Cielo High

A new Mexican bistro downtown serves up strong cocktails and tasty tapas for low prices.

Breezing through the restaurant in coral-colored shirts and black pants are the waitstaff, who were attentive and helpful on all three occasions I visited. The place was usually about half full, mostly with lawyers and businessmen, and the occasional UH-Downtown student eager for inexpensive eats.

The lunch and dinner menu is the same, and boasts a range of traditional Tex-Mex such as enchiladas and fajitas, but also chicken, steak and fish, all with a twist. I would be remiss if I did not mention that every meal starts off with free chips and a pair of absolutely addictive salsas — a mild roasted tomato puree and a spicy jalapeño and avocado salsa with sour cream and garlic.

Roasting a chicken isn't as easy as it sounds, but Cielo pulled it off expertly. Slathered in a rich, sweet and spicy ancho chile sauce, the half-chicken was juicy and seasoned well, and it came with sliced rounds of carrots, turnips and rutabaga, as well as crispy hand-cut fries topped with grated cheese and cilantro. The portion was huge and cost $11.95. A true bargain. The pork tenderloin, served with sautéed plantains in a wonderfully spicy coconut maple chili sauce, was another standout. Not too sweet, with a nice peppery aftertaste.

Appetizers like beef brochette and calamari are a hit at happy hour.
Troy Fields
Appetizers like beef brochette and calamari are a hit at happy hour.

Location Info


Cielo Mexican Bistro

300 Main
Houston, TX 77002

Category: Restaurant > Eclectic

Region: Downtown/ Midtown


Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays; 11 a.m. to midnight Fridays; and 5 p.m. to midnight Saturdays. Weekday happy hour: 2 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.; and 9 p.m. to close.

All happy hour starters: $1.95

Potato fritters: $5.95

Beef enchiladas: $10

Plantain pork tenderloin: $9.95

Jalapeno-balsamic glazed salmon: $13.95

300 Main, 713-229-9500.

All of the entrees are reasonably priced, none exceeding the $20 mark. Three of them plus a pair of appetizers cost less than $60. Sadly, though, not all the meals were as delicious as the ancho chicken and pork tenderloin.

The jalapeño-balsamic glazed salmon was moist and cooked well, but was essentially candied, reducing a healthy fish to a sugary treat. My dinner companion said that the flavor was good, but the salmon was so sweet that she wouldn't order it again. Then there were the ancho pork ribs. Someone must have left them in the oven and forgotten about them, because they were so overcooked that they were literally inedible. The meat was sinewy and dry, and I got the feeling I could chew it for a year and never make a dent.

On balance, Cielo is a fun place with many of the components that make up a terrific restaurant. Though much of the fare tends toward the sweet and heavy, as one waiter told me, the kitchen is still making adjustments to the menu and to how certain dishes are prepared. In these tough economic times, however, it's refreshing to see inventive semi-upscale food sold for, relatively speaking, the price of a song. If Cielo can keep these low prices, and if it keeps tweaking the menu, with its delightful service, beautiful interior and kick-ass happy hour, Nafaa is poised to have another Main Street success in his repertoire.

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