100 Favorite Dishes: No. 8, Barbacoa at Hugo's

Photo by Paula Murphy
​This year leading up to our annual Best of Houston issue, we're counting down our 100 favorite dishes in Houston. This list comprises our favorite dishes from the last year, dishes that are essential to Houston's cultural landscape and/or dishes that any visitor (or resident) should try at least once.

In only ten years, Hugo's has firmly established itself as a Houston classic. But it wasn't so long ago that the elegant interior Mexican cuisine was blowing the minds of folks like Robb Walsh, who wrote in 2002: "Hugo's Mexican food is among the best I've ever tasted. Chef Ortega's grasp of Mexican flavors is so confident, he feels free to innovate."

It's that innovation that's driven Hugo's to the top and made it a success in the decade since it opened. After all, as Walsh mentioned his his review of Hugo's ten years ago, traditional Mexican restaurants -- especially upscale ones -- don't tend to survive very long in the land of Tex-Mex. But Hugo's has endured. Housed in an old building on Lower Westheimer that was originally built in 1925, its elegant food matches the lovingly restored, equally elegant space that's still packed to the walls every single Sunday for brunch.

And it's Chef Hugo Ortega's simple lamb barbacoa that's my favorite in a vast sea of wonderful dishes (the menu here is huge, and choosing just one dish can be nearly impossible). It's not traditional barbacoa -- a whole, slow-cooked cow head -- but that's not the point.

Tender lamb is braised for hours in a combination of chiles and garlic, then slow-roasted in agave skin for a delicate sweetness. It's served oh-so-simply with fresh corn tortillas, onions and cilantro, the rich man's version of a street taco. And rich it is: Hugo's dusky, deeply flavored lamb makes me despair as to why we don't find more of it served in Houston, but thankful for a place that treats the little lamb with the respect it deserves.

The list so far:

No. 100: Dumplings at Heights Asian Cafe
No. 99: Mixta Pizza at Friends Pizzeria
No. 98: Veggie tacos from Radical Eats
No. 97: Bean pie from Conscious Cafe
No. 96: Swiss chard crepes from Giacomo's Cibo e Vino
No. 95: Eggs Mia Bella at Mia Bella
No. 94: Mulligatawny soup at the Queen Vic
No. 93: Helado de Lúcuma from Pollo Bravo
No. 92: Black bean burger from Natachee's
No. 91: Chupacabra pizza from ERA
No. 90: Roast chicken from El Norteño
No. 89: Eggs El Salvador from Brasil
No. 88: Frank the Pretzel from Eatsie Boys
No. 87: Caldo Tlalpeño from Tacos del Julio
No. 86: English pea soup at Brasserie 19
No. 85: Falafel from Zabak's
No. 84: Buttermilk-fried pork loin with fried eggs at Canopy
No. 83: Grillades and grits from BB's Cajun Cafe
No. 82: Haemul dolsot from Seoul House
No. 81: Pandan waffles at Parisian Bakery III
No. 80: Pita bread and hummus at Phoenicia
No. 79: Goat pepper soup at Peppersoup Cafe
No. 78: Melon and Texas feta salad from Beaver's
No. 77: Hot Italian beef from BB's Beef & Hot Dog
No. 76: Bacon-avocado burger from Facundo Cafe
No. 75: Pancakes from Fountain View Cafe
No. 74: Hobnobs from Fluff Bake Bar
No. 73: Chu chee eggplant from Nidda Thai
No. 72: Sausage sampler from King's Biergarten
No. 71: Shawarma from Abdallah's
No. 70: Moules-frite at the Broken Spoke
No. 69: Hong Kong-style French toast at House of Bowls
No. 68: Sashimi sampler at Sushi Miyagi
No. 67: Baleadas from Honduras Mayan
No. 66: Snow ice from Star Snow Ice & Teriyaki
No. 65: Boudin balls from MerCheri's
No. 64: Miso ramen at Umai
No. 63: Grim burger at Lankford Grocery
No. 62: Dabeli at Bansuri Indian Food Corner
No. 61: Wine and cupcakes at 13 Celsius
No. 60: Pâté de France from Spec's
No. 59: Steak and eggs from Ninfa's on Navigation
No. 58: Breakfast pita at Niko Niko's
No. 57: Vegan curry at Cafe TH
No. 56: Samosas at Shiv Sagar
No. 55: Ceviche at Latin Bites Cafe
No. 54: Wicked Philly at Pappa Geno's
No. 53: Pork chop at Perry's Steakhouse
No. 52: Soft-shell crab at Pico's Mex-Mex
No. 51: Sno-balls at MAM's House of Ice
No. 50: Whole catfish at Saigon Pagolac
No. 49: Nova fish box at New York Bagel & Coffee Shop
No. 48: Sojok mana'eesh at Cedars Bakery
No. 47: Pho ga at Pho Ga Dakao
No. 46: Sicilia salad at Trevisio
No. 45: Dahi puri at Sweet 'n' Namkin
No. 44: Hot dogs at Moon Tower Inn
No. 43: Real guacamole at Yelapa Playa Mexicana
No. 42: Akaushi short ribs at Soma Sushi
No. 41: Country-fried chicken livers at Haven
No. 40: Seafood gumbo at Cajun Town Cafe
No. 39: Tacos at Karanchos
No. 38: Crepes at Melange Creperie
No. 37: Gua bao at Yummy Kitchen
No. 36: Guanciale burger at Plonk
No. 35: Snapper al cilantro at Teotihuacan
No. 34: The Houstonian at James Coney Island
No. 33: The Montrose at Amy's Ice Cream
No. 32: Lobster bisque at Philippe
No. 31: Tacos de cabeza y orejas at El Ultimo
No. 30: Oyster stew at Danton's
No. 29: Fried oysters at TQLA
No. 28: Banh mi at Cali Sandwich
No. 27: Captin's fried chicken at Zelko Bistro
No. 26: The Brisket House Special at The Brisket House
No. 25: Menudo at La Mexicana
No. 24: Chargrilled oysters at Wild Cajun
No. 23: Breakfast tacos at Revival Market
No. 22: Sticky toffee pudding at Branch Water Tavern
No. 21: Tex-Mex burger at El Real Tex-Mex Cafe
No. 20: Lasagna at Capri Pasta Pizza & More
No. 19: Pork rillette at Feast
No. 18: Chicken fried steak at Triple A
No. 17: Crème brûlée bread pudding at Killen's
No. 16: Migas at La Guadalupana
No. 15: Snapper with grapefruit at Kata Robata
No. 14: Venison carpaccio at Thanh Phuong
No. 13: Mesquite-grilled shrimp poboy at Goode Co. Seafood
No. 12: Tamarind-glazed salmon at Samba Grille
No. 11: Bone marrow service at Stella Sola
No. 10: Ribs at Gatlin's
No. 9: Shrimp and grits at Brennan's

