Miguel Martinez supposedly invented the “Mexican combination plate” at his Dallas “El Fenix” restaurant, some time in the 1920s or 1930s. A combination plate might feature enchiladas or tamales or tacos, each with beans and rice.
It is probable that Mexican food was served this way for a long time, without the name “combination plate.” Many other cuisines also feature “combination plates.”
Handbook of Texas Online
MARTINEZ, MIGUEL (1890-1956). Miguel (Mike) Martinez, restaurateur, was born in 1890 in Hacienda del Potrero, Nuevo León, Mexico. He spent his early life in Mexico, where he started working for two cents a day as a silver-mine mule-train driver when he was seven years old to assist his widowed mother, who worked as a maid. In 1911, a year after the Mexican Revolutionqv broke out, Martinez left Mexico for Dallas, Texas, where he found work as a laborer with the Dallas Railway and Terminal Company and as a dishwasher at the Oriental Hotel. He often also held down a third job making ice-cream cones or doing relief work at a local pool hall. He met Faustina Porras, also a Mexican immigrant, in Dallas, and they were married in 1915. They reared eight children. In 1918 they opened the Martinez Cafe, a one-room eatery on McKinney Street in “Little Mexico,” the Mexican barrio. With the founding of the restaurant, they were among the first Texas Mexican entrepreneurs in the city. Initially, the cafe served only American dishes, but later Martinez, on the advice of friends, began offering Mexican cuisine; he was possibly the first restaurateur in Dallas to do so. One account notes that Martinez initiated the restaurant’s specialization in Mexican food with an enchilada recipe from Mexico and a chili recipe from Texas, thus becoming the original pioneer of Tex-Mex food in Dallas. In 1922 he enlarged the cafe, renamed it El Fenix, and changed its menu to an exclusively Mexican one. He also painted the restaurant bright red, green, and yellow-El Fenix’s trademark colors. The Martinez children worked in the restaurant as soon as they were tall enough to “stand up at the sink.” Some sources assert that Martinez pioneered the “Mexican combination plate,” with beans, a tamale, an enchilada, and rice. His daughter Irene suggested it was a move to save on dishwashing. El Fenix continued to prosper through the decades, although in 1942 it was closed one day a week due to food shortages caused by wartime rationing. In 1946 Martinez turned El Fenix over to his children. By 1953 they had three restaurants in the city.
15 July 1951, Chicago Daily Tribune, pg. F6:
Al ordered for us. A tequila cocktail to start off. Then a large platter of Mexican hors d’oeuvres consisting of frijoles fritos, guacamole, tuna salad, tomatoes, little green onions, celery, and tostaditos. The entree was a Papagayo combination plate, which included an enchilada, a chili Relleno, crisp tacos, rice, and the inevitable beans, fried twice for extra flavor. All this hot food was washed down with cold Mexican beer, which I have discovered is a “must” with Mexican food.
(Al Williams’s Papagayo room in San Francisco—ed.)
29 February 1952, Arizona Daily Sun (Flagstaff, AZ), pg. 2:
(So. San Francisco St.)
. Mexican Albondigas
. Combination Plate
23 February 1953, Long Beach (CA) Press-Telegram, pg. A8 ad:
El Patio Cafe
337 Pacific Ave.
85c to $1.05
Corn of Flour Tortillas
With Combination Order
BEANS . RICE . TORTILLA