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How to Dine Like an Award Winner in Houston

JBF Editors

August 17, 2017

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We're just weeks away from the start of our 2017 Taste America national tour, a ten-city run of spectacular dining events and exciting culinary programming celebrating the best of American cuisine from coast to coast. With such a wide breadth of fantastic food available across the country, we asked this year's James Beard Award winners from each region of the Best Chefs in America to give some guidance on their favorite local haunts. Below, Best Chef: Southwest winner Hugo Ortega of Hugo's in Houston shares his selections for best cheap eats, breakfast, authentic Tex-Mex, and more—plus a recipe for his peach tamales!

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Date night: Oporto Fooding House & Wine
My wife Tracy and I like to go to the newer location in Midtown and share paella. It’s a nice place to stop on the way downtown to see a concert or catch a Houston Astros or Houston Rockets game.
 
Cheap Eats: Tacos Tierras Calientes
When I need a quick bite running between restaurants, I often grab a taco or torta at this taco truck, owned by a former employee of Hugo’s. Great lengua and al pastor tacos, and the red sauce is fiery, just like I like it.
 
Breakfast/Brunch: Brennan’s of Houston
I work most Sundays, but when I can leave my own kitchens for brunch, I like to head to Brennan’s. This is my connection to Cajun and Creole cooking, and a place we like to celebrate the momentous occasions in our family. In fact, this is where I went after my U.S. citizenship ceremony! Great gumbo, great seafood, and who can resist their Bananas Foster?
 
Bakery/Desserts: El Bolillo Bakery
This is a great Mexican bakery, located across from Canino’s Produce Market, with everything from individual pastries to breads and cakes of all sizes and descriptions. This is where I go to get conchas, my favorite.
 
Market: Canino’s Produce Market
You can find just about everything here, from fruits and vegetables to spices, linens, trompos, plants, Mexican shopping bags, tortilla presses, and more since 1958. They have local produce as well as imported items, like spices and hard-to-find greens from Mexico. 
 
Sushi: Kata Robata Sushi + Grill
Chef Hori-san is one of the most talented chefs in Houston. Watching him work with fish is amazing, and drives my curiosity on how he prepares dishes with it, from sashimi and sushi to cooked dishes. My favorite sushi place in town.
 
Weekend Lunch: Goode Co. Seafood
Tracy and I having been going to the original location of Goode Co. Seafood at least once a week for the last 20-plus years. They are pioneers of coastal cooking. The campechana is a must, and we always have oysters, too. I love the look and feel of the space, housed in an old passenger train car. Very Houston.
 
Tex-Mex Craving or Hangover Cure:
Ninfa’s on Navigation
They say this is the birthplace of tacos al carbon, and they are definitely delicious here. Great Tex-Mex from chef Alex Padilla—traditional dishes as well as creative ones. He prepared a great dish of lobster and huitlacoche tortillas for my wife and I recently—que rico!
 
Peking Duck: Fung’s Kitchen
This is a Houston tradition, the first authentic Hong Kong-style restaurant in Houston, located in the Sharpstown area, now known as Houston’s Chinatown. I love their Peking duck and steamed buns. Best in town!
 
BYOB: Himalaya
One of my favorite places to dine is Himalaya. Owners Azra and Kaiser Lakshari have a particular devotion to their restaurant, and for that alone they have my highest respect. But the food is great, too, and it is BYOB. Their sauces are complex, like Mexican moles, so this food with lots of “pow” really speaks to me. I love their green curry fish, beef tikka, lamb biryani, garlic naan, and whatever special Kaiser creates for the day. A cold bottle of bubbly always pairs well.
 
Best Pasta and Pizza: The Pass & Provisions
Seth Siegel-Gardner and Terrence Gallivan are the best avant garde chefs in Houston. They are always creating something new and delicious. Provisions is a great for a relaxing meal with great cocktails, and Pass features a multi-course chefs’ menu that always impresses.

Get a taste of Hugo's award-winning cooking with his recipe for peach tamales.

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Learn more about Taste America and the James Beard Awards.