Hugo: The Humble Magician
Hugo Ortega grew up in Mexico City and made his way across the border looking for better opportunities. He got a job washing dishes at Backstreet Cafe in 1987. Two years later, he signed up for the culinary program at Houston Community College. By 1992, he had become a line cook at Backstreet. The next year, he married Tracy Vaught, one of the owners.
Now, he is not only the head chef at Backstreet but also a partner in the eponymous Hugo's. The 180-seat Mexican restaurant at Westheimer and Mandell has become known as one of the best Mexican restaurants in the nation.
Ortega describes his cooking as the personal cuisine of a transplanted Mexican chef, avoiding any claims of Mexican authenticity. It's a brilliant strategy that leaves him free to improvise upscale dishes like his rustic roasted cabrito, pulled from the bone, wrapped in a banana leaf and artfully decorated with habanero salsa and a salad of crunchy cactus nopalitos. He also sidesteps the class-conscious snobbery of elite Mexican chefs who look down their noses at "peasant food." Instead, carnitas, tamales and other humble dishes of the Mexican market stalls undergo a Cinderella-like transformation in his restaurant that might remind you of Hugo's own life story.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Houston Press' biggest stories.
- State Charges Forward With Licensing Immigration Lockups as Childcare Facilities
Fri., Feb. 19, 8:00pm
Sat., Feb. 20, 1:00pm
Sat., Feb. 20, 7:00pm
Sun., Feb. 21, 6:00pm
- Man Jumps Into Buffalo Bayou Downtown, Feared Dead
- Wanna Make Sure You're Never in a Ted Cruz Ad? Take Off Your Clothes