HOUSTON, Texas -- When you step into Sylvia's Enchilada Kitchen, you'll feel like you're back in your abuela's kitchen. Sylvia Casares, who's known by many as Houston's Enchilada Queen, prides herself on cooking for her customers the same way her mother cooked for her.
"When I opened my restaurant, I wanted to serve the very best food that I knew," said Casares. "I wanted to serve homestyle Mexican food. My recipes are prepared the old-fashioned way, the way we were cooking 100 years ago."
Casares first opened her namesake restaurant in 1998, then a tiny eatery off Westheimer Road. Over a quarter century, she built a Tex-Mex empire, with two well-known restaurant locations in Houston and a signature cookbook including more than 80 authentic recipes. Casares has received countless national accolades, including being named a semi-finalist for Best Chef: Texas in the 2022 James Beard Awards and one of the "Top 10 Great Mexican Restaurants in the U.S." by USA Today.
"I became the Enchilada Queen after a magazine writer wrote an article featuring my enchiladas and she called me the Enchilada Queen," said Casares. "And it just stuck. In fact it's my email address. You know, it's everywhere now."
But the path to success didn't always come easy. In 2012, Casares survived a brush with death.
"I was shot by an employee, someone I hired as I was going to venture out and do a second restaurant," said Sylvia. "It was my decision to terminate him and that was when the shooting happened."
Casares was shot in the stomach, but managed to call 911 for help. She spent months recovering, but the attack motivated her to live life to the fullest.
"What I was most joyful about was that I survived. Because I stared at death for several hours, I just thought, I've got to document my life's work. And so I was able to sell my cookbook to a publisher in New York."
Casares' is the author of The Enchilada Queen Cookbook: Enchiladas, Fajitas, Tamales and More Classic Recipes from Texas-Mexico Border Kitchen. She also regularly holds cooking classes at her restaurant on Eldridge Drive, showing students how to make everything from chiles rellenos to tamales and South Texas-style soups. All of the recipes are the same ones Casares learned to cook from her mother and grandmother, growing up in Texas' Rio Grande Valley.
"One of my biggest blessings or assets were my parents because they just taught me so many enduring values," said Casares. "Work hard and be positive and do your best. so if I'm going to do something, I'm going to do it well."
For locations, hours and more information, visit sylviasenchiladakitchen.com.