon and scrambled eggs with melted cheese onto a freshly made tortilla could make any person hungry. Other notable favorites from the local guests would have to be the Eric (which is a vegetarian taco), the potatoes and cheese, the beef tribes, Darlene, and the chicken with grilled onions. All of these favorites would have the same extraordinary flavor on the first bite with just the right amount of each ingredient to make a taco perfect — not too salty and not too bland. There is one thing in common that all the customers I talked to have to agree on, and that would be that the tacos are really nothing without the red sauce to accompany it with. The chefs, a woman maybe in her late thirties who is always willing to give a smile, tells me that the sauce was passed down from her grandmother and really is nothing special, just another salsa just like at any other taqueria. I can tell you that the red spicy sauce is like no other. It mixes flavor with enough spice to make you use it all up even before you are finished with the taco.
Soliz describes Houston because it has the Mexican roots that all Houstonians have a bit of. Diversity is a major characteristic of Houston, and Soliz serves all kinds of people from all parts of the city. I believe that Houston is best described by its diversity and people’s willingness to be open and try new things. Houston is old, as is Soliz (in my standards), and there is a lot of tradition in both. Even though Soliz is not as presentable as some restaurants, it is what is inside that counts. Just like Houston, which may look plain (I think u should add “and even downright filthy”) on the outside, it is the community and the things you can do here that make it thrive. As it is apparent at the beginning of my story, you cannot judge a book by its cover, and if it were not for my willingness to gives things a shot, I would have never been able to have the delightful tacos that Soliz serves. I would have to say that I have had many fond memories at Soliz or eating Soliz tacos with friends and family and I believe that it is a place that people should give a try. Soliz is Houston, just as Sugar Land is, and just as the people of the community are. This place is personally unique to me because I have never been anywhere like it before and that good thing about Soliz’s it that everyone loves it and that everyone seems to come together when eating their tacos.