by Ashley M. Biggers for USA TODAY 10Best

What is menudo, and why is this stew so controversial in the Southwest?

Menudo tends to cause immediate reactions: great affection or disgust. The stew’s main ingredient of beef tripe (cow stomach) tends to cause contention.

Although menudo hails from Mexico, southwestern U.S. residents have adopted the dish, and it’s widely served at Mexican restaurants across the region – though often to mixed reviews.

Arnaldo Richards, chef/owner of Picos Restaurant in Houston, recalls, "Growing up in my house...on Saturdays and Sundays...We always got up to eat a bowl of steaming menudo with fresh onions, fresh chopped cilantro, the dried oregano, and lime wedges..."

Menudo is often served only on the weekends because it takes a long time to prepare – and perhaps because that’s when it’s most needed as a hangover cure.

Dan Garcia, vice president of operations and part owner of Garcia’s Kitchen in Albuquerque, New Mexico, recommends "menudo para los crudos" (menudo for hangovers).

"People believe that because it’s made from the stomach lining, the menudo absorbs all the [alcohol] in your stomach. I don’t know if that’s really true, but usually if you believe something works, it does," Garcia says.

Los Angeles cook Petra Zavaleta of Barbakush Restaurant grew up making mole de panza with her parents. She serves a style customary to her native town of Tepeaca, Puebla, Mexico, which incorporates lamb tripe instead of the customary beef.

Zavaleta uses fresh ingredients and cooks the tripe in an underground fire pit. "The unique mixture of spices helps accentuate the hearty flavor of the sheep and derives a delicious aroma that’s impossible to resist," she says.

As beloved as the dish is by some, it can go wrong quickly. Aroma has a lot to do with that. If it’s not cleaned and cooked properly, tripe can have an undesirable texture, and it gives off a musky, earthy smell that turns up diners’ noses.

Richards says a good bowl of menudo comes down to using the freshest ingredients, cleaning the main ingredient (the tripe), and cooking methods.

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