UPDATED: The 10 Best New Houston Restaurants of 2012
La Fisheria: The Swashbuckler
Photo by Troy Fields
Tackling any other iteration of Mexican food besides Tex-Mex can be tough in a town like Houston. Only Hugo's -- and, to a lesser extent, Otilia's -- have been able to achieve long-term success in this area. But with the entry of Mexican chef Aquiles Chavez -- he of the Jack Sparrow hair and mustache, he of the good-natured braggadocio and room-filling personality -- and his quirky Mexican restaurant La Fisheria, that may all have changed.
Chavez makes modern, upscale Mexican food that's heavy on the coastal influences of his home state of Tabasco, in a Heights setting that's vacation-like and relaxing. Whether it intended to or not, the restaurant went the smart route by creating something that's the polar opposite of Hugo's and instead blazes its own boisterous path. La Fisheria's clean, bright ceviches and red snapper tostadas have already become favorites in the warmer months, while the duck-chorizo stew with mussels and a glass of bold Mexican red wine are what I'm craving these days for dinner. Cuchara, an even newer Mexican bistro in Montrose, is similarly taking its own tack with interior Mexican food and between the two places, Houston's Mexican dining scene has never seemed more promising or invigorated.
Local Foods: The Renovator
Photo by Troy Fields
Although it's a deli in every sense of the word, there is no such thing as a plain, boring roast beef, deli-style sandwich at Local Foods, the Rice Village restaurant from the owners of benjy's. Sure, you'll get spicy horseradish on that roast beef sandwich in the form of a tangy aioli. But you'll also get some of Local Foods' crunchy kale salad for your greens as well as a thick layer of curried cauliflower that elevates the entire sandwich from "quick lunch" to "experience." Ditto the egg salad sandwich, which takes boring boiled eggs and lights them up with the light musk of truffles under the sharp and salty bite of Parmesan cheese on a pretzel bun.
The pretzel buns come from the ovens of local baker Slow Dough Bread Co., and they epitomize most of Local Foods' offerings: They're all-local when possible -- whether it's cheese from Pola, produce from Atkinson Farms, seafood from Texas Wild Gulf Shrimp or meat from Black Hill Ranch -- or otherwise Texan. The short-and-sweet wine list features only a handful of choices -- Duchman, Becker, McPherson and Pedernales among them. Aside from just wine, you can also find local beers on tap from breweries like Buffalo Bayou, Karbach and Southern Star. If you don't drink, try the Houston-made root beer from 8th Wonder Brewery.
It's this innovative commitment to stocking as many all-local products across the board that has endeared Local Foods to me, as well as the fact that it's treated another local piece of history with respect: The Antone's deli which used to house Local Foods has been thoughtfully repurposed into the sort of excellent sandwich shop that I think would do the old Antone's proud. Local Foods is clearly proud of its roots, too; you can still see timeworn inlay tiles bearing Antone's name as you cross the threshold.