Looking for the Best Tex-Mex in Texas? Find it in Odessa

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Tex-Mex and family fun in Odessa, Texas

By Ashley Donde

I expected to see it at some point during our trip. My husband and I glanced at our two kids, their eyes growing bigger and smiles growing wider as they approached it. My daughter let out a laugh. How else do you respond to an eight-foot-tall statue of a jackrabbit? It’s both mesmerizing and silly. Fascinating and whimsical. And here in Odessa, Texas it’s both a landmark and a beloved member of the community.

My husband, Sean, had driven our family of four to Odessa for a weekend jaunt. He wanted to explore the city, and I was eager to create memories with our kids. They were both growing up so fast, sometimes I felt like time was closing in on us.

After taking a dozen photos with the gigantic jackrabbit, my son, Nathan, not-so-inconspicuously hinted at his hunger.

“Mom, I’m starving to death,” was my cue that we should probably find a place to grab some lunch.


Unlocking memories

When my family visits new destinations, one of our goals is to taste as much local fare as possible.

“There’s nothing memorable about eating generic food on vacation,” my husband often says. So we passed up the national food chain restaurants, and stopped somewhere with local flair—Saucedo Tamale Factory.

While opening the doors to the small Tex-Mex restaurant, my daughter, Emma, told me she couldn’t remember what tamales were.

“You used to eat tamales with grandma when you were younger,” I reminded her after describing them.

“Hmmm, I think I sort of remember that,” she replied, her eyes squinting as she consulted her memory. Moving far away from her grandparents a few years ago had been especially hard for Emma. She was very close to them—especially to her grandmother.

We chatted with the staff at the counter, letting them know we were visiting for the weekend. They welcomed us, and offered tips about events in Odessa throughout the month. My ears perked up when I heard someone mention the Taste of the Permian Basin, where we could sample cuisine from dozens of Permian Basin restaurants. Count. Me. In. I told Sean we absolutely had to come back for that.

At Saucedo, we ordered our meals and found a table. The dining area was quaint, and reflected the familial atmosphere of the city. It didn’t take long for our lunch to arrive, and we eagerly peeled open our tamales from their husks. Warm and fresh, the tamales were authentic and delicious.

As we ate, I noticed a smile appear on Emma’s face. “I do remember tamales,” she recalled.

“Oh yeah,” said Nathan, clearly stumbling upon the same hidden memories. “Grandma used to give us tamales on days she picked us up from school,” he reminded us.

I smiled, both at the reminiscing and the flavorful food!

It didn’t take long to clear our plates, and we headed out to continue exploring Odessa. As we drove, the kids spotted dozens of colorfully painted, human-sized jackrabbit sculptures scattered throughout town. Like an artsy treasure hunt, they competed to see who could find the next rabbit.

Something old, something new

“Ready to see Stonehenge?” Sean asked when we arrived at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin.

Sean and I are both history buffs, and I’d been excited to see the replica Stonehenge located on campus. We explained the mystery surrounding the original ancient rock formations in England so the kids could appreciate the enormity of the task, and how nearly miraculous it was.

After investigating the replica Stonehenge, we strolled around campus as dusk neared. The blue sky was replaced with deep crimson and gold. The approaching evening reminded Nathan of a very important event.

“So, what about dessert?” he asked with a hopeful look in his eyes.

“Well, we are on vacation,” I replied with a wink.

I told Sean about a place one of the employees from Saucedo’s recommended. It sounded like the perfect Odessa-style dessert. The kind we would remember.

After a short drive, Sean pulled into Yolis Paleteria. Bright, cheerful signs greeted us. The small café specializes in frozen Mexican treats, and I had one in mind for all of us to try: the mangoneada. It’s a popular Mexican dessert I’d heard of, but never tried. That was about to change.

“Four mangoneadas, please,” I requested from the smiling employee behind the counter. After we sat down, I explained to the kids what I’d ordered for them.

“A mangoneada is a combination of sweet, salty and spicy, all mixed together in a thick, frozen mango drink. It’s not going to taste like any dessert you’re used to.” Ever the adventurous eaters we’d raised them to be, both kids were eager to try it.

When our mangoneadas arrived in four clear plastic cups, I noticed the deep orange and red layering mirrored the sunset we’d just witnessed. We counted down from five and took our first sips simultaneously. The tropical mango flavor was enhanced with sweet chamoy sauce, tart lime juice and chili that gave it an unexpected, but delightful bite.

We leisurely enjoyed our treats, and I reflected on how these unique desserts would help cement memories for my children. Next time they try a mangoneada, they will remember this moment.

Final bites

The next day we spent several hours exploring the exhibits at the Ellen Noel Art Museum. We try to visit at least one museum every time we go to a new destination. The Ellen Noel Art Museum is a Smithsonian affiliate, which allows the museum to have access to the millions of artifacts in the Smithsonian collection.

After the museum it was time to head back home, but Nathan again reminded us of his hunger. We pulled into Watt’s Burger, a small blue and pink drive-up (or walk-up) burger joint, with a retro feel. Since we’d heard it was an Odessa favorite, we had to see what the hubbub was about.

The burgers? Massive. The fries? Hot and crispy. Sean had a Frito burger, which he referred to as “heavenly,” that I noticed was filled with a mass of chili, cheese and Fritos. The kids barely spoke as they chowed down on their burgers, lost in food bliss. After the last fry disappeared, it was officially time to go home.

Leaving Odessa was a bittersweet moment. I wanted more time to stock up memories. As a mother, I’m always conscious of creating moments my kids will look back on with joy.

“We should invite grandma to come next time,” Emma chimed in from the back seat. “I think she’d love the tamales.”

“And the mangoneada!” Nathan added.

With that said, I was confident we’d created lasting memories, and was sure there were new ones just over the horizon.

Discover more fun ways to experience Odessa.

Tex-Mex and family fun in Odessa, Texas