Food trends, such as the farm-to-table movement, gourmet food trucks and the nation’s obsession with ramen and Forbes Travel Guide Tastemaker David Chang’s Momofuku buns, usually come in waves, with new restaurants opening to capture the moment’s hottest craze. The latest trend in food is Latin American cuisine, and Houston has already joined the party. On your next trip, try one of these vibrant new Latin American eateries.
A wood-burning oven is the centerpiece of the oyster bar at Caracol, two-time James Beard Award nominee Hugo Ortega’s stunning new coastal Mexican restaurant that he opened with his wife, Tracy Vaught. Order some of the most delectable wood-roasted oysters, along with grilled whole lobster, grilled whole fish and a plethora of items that evoke the seaside flavors of beaches from the Baja to Riviera Maya. From the kitchen, tapas-style plates beguile with creations such as conch ceviche steeped in a pineapple-ginger-red-jalapeño marinade, or a beautifully plated serrano-pepper-spiced shrimp aguachile nestled over an array of paper-thin cucumber. The bar scene is vibrant, with an excellent happy hour, during which you can partake of light bites (including half-priced oysters), along with a fantastic by-the-glass wine selection and inventive cocktails such as the Zihuatanejo — a creamy, smoky concoction of mezcal, crème de violette liqueur, lime and salted margarita foam.
One of the first restaurants to put Peruvian fare on the map in Houston, chef Roberto Castre’s Latin Bites has garnered a lot of attention for its phenomenal food. And while it is still the place to go to taste the authentic flavors of Peru, the menu has been expanded to include more South American dishes. A palta rellena, or stuffed avocado, is beautifully simplistic, creamy and effortless. It celebrates the Latin American love of the avocado, as it’s filled with everything from potato salad and Peruvian purple olive mayo to beets and green peas. Andean risotto, topped with an anticuchero-style marinated beef, blends Latin flavors with Italian technique. And the volcano rice, inspired by the large Chinese population in Peru, is prepared tableside in a hot stone bowl, a sizzling interpretation of a more traditional fried rice.
Home of the Cordúa recipe churrasco steak — a butterflied tenderloin of beef that is marinated and grilled to juicy perfection — Churrascos was one of Houston’s first South American restaurants to open 25 years ago. Today, though the signature steak is still the best-selling item on the menu, Churrascos is going back to the Nicaraguan roots of its founding family, the Cordúas. Chef David Cordúa has introduced new dishes that are integral part of the criollo (or creole) cuisine of his homeland: Gallo pinto, a traditional red beans and rice dish, is offered as a side or accompaniment, along with several new ceviches, queso frito (fried cheese) and a whole fried fish — coated in a cornmeal, cacao and cinnamon crust inspired by the flavors of the Nicaraguan pinolillo drink.
For a more casual foray into Latin American food, head over to Sur Latin Peruvian Cuisine, a strip-mall restaurant on Houston’s west side, close to Katy. Just opened in mid-January, the cozy, family-owned eatery turns out high-quality Peruvian standards, such as the stir-fried beef lomo saltado, or a mixed white fish ceviche topped with Peruvian toasted corn, corn kernels, red onions and sweet potato purée. Partner and chef Juan Carlos Collomp, who used to do private catering, puts fresh salsichas (Peruvian sausages) atop French fries in a classic salchipapa dish, and his pan con chicharrón sandwich of roasted pork is not to be missed.
Photo Courtesy of Julie Soefer