The spot of the real food of Mexico…and maybe not just in Houston.
Beginning our series of reviews for great places just in case you decide to travel outside of Southern California, just to give you taste of what else is out there.
If you live in Los Angeles, you may not have heard of Hugo Ortega, unless you keep your ear to the ground for all things Chef. He’s a James Beard award winner, and his restaurant (very appropriately named, in my humble opinion) is considered one of the best in Houston.
Not just best for Mexican Food, but best…period.
I’ve been coming to Hugo’s as long as I’ve been coming to visit Houston, and it’s always a treat. Now, for the first time visitors, let me tell you in advance (and to parrot what was said in the Ultimate Food Lovers Guide to Houston) if you’re coming here seeking Fajitas, Burritos or all the things you’re used to out of quote-unquote Tex-Mex Food, you’re going to be disappointed.
Good. You should be. You needed to expand your palate anyway.
Walking is, is walking into a world of color and texture. This is one of those first class, white tablecloth kind of a joints…even though the White Tablecloths aren’t there. Tabletops covered in brass/copper. Spicy peanuts served as an aperitif. (I can’t have those, but I appreciated the effort) The service is wonderful. They are looking out for your every need, usually with finely tuned swiss precision.
You know what I really love about this place? It’s the fact that it
Hugo Ortega comes from Puebla (again, why not let the Ultimate Food Lovers Guide to Houston keep doing my research for me). Don’t know why that’s significant? What? Didn’t you know that there 31 States in Mexico (and a Federal District), and that the food changes from region to region?
Well, don’t feel too bad. I had to look it up too.
If your idea of what “Mexican” food comes from going to Taco Ball or God forbid places like Acapulco or El Torito (though it’s tried to introduce more actual Mexican Dishes on it’s menu), you need to come to a place like Hugo’s (or it’s two Los Angeles equivalents La Serenata and Babita Mexicuisine.) You need to see, feel and taste what the real Mexico is all about.
WHAT SHOULD I GET?: And now…prepare for the longest What Should I Get I’ve ever written:
Let’s start with Dinner. You can’t go wrong with Carnitas, which is your basic slow roasted Pork, served with Cilantro and onions. Even though there is a wealth of other stuff to try, it’s hard for me to pull away from this simple and great thing.
Cochito con Mole Xico, which is a braised pork shoulder, with mashed plantains and papilla dried plum sauce from Veracruz. And if Hugo’s Plum sauce is anything like the Plum Wine Reduction I had at Babitas Mexicuisine, oh Lord watch out.
Carne Brava. This is wood grilled skirt steak smothered in rajas, served with guacamole, refritos, arroz a la Mexicana (I’m still not sure what what is, but I’ll take a chance) and warm tortillas.
Barbacoa is lamb marinated in chiles, onion, garlic and avocado leaves, then slow roasted in agave skin and served with chopped onion, fresh cilantro and warm tortillas.
Cochinita Pibil is slow-roasted baby pig cooked in banana leaf, Yucatán style with pickled onions, arroz negro and habanero salsa.
Cabrito is roasted goat meat pulled from the bone, served with nopales asados, guacamole and salsa de habanero.
Carne Asada a la Tampiqueña is a grilled ribeye, guacamole, frijoles refritos, enmoladas and ensalada de nopales.
And that’s just what I like during freaking Dinner.
Lunch is when I’m usually there. The Lunch Menu has a lot of the same items as the Dinner Menu, but a few curveballs thrown in for good measure:
Tlayuda is a oversized blue corn tortilla stuffed with grilled chopped skirt steak and housemade Oaxacan quesillo, served with arroz a la Mexicana.
Enchiladas de Pollo are two chicken enchiladas topped with Chihuahua cheese and your choice of tomato-chile, green tomatillo or mole sauces served with arroz blanco and refritos.
Enchiladas Placeras is an open faced chicken enchiladas topped with crisp, fresh garnishes.
Huaraches is a large sandal-shaped masa cake topped with onions, crema and cilantro served with a small salad. You can have either Chicken Steak with this.
Reading any of that should make you hungry, but reading the Brunch Menu will make you cry. Again some of the Lunch Menu, some of the Dinner Menu, a few more breakfast items like:
Huevos Rancheros are two crisp corn tortillas topped with refried beans, grilled hanger steak, fried eggs, salsa de tomate, herbs and cotija cheese.
Huevos Tarascos is a 14oz. grilled tenderloin served over fried tortilla with chipotle tomatillo sauce.
Huevos Poblanos are poached eggs over sweet corn bread with roasted potatoes and asparagus.
IMPORTANT SAFETY TIP, PEOPLE: First off, get reservations. For Dinner, sure. But if you want to do their semi-legendary Brunch, I suggest nailing down a reservation at least a week in advance.
Second, as much as I love this place, things can, at times, get a little hectic. My last visit, for which I had a reservation…involved (in no particular order):
My reserved table not being ready on time. We’d gotten to the restaurant on time, yet still there wasn’t enough foresight to have my table ready.
When we were finally shown to a table, it was one that was already occupied.
Finally, having gotten a table all to ourselves, we had to all but BEG the Waitstaff to get us a Drink Order.
I tend not get angry about snotty service or inadequately tasty food. What gets to me, more often than not, is the failure of an establishment to live up to the core functions of what it does. If an Auto Repair Shop loses its tools, or can’t do something as simple as fixing a flat tire, then I get mad. If a Grocery Store puts out rotten vegetables or spoiled food, then I get mad. If a Restaurant’s phone goes out of order as I’m circling and circling…
Oh, wait, I’m thinking about somebody else.
If a Restaurant can’t handle its own Reservations, if it can’t have tables ready when it says they’ll be ready then come the @#$% on.
Fortunately, that visit was the abberation. A subsequent visit showed the place up to it’s usual swiss-percision standards.
PARKING: Pretty damn good. Hugo’s has it’s own Valet powered Parking Lot. They’ll even wash your car for you while you’re eating for an extra charge.
You can park…sometimes…along Missouri Street, just across the street from that same lot. All I can say is, it’s a residential street, and I’m always cautious about parking along Residential Streets, as they tend to get touchy about who can park there and who can’t. IF you do park along Missouri, the best time to do it is during the Weekday for Lunch. All other times, I recommend biting the bullet and parking in the Hugo’s Valet Lot.
1600 Westheimer Rd
Houston, TX 77006
Tel: (713) 524-7744
Mon-Thu 11 am – 10 pm
Fri-Sat 11 am – 11 pm
Sun 10:30 am – 9:30 pm