The scents of ground cumin and garlic fill the air as hands knead masa into tamale dough. Gloria Cardenas has instructed her 11 grandchildren to clear their calendars. She has invited aunts, uncles, and cousins. By the end of the day, some 60 dozen tamales will be ready for the growing family.
“My family believed in abundance,” remembers one of those 11 grandchildren, Myra Cardenas. “Hardly a day went by when my grandmother wasn’t making something phenomenal in the kitchen. I will never forget the marinated meat that she would cook. It was so seasoned, in this big pot, and was marinated for hours.”
Those memories were so strongly instilled in her consciousness that food became Myra’s mission. After running an Olive Garden kitchen in Winter Park, Florida, she opened Texas Burritos & More in Jonesborough, along with partner Amber Waninger, in a building that once housed a pool hall.
“I grew up between pews and tables,” Myra tells me. “My dad, Junior Cardenas, was an evangelist. When we weren’t singing in churches, we were cooking.”
The family on her father’s side owned restaurants in West Texas, including three under the name La Familia Cardenas. Myra’s mother, Mary Sipple, learned the business and mastered the family recipes. Mary kept on after the death of her first husband, but she later changed careers, becoming a registered nurse. A position in nursing at the Veterans Administration Medical Center at Mountain Home brought her to Northeast Tennessee, where a trip to Jonesborough rekindled her love for antiques and history.
On a drive through Jonesborough, Mary noticed an empty building. The good memories of life in the restaurant business came flooding back, and with Myra’s extensive experience in the Olive Garden corporation, the mother and daughter opened Texas Burritos & More in 2018. By 2 o’clock on their very first day of business, they were completely out of food.
Myra and Amber proudly serve Tex-Mex food, distinguished, they say, by those very aromas of cumin and garlic that Myra recalled from her grandmother’s kitchen. Another defining element of Tex-Mex cooking, Myra adds, is yellow cheese.
“It’s a huge thing in Texas. We’ve had customers from Lubbock come to see us in Jonesborough, and they tell us they knew immediately we were authentic Tex-Mex when they saw the yellow cheese, not white.”
In the “Lone Stars” section of the menu are shredded beef tamales, topped with chili con carne sauce and shredded yellow cheese. That chili is made by Myra’s mother Mary, as are the enchilada sauce and the sour cream enchilada sauce. The salsa bar is always well stocked with tomatillo salsa and hot and mild tomato salsas, all house-made by Myra.
Items like tomatoes for salsas and jalapeños to flavor “drunken” pinto beans are purchased locally whenever possible. “Fresh” is often the first word diners use to describe the fare at Texas Burritos & More. While Myra and Amber follow age-old Texas traditions, they’ve also given customers the opportunity to go their own ways.
All the different variables make ordering a burrito a whole lot of fun. First there’s the choice of tortilla: traditional, cheddar jalapeño or spinach herb. Then come your choice of two out of four fillers: rice, beans, eggs and potatoes. Meat choices include bacon, sausage, chorizo, beef steak, chicken, and shrimp, or really any combination thereof. Lettuce, onion, tomatoes, sour cream, shredded cheese, and fajita vegetables can all be added for no extra charge. “For Somethin’,” in other words for just a bit more money, there are queso, guacamole, extra meat, additional fillers and extra cheese. And there’s one more decision: what to smother your creation with. Each choice is superb: chili con carne, Texas queso and a creamy green chile sauce.
“We sample everything we serve,” says Myra, who always manages to find a break from the busy kitchen to come out into the dining room to catch up on the latest news from the lives of her customers, even during times like our latest visit, when every table was full.
Going back to the days of the Alamo, Tennessee and Texas have enjoyed a special relationship. This restaurant that pays allegiance to the flavors of the Lone Star State has found a welcoming home on courthouse square in Tennessee’s oldest town.
Texas Burritos & More
109 Courthouse Square
Fred Sauceman is the author of the book “The Proffitts of Ridgewood: An Appalachian Family’s Life in Barbecue.”