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Recipe for success: Molina's Cantina celebrates 80 years in Houston

The oldest Tex-Mex restaurant in Houston first opened in 1941 in the middle of World War II. 80 years later they're still a Houston food gem.

HOUSTON — It's been a tough year for workers and businesses and so many places have opened and closed. But Molina's Cantina has figured out the recipe to success.

Molina's is a family business that's turned into a Houston institution.

"It's unbelievable, number one, I didn't think I'd live that long," said Raul Molina Jr.

At 92 years young, Molina Jr. still welcoming guests into Molina's Cantina, Houston's oldest Tex-Mex restaurant.

"Not so many restaurants can say they've been in business for 80 years," said general manager Jose Lacan.

Molina Jr.'s dad opened the family's first restaurant in 1941 in the middle of World War II. He was only 12 years old at the time.

"We just kind of grew along with the city," Molina Jr. said.

The Molinas watched Houston explode into the diverse metropolis it is now. Mr. Molina's three sons now run the family business. The family's recipes helped Houstonians fall in love with Tex-Mex cuisine.

"In the '80s, you'd have to explain what a tamale was and what an avocado was, what guacamole was," said Ricardo Molina. "It was a different landscape for sure."

Molina's was a presidential favorite for President George H.W. Bush, and even President Bill Clinton asked for a special delivery to Air Force One during a stop in Houston.

Every diner that's ever visited has been more than a guest for the Molina's.

"For us it's like having people come into our home everyday and having a good time," Molina Jr. said. "They're all just an extension of my family."

Tuesday night, Molina's celebrated those 80 years of serving Houston alongside their beloved customers. Surviving this last year was one of the biggest reasons to celebrate.

"The COVID challenge was like nothing ever seen in our lifetime," Ricardo Molina said.

But thanks to hard work and multiple generations of loyal customers, this Houston food gem is ready for many more decades of dishing out Tex-Mex favorites.

"I think Mama and Papa would be proud we're still here," Ricardo Molina said.

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