First Look at Cafe España

Categories: On the Menu

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Photos by Katharine Shilcutt
Cafe España's version of a tortilla española.
The rap music playing on the speakers was not a good first sign, nor was the smell of raw sewage that permeated the dining room at Cafe España last week. My dining partner and I threw each other tentative glances as we walked in and were greeted with a lackadaisical "Sit wherever," from a laconic-looking waiter.

This was not going to be the Spanish restaurant that I was hoping would scratch my itch for a good tortilla española.

A tortilla española was the first thing I ate after landing in Spain in 2008. I remember thinking how odd it was that my hosts would offer me a tortilla to eat -- they called it just that: a tortilla -- as if I, a Texan, had never had a tortilla. And why would I want just one tortilla? With nothing in it? Nothing to eat with it?

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A slice of tortilla española as seen on a menu from a restaurant in Guadalest.
It was then that I was profoundly schooled on the awesomeness that is a tortilla española: the Spanish version of a quiche, sans crust but with plenty of potatoes suspended in the eggy batter. For the remainder of my visit, I sampled them at every restaurant and bought them at every grocery store. I knew this was not something I could easily get back home (nor make myself) and determinedly enjoyed every single slice.

The tortilla española that I received at Cafe España was, sadly, nothing like the tortillas of my memories. This tortilla was...whole. I'd only ever eaten fat, towering slices of tortilla before. Never an entire disc of it for myself. And this disc was much flatter, much more compact than expected. It was more like a giant version of a frittata than a true Spanish tortilla. And worst of all, it tasted solely of cooking oil throughout.

Maybe the ejotes I'd ordered would be better? No dice. The green beans tasted canned, the potatoes adding nothing except texture. The dish desperately needed salt; you'd think the salty bacon in the salad would have been enough, but no.

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My dining companion's sandwich fared the worst of all. From the menu, he'd ordered a #32 baguette: chicken, lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise, egg and avocado, to which he also added bacon. The baguette came out with one very thin chicken breast and two nubs of bacon no larger than my thumb.

By that point, we were too weirded out by the smell, the awful music and the other customers to send it back. (Two women came in and ordered two cups of coffee, demanding that the cups be microwaved over and over again. Another table had a small, screaming child and a dad that disappeared midway through the meal never to return, leaving the mother to call a friend to come pay their bill.) We just wanted to leave.

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But we stuck it out. And I'm kind of glad we did. The dulce de leche crepe we ordered for dessert was wonderful. The crepes weren't paper-thin, and their taste more closely resembled the lacy pancakes at Fountainview Cafe than anything else, filled with creamy dulce de leche that had that deeply caramelized flavor I adore. The crepes were wonderful.

Despite the underwhelming dinner, I do want to visit again soon for breakfast; it sounded excellent even with my reservations. Let's just hope that Cafe España can bring the rest of its dishes up to par with those crepes. And maybe choose some more appropriate music while they're at it.

Location Info

Cafe Espana - CLOSED

7519 Westheimer, Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant


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13 comments
Loquait
Loquait

I was underwhelmed by this place as well: they didn't have what I first wanted, and then the waiter suggested chicken and rice. I expected something minimal but delicious. Nope. Minimal, but minimally flavorful as well; bland and ordinary. Oh well.

Ganglygal35
Ganglygal35

If you want decent Spanish food in Houston, one word: Rioja.

Good wines, good food, good guys. And the prices are amazingly fair. Please, escape Montrose and head a little farther west (and bring a driver).

Heynus Jacquad
Heynus Jacquad

The food doesn't look Spanish. It looks Span-ish. Where were the proprietors born?

Ray
Ray

KS, you have a very brave colon. I would have booked it out of there.

anonymous
anonymous

If a place smells like sewers, you probably shouldn't eat there. (Asian restaurants in Bellaire hold the exception.)

Ed T.
Ed T.

I would have put "get rid of that awful smell" on the top of the list of things to fix.

~EdT.

Kyle
Kyle

Crepes, more like CRIPES.

Wyatt
Wyatt

"escape Montrose"

Yeah, what?

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

Cafe Espana is at Westheimer and Hillcroft. Not really what I would consider Montrose. ;)

And I'm a huge fan of Rioja. Have been for years, going back to when I lived right down the street and used to go all the time for lunch. The three-course tapas lunch there is a steal!

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

Heh. My digestive system has developed a love-hate relationship with me over the years.

Katharine Shilcutt
Katharine Shilcutt

I've noticed that weird sewage smell at a few other restaurants, and they've all been just fine. But it is a pretty awful distraction from the food. I have no idea what causes it and probably don't want to know.

CB
CB

I've also been hit with the smell of sewage in a few restaurants I've been to, and I'm pretty sure it is from the workers using really old/dirty mop water to clean the floors with when they get the chance..The first job I had when I was younger was working at a whataburger, and the mop water sitting in a bucket in the back smelled just like this.

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