Menudo is a family tradition for chef Arnaldo Richards, of Picos Restaurant in Houston — Photo courtesy of Nick De La Torre
Menudo tends to cause immediate reactions: great affection or disgust. The stew’s main ingredient of beef tripe (cow stomach) tends to cause contention. Although menudo hails from Mexico, southwestern United States residents have adopted the dish, and it’s widely served at Mexican restaurants across the region – though often to mixed reviews.
Those who love the dish often grew up eating the stew, which is also known as pancita or mole de panza. Diners will recall fond memories of a grandmother or aunt carefully preparing and simmering a huge pot of stew.
Arnaldo Richards, chef/owner of Picos Restaurant in Houston, recalls, “Growing up in my house…on Saturdays and Sundays, it was almost like a ritual. We always got up to eat a bowl of steaming menudo with fresh onions, fresh chopped cilantro, the dried oregano, and lime wedges to the side to add as you please to taste, and, of course, lots of just handmade corn tortillas from the comal.”
Raised in Monterrey, Mexico, Richards is a third-generation restauranteur who began his culinary career at age 14 in his family’s restaurants. He learned his recipe from his mother and aunt, and perfected his recipe in his own restaurants. His menudo rojo (with red chile) is common in northern Mexico, while menudo blanco (white menudo, without chile) is more popular in Sinaloa and central Mexico.
Picos Restaurant in Houston serves its menudo rojo with onions, cilantro, dried oregano, and lime wedges on the side to garnish — Photo courtesy of Nick De La Torre
Menudo is often served only on the weekends because it takes a long time to prepare – and perhaps because that’s when it’s most needed as a hangover cure. Richards calls menudo “the breakfast of champions” for its curative powers, which may be another reason diners love this dish so much.
Dan Garcia, vice president of operations and part owner of Garcia’s Kitchen in Albuquerque, New Mexico, recommends “menudo para los crudos” (menudo for hangovers).
“People believe that because it’s made from the stomach lining, the menudo absorbs all the [alcohol] in your stomach. I don’t know if that’s really true, but usually if you believe something works, it does,” Garcia says.
Garcia’s Kitchen prepares the dish for more than just weekend hangovers. The local restaurant chain cooks around 150 gallons a week of the hearty dish. For regional flavor, Garcia’s adds hominy and allows diners to add green chile to their stew, giving New Mexican customers the option of “Christmas” (both red and green chile).
Garcia’s Kitchen’s menudo comes with a flour tortilla on the side and lemons to garnish the stew — Photo courtesy of Garcia’s Kitchen
Los Angeles cook Petra Zavaleta of Barbakush Restaurant says, “A great menudo consists of great spices that give it just the right amount of heat to cure any headache or hangover.”
Zavaleta grew up making mole de panza with her parents. She serves a style customary to her native town of Tepeaca, Puebla, Mexico, which incorporates lamb tripe instead of the customary beef. Zavaleta uses fresh ingredients and cooks the tripe in an underground fire pit alongside the restaurant’s other signature dish, lamb barbacoa, wrapped in agave leaves.
“The unique mixture of spices helps accentuate the hearty flavor of the sheep and derives a delicious aroma that’s impossible to resist,” she says.
As beloved as the dish is by some, it can go wrong quickly. Aroma has a lot to do with that. If it’s not cleaned and cooked properly, tripe gives off a musky, earthy smell that turns up diners’ noses. And if not cooked properly, the meat’s texture can also turn off diners.
“When it’s overcooked, it’s really slimy. If you undercook it, it’s rubbery and you can’t chew it,” Garcia says. “Over the years, we’ve gotten it down to a science.” One bad taste of menudo tends to turn diners off from the dish for good.
For people unfamiliar with eating something beyond traditional meat cuts, even the thought of eating tripe can turn their stomachs.
“Some people think it’s weird to eat a stomach lining of a cow, but they’re eating carne adovada, which is a pork butt. People just don’t know where cuts come from,” Garcia says.
Richards says a good bowl of menudo comes down to using the freshest ingredients, cleaning the main ingredient (the tripe), and cooking methods.
“Everyone has their own way of doing things and their own recipe, and of course they always think that theirs is always the best,” he explains. Richards says he’s found a new reason that modern diners may enjoy this traditional dish: it’s a keto diet-friendly food.