Tacos y Más: When Houston gets cold, caldo de res is the only answer

At La Imperial Bakery in the East End, Señora Irma Perez warms body and soul with her "comida corrida" Mexican home cooking.

La Imperial Bakery's caldo de res

La Imperial Bakery's caldo de res

Marco Torres

Every other Thursday, Chron taco columnist Marco Torres tells the story of Houston through Mexican food in "Tacos y Más."

This past weekend, temperatures in Houston dipped below 50 degrees for the first time in a while, and for many Texans like myself, that meant pulling out the hoodies from storage, turning off the A/C, and beginning the search for hot comfort foods to warm our bodies and souls. One of my favorite items that always hits the spot during these frigid times is a big bowl of caldo de res.

I had two options. I could go to H-E-B for the hueso de anillo (cross-cut beef shank) with all the veggies, then start the hours-long process of cooking. But I was hungry, so I went with my second option: Visit Irma Perez at La Imperial Bakery in the East End, who has been up since dawn making her own version of this delicious caldo.

La Imperial Bakery menu in the East End of Houston

La Imperial Bakery menu in the East End of Houston

Marco Torres

La Imperial is a small, charming business that opens at 6 a.m. for the many day-laborers of the neighborhood looking for pan y cafe and maybe a breakfast taco before going to work. Perez's offerings are forever rotating, so much so that there are no menus at the table. Instead, a couple of posters on the wall showcase what she might have available that day.

This tradition is called "comida corrida," she informs me, which translates as "fast food," although you won't find any burgers or Happy Meals here. In Mexico City, comida corrida is served for a quick lunch, starting with a small bowl of caldo or fideo, followed by the guisado of the day with arroz, frijoles, tortillas and an agua fresca or jugo de frutas.

La Imperial Bakery's guisado de res

La Imperial Bakery's guisado de res

Marco Torres
La Imperial Bakery's breakfast taco

La Imperial Bakery's breakfast taco

Marco Torres
Guisado de res and breakfast tacos are on the menu at La Imperial Bakery. (Photos by Marco Torres)

Perez usually has guisado de res or puerco ready every day, along with pollo, picadillo and albondigas. She makes a variety of breakfast tacos like huevo con jamón, nopales con huevo and papas a la Mexicana. Tamales, both of the Mexican and Salvadorean variety, are also available. On Thursdays she makes a delicious mole, and on Saturdays you can enjoy a hot bowl of menudo or pozole.

Before she opened Imperial almost nine years ago, la Señora Irma spent 23 years working at the bakery inside the Fiesta Mart #4 on Spencer Highway in South Houston. She made pan dulce and worked as a "contadora" (an accountant) … "pero de tortillas," she adds with her witty, light-hearted sense of humor and million-dollar smile.

Irma Perez of La Imperial Bakery in the East End of Houston

Irma Perez of La Imperial Bakery in the East End of Houston

Marco Torres

Perez has fond memories of Huayacocotla, Veracruz, where she grew up. When she was 8 years old, her family moved to what was then known as El Distrito Federal, now recognized as la Ciudad de Mexico. She arrived in Houston as a teenager, and remembers going grocery shopping at El Mercado Del Sol on Telephone with her family back in the 1980s.

Perez's food reminds me of home, which is also the main reason why customers love her cooking so much. Everything she serves has that aura of comida casera, transporting you to those big family dinners with your mom, tías and abuela. At La Imperial this weekend, after I added some arroz and diced serranos to the broth, I closed my eyes and savored the first big spoonful of caldo de res of the season. The broth is flavorful, the carrots and potatoes are perfectly cooked, and the big chunks of meat are tender and delicious. It was heavenly, an absolutely flawless remedy for this cold front.

During my visit, I also found out that Perez has a heart of gold. She sometimes offers food to homeless customers who come in with only a dollar or two. She is very caring, and works hard to tend to every client as a member of her own family.

La Imperial Bakery in the East End of Houston

La Imperial Bakery in the East End of Houston

Marco Torres

As we talked, she paused for a few seconds before telling me about the many regulars who passed away during the pandemic. Perez says that several young people would come to buy pan dulce when visiting their parents who lived in the neighborhood, and in the last few years, that number has decreased dramatically.

As I finished my meal and went to the counter to pay, she offered me a small bag of pan dulce "para tu papa." When I got home, I sat down with my dad and we ate the bread with some coffee. I definitely shed a few tears that day, and will forever cherish people like la Señora Irma and her amazing food.

La Imperial Bakery

Find it: 732 Telephone Rd, Houston, TX 77023; (713) 928-2536
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 6 a.m.-6 p.m.

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