Roots run deep. Chef Josef Centeno grew up in San Antonio, a capital city of Tex-Mex cuisine. He wanted to be a chef, migrated to New York and worked in Michelin three-star restaurants in New York, San Francisco, and Santa Cruz. And ultimately, Tex-Mex drew him back.

Now he has a galaxy of restaurants including Ama located next to an alley off Fourth Street in downtown LA. Traditional Tex-Mex is rancho food: meats, stews, beans, chiles and tortillas by the mound. Criticized as not being “authentic” Centeno says that is exactly the point: Tex-Mex is an indigenous and evolving cuisine that expands and enriches decade by decade.

Seven chapters span the day from breakfast to dessert, plus the pantry:

  • Larder
  • Tex-Mex Breakfast
  • Ama’s Table
  • Verduras
  • La Reunion
  • Super Nacho Hour
  • Dulces and Desserts

“Larder” is too simple a word for the clever ideas presented there:

Preserved kumquats with lime and chile

Pine nut and tepin salsa

Charred green-onion salsa

Cascabel pimento cheese

A Tex-Mex Breakfast comes with fruit and chile in abundance:

Broiled piloncillo Texas grapefruit

Kielbasa and potato scramble

Cornmeal pancakes with maple-molasses syrup

Ama’s Table is the chapter with the big dishes, ideas filled with heat and color:

Chicken and chile tortilla soup

Slow-roasted beef belly with pomegranate and cotija

Chile shrimp ceviche with watercress and avocado

Lobster diablo

The Verduras chapter shows the Tex-Mex respect for veggies and the grand exploration to give them full expression:

Roasted cauliflower with cilantro-pecan pest

Roasted Asian squash with piloncillo and butter

Anchovy butter-roasted red onions

Super Bowl is upon us. What better source of ideas than the Super Nacho Hour chapter. There are twenty-seven ideas here from guacamole to that spicy beverage michelada:

Vegan cashew queso

Deviled eggs with bacon

Peel-and-eat shrimp with chile and peanuts

Cascabel pimento cheese chiles rellenos

Corn quesadillas with poblano, cilantro and green onions

That michelada is beer with some “warmish” additions:

  • Clamato juice
  • Hot sauce
  • Wine vinegar
  • Horseradish
  • Adobo sauce
  • Worcestershire
  • Celery sauce
  • Sea salt
  • Chile powder
  • Habanero

And Dulces will let you end your meal with flavors that always amplify the night:

Berries with hibiscus-ginger syrup

Cinnamon-fennel conchas

Tex-leches chocolate-coconut cake

This book is a treasure trove of what it means today to be Tex-Mex. It is a cuisine to be relished and embraced with all the passion and heat of those chile peppers.

Just saying, when you drink the michelada, do have some ice water around. Or maybe a secondary beer. Cold. Ice cold.

Ama is an important book and one you’ll surely cook, and drink from, from over and over again.