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A Tribute to El Palacio of Mexican Food, Huntsville, Alabama


This week a large piece of my childhood will be laid to rest. I know you think I'm being overly dramatic, but if you've ever had an iconic place where you've spend a large chunk of your life, I hope you'll understand where I'm coming from on this. 

I have literally 24 other restaurant story deadlines to meet, but today the only thing on my mind is the news I received yesterday. I found out by a fluke (an owner's response to a Facebook review I'd posted years ago), and ended up having to be the bearer of bad news to my family and friends who also hold this establishment near and dear to their hearts. 

The first restaurant I ever loved is closing their doors this week. This is my farewell.

El Palacio opened in Huntsville 51 years ago, in 1966. Jimmy and Nonie McClure opened the very first location in Amarillo in 1962 in a remodeled gas station, after the Mexican food they added to their steakhouse menu started selling like wildfire. They wanted to expand, and after careful contemplation, they eventually chose Huntsville, Alabama for their next location. It was what many recall as the first Mexican food restaurant in town. Mexican food was obviously their calling, and in the small chain's heyday in the 1970s there were over 50 locations of El Palacio throughout the Southeast. Since the 70s all had closed, except this well-loved Huntsville location. The one that sits beneath the giant yellow sombrero, housed in a renovated old Goldenrod Motel. 

The iconic sombrero sign is a Huntsville monument, in my mind. I hope they'll keep it somewhere visible, as a sort of memorial to the many meals eaten there. I know whenever I pass by I'll nod in remembrance, (and salivate thinking of their hot sauce, and "cheese dip", which I would later in life learn upon moving to Texas is really "queso").

Sadly my life in Texas prevents me from being able to dine a final time with El Palacio of Mexican Food, a place where Dining with Delia Jo truly began, as I first visited there while in my Mother's pregnant belly in 1982. El Palacio was the home of so many memories for my family and I. Birthdays, graduations, engagements, even my send-off before studying abroad in Spain in 2002, all spent around the tables at El Palacio. 

I kind of think my journey to Texas also had roots in my early love of El Palacio. I knew early on in life that I could thrive on a simple diet of chips, salsa, and queso (don't believe me? Ask me about my license plate). But even since moving to the land of Tex-Mex and also authentic Mexican food aplenty, I've never found anything that compared to my love of El Palacio. I know, at some point it isn't even about the food anymore. It's about the nostalgia. The tradition of going someplace, being welcomed, and knowing exactly what to expect. 

El Palacio has been, in my life, to my family a staple. To lose that given, that place we always knew we would go, feels like losing a little of my identity. Perhaps this story is really bigger, more linked to health decline of a beloved family member, but alas, the feelings are very real. 

I wanted to write this final goodbye as my tribute to El Palacio, to remind you to visit and support the restaurants you love and celebrate as a family. 

I know some people think that what I do is silly. I know by no means do I change peoples lives by writing about restaurants. But it's always been something I've been passionate about. For me, restaurants are of course about the food, but also about the breaking of bread (or chips and salsa) among friends and family. It's truly about connections. And now, more so than ever, I want to help your family find your very own "El Palacio" to enjoy.

Thank you, El Palacio, for for being here for all 34 of my years until this point, and for the food and memories I will cherish as long as possible. 










Comments

  1. Best rellenos and refried beans ever - my home base reference point for every mexican restaurant I've ever eaten at - or ever will. Sad.

    ReplyDelete
  2. DEAR DELIA JO, THANK YOU FOR THE BEAUTIFUL WRITE UP....AS I SIT HERE TEARS STREAMING, I KEEP REMINISCING ABOUT ALL THE GOOD YEARS AND FRIENDS WE'VE MADE AND HOW THEY WILL BE MISSED...THE CHANGE ABOUT TO COME WILL BE SOMETHING I'VE NEVER EXPERIENCED....SINCE THE AGE OF FIVE I'VE LIVED OVER, NEXT TO, OR CLOSE BY A RESTAURANT WE OWNED! I CAN ONLY SAY THE YEARS FLEW BY AND WILL NEVER BE FORGOTTEN . THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR YOUR PATRONAGE AND TO THE GENERATIONS WE'VE SERVED OVER THE LAST FIFTY-ONE YEARS !........HASTA LUEGO MI' AMIGOS! DOUG DAVIS,NONIE MCCLURE ,AND FAMILY

    ReplyDelete
  3. Love this! I think it's a Huntsville landmark! I've eaten there many times - best mexican food in town!

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  4. I was saddened to hear of the closing of the best Mexican restaurant,ever!
    And so glad I got to eat there one more time (it was worth the 3 hour wait) Wednesday.
    God's speed and thank you for all the great meals!

    ReplyDelete
  5. So very sad to see this landmark closing. I wish I had known last time I was in Huntsville. I definetly would have gone for some cheese dip and enchilada. My mother went and Tuesday and sent me pics the entire 4 hours she waited and finally had her final meal at an iconic Huntsville landmark. Thank you for 51 years of great food and memories El Palacio!!

    ReplyDelete
  6. If they are unable to sell restaurant and recipes, could they just bottle and sell the hot salsa? We have spent a small fortune trying virtually every salsa on the market. Only to be disappointed time after time.

    ReplyDelete

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