La Calavera on 5th Street in Alpine

In eating our way down Alpine’s Historic Murphy Street, we recently discovered a gem, tucked behind the old Raspa Co. Building (where Brown Dog Gardens is now located) on 5th Street… La Calavera.

Rene and Mora Nancy Vargas opened La Calavera in May of this year.  It’s a terrific spot to grab your food and sit for a while, with patio dining in a private yard with plenty of seating and a fire pit for chilly nights… and party lights in the evening add to the festive scene at La Calavera. Colorful candy skulls are painted on chairs and fences, while glittery skeletons peek out from the branches of the trees.

Rene and Mora Nancy Vargas - the heart and soul of La Calavera.
Rene and Mora Nancy Vargas of La Calavera

La Calavera, by translation, means “the skull,” and has been popularized as candy skulls that are a common gift for children, and decoration for the Day of the Dead.

I asked Rene why they chose the name La Calavera. He said, with a twinkle in his eye, “We were arguing about the name for about a week, and then my son said, ‘La Calavera – because the food is so good, even the dead will want to come eat it!” I can vouch for that – as of press time, I’ve eaten there three times – and we just discovered it a few weeks ago.

“I’m just the helper… Mora Nancy is the chef behind it all,” Rene told me, after taking our order the first time we visited. Coming from Chihuahua, the Northern Mexican flavor is evident in Mora Nancy’s dishes. They make their chile sauces from scratch, with minimal ingredients, which make the flavors so bright. The sauces are made from red medium heat chiles, jalapeños, and habanero peppers.

My husband, who’s traveled extensively in Mexico and knows a thing or two about Mexico’s regional cuisines, said that La Calavera has the most authentic food he’s eaten out in a very long time.

Our first visit, my husband ordered stacked red chicken enchiladas with an egg on top, and it was served with shredded cabbage (or lettuce if you prefer) and rice. He could barely finish his food as the enchiladas were a triple-stack and filled with deliciousness. I wasn’t terribly hungry, so I ordered guacamole tostadas, and was rewarded with three heaping tostadas loaded with fresh guacamole, shredded cabbage, onions, tomatoes, and cheese, with red and green salsa on the side. I could only eat two.

Chicken enchiladas with red sauce and an egg on top, with rice and cabbage.
His enchiladas – this plate is larger than it appears in the photo.
Guacamole Tostadas
My guacamole tostadas… one of my favorite food groups!

Our second visit was the Friday after Thanksgiving. We were pulling though Alpine on the way back to Fort Davis, hungry and road-weary after too many hours in the car. It was almost 9 p.m., and thankfully La Calavera’s party lights were on, so we stopped. The family was sitting at a table together, laughing, and sprung into action when we arrived. Rene took his post at the window and took our order of steak tacos for me and a repeat of the chicken enchiladas with red sauce and an egg for the Mister.

Our third visit, just a couple days ago, I got my guacamole tostadas again, and he got chicken tacos. We traded a taco for a tostada, and both finished our plates. Maybe next time, we’ll try something different like the other meat tacos, flautas, gorditas, quesadillas or more enchiladas… I have a feeling that it’s all going to be good… so good, that even the dead will want to eat it.

IMG_0205(1)
Some of the tables are decorated with Loteria cards … this one happened to be in front of me.

Closed Sundays, but otherwise open daily from noon to 10 p.m., and open until midnight on Friday and Saturday. You can bring your own adult beverages if you wish. Call in your order at 432-294-2680.

Beef Tostadas
(I love tostadas and make them at home regularly)

Corn tortillas (the amount needed for your family size)

1 cup of oil for frying the tortillas

2 cups refried beans

1 pound of ground beef

Fresh herbs, tomatoes, onions, and other seasonings for the ground beef for taco meat

tomatoes and lettuce, chopped

1 avocado (or more if you want)

shredded cheese or cotija

salsa

Mexican crema or sour cream

Warm your refried beans according to directions. Cook the ground beef with the herbs, tomatoes, onions, and other seasonings (salt, pepper, cumin, etc.). Set aside.

Heat 1-2 cups of oil in a frying pan, and fry 1-2 tortillas at a time until firm. Pat dry and set aside.

Spread the beans on the fried tortillas, add the beef, lettuce and tomatoes, and top with sliced avocado, cheese, Mexican crema, and salsa.

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