Best Of :: Food & Drink
The restaurant roasts its own cocoa beans and grinds them by hand in an old-fashioned stone mill that chef-owner Hugo Ortega brought back from Oaxaca. The fresh-ground cocoa paste is used to make its signature mole poblano, as well as the cup of hot chocolate that comes with some of the desserts. Seasonal dishes at Hugo's, like the chiles en nogada, are better than the supposedly definitive versions found in Mexico City. Hugo's serves chiles en nogada through the fall or as long they can get fresh pomegranates. In the summer, the menu switches over to dishes made with squash blossoms. Ortega's cousin Martha Ortega makes the mole poblano. She learned from her mother in Puebla, who learned from her mother and so on back four generations. Martha's mole recipe contains ingredients like plantains that you won't find in published recipes. Cookbooks only skim the surface. The Ortega family has mole in their blood. American foodies make the mistake of thinking that reading Diana Kennedy or Rick Bayless's cookbooks is all it takes to master Mexican cuisine. Mexican immigrants like Hugo Ortega and his family remind us of how deep Mexico's culinary traditions really go.
When it comes to stuff-your-face gluttony, no one does it better than the Asian-inspired all-you-can-eat buffet at V Star. Located in a strip mall just off of I-45, this place almost literally has it all. A fruit bar, salad makings, a soup station and a seafood bar overflowing with oysters on the half shell, shrimp, king crab legs and spicy crawfish get your engine revved. Next, choose from more than a dozen types of sushi before ambling over to the two long buffet carts continuously refilled with more than 30 entrées. Selections range from fried chicken wings and pizza to typical Chinese fare you'd expect to see at a buffet, such as General Tso's chicken, Szechuan beef, egg foo young and lo mein. Oh, and don't forget dessert. While gluttony can quickly turn to sloth, diners will feel light and virtuous having paid only $9.25 for this belly-busting treat.
Sure, the food is good, but at The Grove, it's all about ambience. Patrons walk through the entrance and face a soaring wall of windows that look out onto the oak trees and lawns in Discovery Green Park. The dark wood floors and ceiling add a homey touch to this otherwise sleek and modern-looking restaurant that bleeds almost seamlessly into its tranquil park surroundings. Essentially one large room, the restaurant has an open, airy feel; it's a great place to relax on a Sunday afternoon or be seen amongst the well-heeled formal diners at night. If a full meal is too much, then take the elevator up to the Tree House, a bar and wooden balcony/patio ensconced within the city skyline that offers one of the most relaxing views around.
Friendly, accommodating and spotlessly clean, this top-notch barbecue joint has recently opened in Acres Homes not far from the ashes of the late great William's Smokehouse. Owner Clarence Pierson is a bear of a man who knows his smoked meats. He cooks on an honest-to-God, wood-fueled, Houston-made Klose barbecue pit — not one of those gas-fired stainless steel virtual barbecue pits that burn a little wood every now and then. Pierson's deeply smoked brisket is remarkable, and his pork ribs are tender yet chewy. The Louisiana-style beans are mixed with meat and lots of seasonings so they resemble a cross between baked beans and chili. Desserts include homemade peach cobbler and bread pudding. There's one big family-style table in the middle of the dining room — pull up a chair and make some new friends.
If the downtown sausage-fest or the jock-stock in the village are not your cup of tea, the Stag's Head and their quality-over-quantity beer selection can be a haven for hopheads. Rather than trying to carry as many beers as possible or using gimmicks, they put some thought into the beers they pour, including Belhaven, Full Sail Pale Ale and Fuller's ESB. With plenty of beer specials and good food, they even make a decent cocktail. Unlike many beer joints around town, the Stag does more than just pull a beer into a pint glass and charge you more for it than a gallon of gas.
Sure, Houston's is part of a national chain, but boy do they know how to mix one hell of a Bloody. Located on Kirby just south of 59, the upscale eatery doesn't hammer its customers with too much pepper and heat, opting for a less spicy and more flavorful approach to one of America's favorite weekend hangover cures. In addition to tomato juice, their recipe includes homemade cocktail sauce, lots of horseradish and just the perfect hint of Worcester. Many mixes unfortunately don't have enough horseradish, but luckily, that's not a problem at Houston's. Here, a straw is almost useless because of the delicious bits floating throughout the Bloody Mary that for only $7.50 will leave you feeling like you just had the perfect meal.