Popular Tex-Mex dish born in San Antonio
Sizzling fajitas have become so “U.S.niversal” that no one thinks much about their roots — no one except the Cortez family, that is, for it is their story. I heard it from Michael Cortez, who operates his family’s restaurants in San Antonio‘s Market Square. It goes like this:
His grandfather, Pete (probably christened as Pedro in Guadalajara) was sent to San Antonio to live with family after his mother died. The family owned a butcher shop in the heart of the city (now Market Square, then a an actual market). There, young Pete, who had learned the butcher trade, took scraps of meat intended to be ground but instead seasoned them to tenderize them before cooking for the tiny, three-table cafe they added for market workers.
The inspiration was arrachera, flank steak cut and cooked in the Mexican manner of campfire cooking. Eventually Pete’s son George (perhaps originally Jorge) got the idea of searing the arrachera in cast iron skillets, so he had skillets made in Monterrey, Mexico,and so the sizzling fajita as we know it was born. The year was 1981.
Mike said that fajitas first were served at Mi Tierra, still a bakery and eatery that is notable for being open 24 hours, but I had the family’s version at La Margarita, next door. It was ginormous and different from any others I’ve had. There were marrow-bearing bones in some of the meat pieces, potatoes, chunks of onion, a little bowl with big shrimp hanging over the rim and an aromatic dipping sauce, grilled oysters and more than I could try or can recall, with fresh avocado, tomato slices and lime too.