La Suprema in Nederland for three generations

La Suprema photo courtesy Eleanor Skelton

La Suprema, a local staple in Mid County, has been in one family for three generations.

It started as a tortilla bakery in the late ’60s selling to local grocery stores, and later branched out into tamales before becoming a small restaurant in 1970, owner Remi Bryan said. Her grandmother Amelia Martinez and two of her friends were the original owners.

“They had more of the food experience than my grandma, and she had more of the business experience,” she explained. “She felt like there was a need for it; they couldn’t find tortillas at the store.”

Bryan pointed out family photos, including some of her grandmother, handing on the walls.

Amelia Martinez was born to sharecroppers in Rosebud, Texas, with seven brothers and sisters, before she married at 14, Bryan explained. Her grandmother was part of the Rosie the Riveter movement of working women during World War II — welding in the shipyards of Orange, she added.

“She was really cool, a tough old bird,” Bryan said. “She had a 4th grade education so it was amazing that she was so successful.”

When Central Mall opened in the early ’80s, it brought more customers to La Suprema, Bryan said. Her mother had a day job, she added, but managed the store at nights before they eventually hired a general manager.

Her parents added a second dining room around 1985 and a porch beyond that in 1988, which they closed in for a third dining room in the early ’90s.

“Now we seat 140,” Bryan said.

La Suprema still serves many of the original family recipes, but they’ve added more dishes over the years.

“We’ve had the same head cook ... since, I believe, 1980,” Bryan said. “She’s 66 this year and I keep asking her if she’s going to retire and she says no, she’s not leaving.”

Head cook Josefa Ortiz’s daughter, who has also worked with them since she was 15, is the current general manager.

“The Ortiz family has been instrumental in our success,” Bryan said. “They’re like our family, basically.”

Bryan’s mother Ramona was Cajun and inspired many of their seafood dishes, Bryan said.

“The crab empanada, that was hers,” she said. “She worked at National Maritime Union in Port Arthur, she retired from there in the 90s. One of the guys that shipped out of there was a cook and he gave her that recipe when she retired and she kind of made it her own.”

There was a second location in Beaumont off Calder Avenue from 1990 until 2005, Bryan added, which closed when her parents retired.

La Suprema currently has 40 full and part-time employees, she estimates.

“We’ve had a lot of kids that have come through here, working their way through college,” she said.

Locals who have moved away but are in town during the holidays often drop in with their whole family, Bryan said.

One of their most popular dishes is the flameado, made of beef or chicken fajita meat with homemade chorizo along with queso and white cheese, all served on fresh tortillas.

Another favorite is the machaca, made from a big roast.

“We cook it in the oven until it falls apart ... with onions, bell peppers and tomatoes and shred it and serve it in a big flour tortilla with sour cream and queso on top — so it’s yummy,” Bryan said.

Their queso is made with a Land O’Lakes product that costs more than ballpark queso, Bryan explained.

“We try to keep our products higher quality; we don’t use cheap stuff. And we make everything from scratch,” she said. “We have people who eat here four or five days a week.”

Bryan said tries to keep the menu items reasonably priced even though everything is made from scratch — most entrees are under $10.

One of Bryan’s favorite dishes is the black bean burrito, which she said is “something that you don’t find anywhere else.”

Her mom created the burrito after being inspired by a Houston chef, but added her own touch, Bryan said.

“She uses rice instead of hominy,” she said. “We put the gravy and the white cheese on it, the pico.”

The sauce for the verde enchilada, No. 19 on the menu, came from Mexico.

“I used to go to a villa there, and her green sauce was way better than mine,” Bryan explained. “I finally talked her out of the recipe, and that’s what I use.”

“It’s just very refreshing, the tomatillos are just kind of citrus-y and it’s just delicious. It’s a little bit lighter,” she said, adding that it’s one of her son’s favorites.

La Suprema also offers catering, which Bryan said is popular with local refineries and families during the holidays.

“This year we sold about 800-900 dozen [tamales] at Christmas in the month of December for people who bring them to parties; they have them for family gatherings just because they’re tasty and easy,” she said. “Some people, we do their whole dinners. They order a couple weeks ahead — six dozen enchiladas.”

Even regulars might not know that La Suprema offers seafood dishes during Lent — part of the family’s Catholic tradition.

Special to the Examiner

Eleanor Skelton