The First Families of Houston Food: Why We Eat the Way We Eat in H-Town
Houston is a town inundated with great restaurants, but in tracing the city's history, you discover that many of the big names in the restaurant industry are related to each other in some way, whether by blood or business.
Photo courtesy Laurenzo's Mama Ninfa and her grandson, Domenic Laurenzo.
Some families have continued to stick with their own, too, but to live and cook in Houston is to be influenced by all the disparate cultures and flavors around you. This is how we get the major Italian families creating restaurants, each with a unique nod to their Houston roots. This is how we get the subtle Tex-Mex influences sneaking into Churrascos and the Latin influences popping up at Molina's.
And this is why the restaurants that dominate the Houston food scene today are here. This is why we eat Cajun food and fajitas and plantain chips and truffles. This is why we have fewer large chain restaurants than other cities of our size. And it's part of what makes the Houston dining scene so exciting.
Photo courtesy Churrascos The churrasco steak made Michael Cordúa famous.
Patriarch Michael Cordúa came to the United States from Nicaragua in the 1970s to study economics and finance at Texas A&M University. He taught himself to cook because he missed the food of his home country.
On August 8, 1988, Cordúa opened his first restaurant, Churrascos, even though he had no formal training in the industry or in a kitchen. In spite of the fact that the food won high praise from critics, the restaurant lost money initially, but after it was listed in Esquire magazine's "Best New Restaurants in America" in 1989 people began to take notice of the 130-seat Latin American joint.
In 1990, Cordúa opened a second, larger Churrascos and emphasized the namesake churrasco meat that Cordúa is credited with introducing to the United States. In 1994, Cordúa was named a best new chef by Food & Wine magazine, and he was later inducted into the Food & Wine Hall of Fame.
Photo courtesy Churrascos Michael Cordúa is still a fixture in his restaurant kitchens.
Following the success of Churrascos, Cordúa opened Américas, which was named restaurant of the year by Esquire in 1993. From there, Cordúa, along with his son David, a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu Paris, opened Amazon Grill, Artista and more Churrascos. The newest one opened in Gateway Memorial City in the late fall of 2013.
The family also came out with a cookbook this past year. It features 99 recipes, many of which helped make the restaurants famous. There are also some new recipes included, which David says are indicative of the continuing evolution of the Cordúa restaurants and the directions the family will be going in the future.