100 Favorite Dishes 2014-15: No. 82, Chiles en Nogada Tradicionales at Pico's Mex-Mex

Photo courtesy Marcy de Luna
Celebrate Mexico's independence day a little early with this classic patriotic dish.
Once again, Kaitlin Steinberg is eating her way through Houston and counting down her 100 favorite dishes as we work our way toward our annual Menu of Menus® issue and culinary extravaganza. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most delicious, most creative and, of course, most indicative of our ever-changing food scene. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that are uniquely Houstonian.

If there's one dish that best exemplifies Mexican pride, it's probably chiles en nogada. The dish was invented in Puebla to celebrate Mexico's independence day on September 16, and since then it's become a popular dish in the United States as well, in part because it's so unique.

It contains three primary elements representative of the colors of the Mexican flag: Green poblano peppers, red pomegranate seeds and a white walnut sauce. The peppers are traditionally stuffed with picadillo, a mixture of shredded pork with spices and fruit, and the walnut sauce is thickened with heavy cream and queso anejo. It's alternately soothing and decadent and brimming with historical significance.

At Pico's Mex-Mex, the interior Mexican restaurant that recently moved from Bellaire just outside the Loop to Upper Kirby, chef Arnaldo Richards does chiles en nogada tradicionales the right way--with a little spice and a lot of soul.

As the name suggests, the dish is prepared in a very traditional manner. The roasted poblano peppers are cleaned and stuffed with shredded pork shoulder mixed with green olives and mild spices--just enough to give the picadillo a little heat without overwhelming any other flavors.

The rich sauce is made from a mixture of ground walnuts, cream, cheese, sugar and a bit of sherry or vermouth, depending upon the preference of the chef. As the sauce simmers, a bit of the alcohol is cooked off, but the flavor remains, enhancing the mild sweetness of the walnuts.

Then the dish is assembled: Two stuffed peppers, a generous drizzle of sauce and a sprinkling of ruby pomegranate seeds that add a tart crunch when you bite into them. The velvety smooth sauce at first seems incongruous with the savory pork and peppers, but as you combine the elements on your fork, you'll note hints of sweetness in the pork (from apples and pears simmered with the meat) and a hearty, savory aspect in the sauce from the meaty walnuts. From preparation to flavor profile, it's a complicated dish.

But the flavor nuances and complexity are only fitting; Getting independence from Spain wasn't easy either.

The list so far:
No. 83, Porkobuco at Brooklyn Athletic Club
No. 84, Chai Pie at Pondicheri
No. 85, Tacos at Taqueria Maya Quiché
No. 86, S'mores at 13 Celsius
No. 87, Calamari at Lillo & Ella
No. 88, Pulled Pork Nachos at Way Good Food Truck
No. 89, Garden Sammie at Local Foods
No. 90, Barbecued Salmon Salad at Brooks Family BBQ
No. 91, Smoked Salmon Waffle at The Waffle Bus
No. 92, Chirashi Lunch at Sushi Miyagi
No. 93, Finocchiona Sandwich at Siphon Coffee
No. 94, Combo Catracho at Mi Bella Honduras Restaurant
No. 95, Tamal de Puerco at Andes Cafe
No. 96, Cheeseburger at Sparkle's Hamburger Spot
No. 97, Mi Quang at Simply Pho
No. 98, Helado de Lúcuma at Pollo Bravo
No. 99, Fat Fries at Fat Bao
No. 100, Fish Bánh Mì at La Baguette

Location Info

Pico's Mex-Mex

3601 Kirby Dr., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

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My Voice Nation Help

Otilia's on Long Point used to do decent ones, until their slow, unexplained slide into awfulness. Even Houstonia was alert enough to exclude them from coverage in their reprise of good Tex Mex/Mex. 

What the hell happened to Otilia's?

Cocinero Valdez
Cocinero Valdez

Y'all need to visit Fonda Santa Rosa after Sept.16th for one of these and other authentic Mexican cuisine


I had something very similar to this at Hugo's on their seasonal menu during the fall and it was so delicious and interesting!


Question, you write: "The roasted poblano peppers are cleaned and stuffed with shredded pork shoulder mixed with green olives and mild spices--just enough to give the picadillo a little heat without overwhelming any other flavors."

So is it stuffed with pork or picadillo, which is cooked and seasoned ground beef?

Bruce_Are topcommenter


I had the same experience. My last time there, the place was nearly empty, the service was slow, and the food was disappointing. Before that, I was a fan.

KaitlinS topcommenter

You should comment on the Underrated Tex-Mex post with that suggestion!

KaitlinS topcommenter

@eunice It's pork, but most recipes for chiles en nogada refer to stuffing as pork picadillo because the preparation is similar to traditional beef picadillo, only with pork.


@Bruce_Are @cardigangolfer

There should be a column here, like "Anatomy of A Murder", that deals with restaurants that used to be popular and are now just haunted by memories of past success. Something that asks what happened or "How Did I Get Here", as David Byrne might say.


@KaitlinS @eunice hmmm, beef picadillo with shredded beef, instead of ground beef? never heard of that before. I live and learn.

KaitlinS topcommenter

@AndesV @KaitlinS @eunice It's shredded pork, not shredded beef. I think it's just called that because it often has raisins and nuts and similar spices to regular ground beef picadillo.

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