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Location Info


1600 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

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My wife booked a brunch party of 9 for noon 06JULY2014 for She and I and 7 business associates/ friends at Hugo's restaurant @ 1602 Westheimer Rd, Houston, TX 77006.  I was medivaced from Iraq in 2008 and retired medically from the military in 2011.  When she and I pulled into the ONE marked handicapped space next to the Valet stand with my permanent handicapped placard hanging, one of the three valets commended, "Screw you handicapped," loud enough that my wife heard it and told me through her closed window.  There where customers coming and going everywhere.  I have never been so insulted in my life and I have had some pretty nasty experiences.  

We went in, joined our party, and sat and waited ~10 minutes to get a glass of water.  I sat quietly and drank water for another 5-10 minutes trying to calm down but couldn't.  I got up found the manager and told him what had happened and he simply shrugged it off. I left the restaurant and tried to calm down for about 20 minutes.  After realizing I could not stand to be there, I reentered the restaurant, apologized to our party and left.  The same manager saw me leaving, asked where I was going, I told him I had lost my appetite and could not stand to be in his restaurant, my wife would finish brunch with her group and that we would NEVER be back.  He said OK and shrugged it off again.

When my wife and I got back together, she told me about their lunch.  She and I generally frequent Baba Yega's for brunch but had been told (by a lyer) that Hugo's was better.  She said they where NOT impressed at all by the food and there was no service, it is buffet style but drinks and such where hard pressed to get.  The bill was $30 a peace for brunch and $5.85 gratuity...19.5% TIP,  for what???? no service and insults?  We will NEVER patronize it again and make sure to tell all our friends and acquaintances the horror that was Hugo's restaurant @ 1602 Westheimer Rd, Houston, TX 77006

Dean Davis
Dean Davis

at my first bite, I was disappointed by the fact that it wasn't the barbacoa I'm used to - something deep in my brain sees the word "barbacoa" and starts salivating at the thought of wiping grease off my hands (and everything near me), with all the coma-inducing goodness that comes with something so clearly sinful. But you're right, that's not the point, and it ended up being one of the more memorable meals I've had. I didn't know you even COULD class up barbacoa until then, much less why you would. But Hugo's showed me different.

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