Phaedra Cook is eating her way through Houston and counting down her 100 favorite dishes of 2015. It's a collection of personal favorites that is also indicative of Houston dining. It's a scene where a vast range of dishes coexist: highbrow and lowbrow; local and international; cheap and expensive; modern cuisine and beloved tenets — and everything in between.
There are few wing sauces that receive as much care and have as many ingredients as the ones at El Big Bad. Diners first started falling in love with chef Jonathan Jones’s dishes back when he was at Beaver’s. He developed a sharp focus on casual interior Mexican cuisine at acclaimed but short-lived Xuco Xicana. When he took over as chef at El Big Bad, with the same focus on casual Mexican fare, it seemed like a love match. Fortunately, it meant that El Big Bad inherited the outstanding Jalisco Wings that Jones used to make at Xuco Xicana. (They're now cheekily named "Jalisco Hot Wangs!!!" on the menu.
He doesn’t take much credit for the addictive sauce he uses on the wings, giving it instead to the country of origin. “The recipe belongs to Jalisco, Mexico. This is a really old sauce that’s vinegar-based, so either apple cider or distilled white vinegar.”
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The saucy Jalisco Wings are not for the meek, but they don’t require extreme bravery from most people, either. These carry the type of heat that grows and builds, reaching a peak around the third wing. That spiciness comes from the pepper Jones calls “The King of Jalisco,” or chile de árbol. Just in case it all gets to be too much, there are a few slices of cooling cucumber. There are also some jicama slices, but don't rely on them too much for tempering the heat, since there's a dose of chile powder sprinkled on them.
It’s thickened with ground pepitas, or toasted pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds are added to the mix. The depth, a thrumming undertone of spice, comes from cloves, allspice and dried Mexican oregano.
I’m also a big fan of the sticky, spicy, smoky Morita ribs, but they’re not on the menu right now. “They’ll probably come back in the fall,” said Jones. Until then, I’m plenty happy to content myself with a plate of Jalisco "Wangs" and one of El Big Bad's many inventive margaritas.
The List of Top 100 Dishes of 2015 So Far:
No. 75, Mussels at Cafe Brussels
No. 76, Cresta di Gallo at The Pass & Provisions
No. 77, Beef Fajitas at El Real Tex-Mex
No. 78, Chicken Tikka Masala from the Tandoori Nite truck
No. 79, Chocolates at Cacao & Cardamom
No, 80, Hummus Supreme at Al's Quick Stop
No. 81, Red Oil Dumplings at Mala Sichuan
No. 82, Tex-Cajun Fries at BB's Café
No. 83, Mac & Cheese at The Oceanaire Seafood Room
No. 84, The Principal Burger at Bernie's Burger Bus
No. 85, Hunter's Honey-Roasted Duck at Brennan's Of Houston
No. 86, Fish & Chips at Good Dog Houston
No. 87, Sausage, Egg & Cheese Biscuit at Blacksmith
No. 88, "Saucy Balls" At Brooklyn Meatball Company
No. 89, Perry's Steakhouse/Perry & Sons Pork Chop
No. 90, General Tso's Chicken from The Rice Box
No. 91, Eggs, Refried Beans, Hash Browns and Hugo's Sauce at 59 Diner
No. 92, Shipley Do-Nuts Plain Glazed
No. 93, Housemade Bologney at Public Services Wine & Whisky
No. 94, Bo Luc Lac at Cheno's (formerly Chino's) Fast Food
No. 95, Combo #5 at Soto's Cantina
No. 96, Carnitas Salad At Chipotle
No. 97, Pickled Shrimp At Punk's Simple Southern Food
No. 98, Lobster Roll At Maine-Ly Sandwiches
No. 99, Chili-Cheese Coneys At JCI Grill
No. 100, Corned Beef Hash And Eggs At House Of Pies