Some restaurants become institutions almost by default: they're conveniently located; your parents (or grandparents) went there; they happen to be open late; they appeal to clueless tourists; the waitresses call you "honey"… or a combination of the above. They are, and we all know them, the Hung Fongs and Casa Rios of the world.
The Malt House has been serving customers from its Westside location since 1949. The first-timer (yours truly, in other words) might (or might not) be excused for finding the place a little the worse for wear. The ceiling needs work, the lighting is a disaster, a good paint job wouldn't hurt… yet I'm willing to bet that the vast majority of the satisfied-seeming customers noted on two visits don't give a flying fajita. There was a sense of the kind of community here that builds loyalty and leads to longevity.
This outsider isn't looking to be excused for finding faults in the food, however; this is not the place that I would take a visiting foodie in an attempt to prove that Tex-Mex is alive, well, and worth one's attention in South Texas. The No. 2 Un Poquito de Todo comes armed with two puffies (a little deflated, with both the beef and the chicken needing infusions of the respectable table salsa), one tamal of no particular virtue, two pretty standard cheese- and chili-slathered enchiladas that kept me tasting comino and chili powder for hours, a couple of leathery flautitas, and some truly tasteless guacamole that had been blended to Gerber's consistency. The rice? Eh. The beans? Lo mismo.
But there's more than Mex on Malt's menu. Chicken seemed to be popular with daytime diners; I didn't notice any steaks going out, but a 16-ounce T-bone is only $10.99. And it's precisely in the pricing that things get interesting. My jumbo hamburger with French fries was $2.99. Fully loaded, sporting dual patties and a bun no worse than many, it was more than satisfactory for the dinero. Oh, sure, the fries had the taste and appearance of something extruded or stamped. But, in compensation, my chocolate malt was super-thick, adequately anointed with chocolate syrup — just not very malty. But only $2.50. Apart from bringing me flour tortillas (on the previous visit) when I had asked for corn, service was efficient and friendly — another reason that places with only ordinary food become landmarks.
115 S Zarzamora
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