This year, leading up to our annual Menu of Menus® issue, Kaitlin Steinberg counts down her 100 favorite dishes as she eats her way through Houston. She'll compile a collection of the dishes she thinks are the most awesome, most creative and, of course, most delicious in town. It's a list of personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that seem particularly indicative of the ever-changing Houston foodscape.
For me, Hugo's has become my go-to place for comfort food. I know many see it as an upscale date or night on the town sort of spot, and it's certainly that, too. But to me, braised pork, chips and salsa, and warm churros are the epitome of comfort.
So when I was sick, recently, I knew exactly what to do: Hugo's take-out.
Granted, the experience of getting take-out from Hugo's is not the same as eating there among the lively crowd and multitude of wonderful smells emanating from the kitchen. But in the spirit of not infecting everyone else around me with the same crummy flu-like bug I had, I got my order to-go, brought it home, ate it there, and almost immediately started feeling better. It was like magic.
I credit the mole.
Mole, a Mexican sauce that can be made in any number of ways, but pretty much always contains at least 20 different ingredients. It's complicated and time-consuming to make, so families traditionally make it for special occasions as a way to show they care. I get the same feeling of being cared for when I eat the cochito con mole xico at Hugo's.
It's a warm, hearty dish. An impossibly large serving of pork shoulder braised until it's falling apart, topped with thick, ruddy mole xico and served with mashed plantains, black beans, guacamole and asparagus on a bed of slightly sweet collard greens in a pasilla pepper and plum sauce. For $22, it's a lot of food.
The pork shoulder is tender. As it must be. The thin layer of fat on one side of it melts in your mouth, and the dark, reddish-brown mole is more sweet than it is spicy. According to a recipe from Diana Kennedy, a friend of chef Hugo Ortega, mole xico has 24 ingredients, including a wide variety of nuts, dried fruit, chocolate, spices, pasilla and mulato chiles and meat broth. Making it is quite the undertaking, but at Hugo's it's always executed flawlessly.
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The sides are also wonderful. A few stalks of grilled asparagus pair well with the meaty pork and mild but complex mole, and the mashed plantains are a nice dose of starch in an otherwise veggie- and protein-heavy dish. The plate is served with several small corn tortillas, though, so if you want to make little tacos out of the pork, guac and beans, you certainly can.vI prefer it unadulterated. Save those tortillas for later.
So I encourage you to not think of Hugo's as a fun dinner spot only. It's also a great place to get a fast, comforting meal to-go, and the quality will be just as good as if you were sitting there watching chef Ortega make it before your eyes.
See the full list of favorites on the next page.
The list so far: No. 32: Carnitas at Molina's Cantina No. 33: Taleggio Pizza at Dolce Vita No. 34: Chiles de Padron Asados at Caracol No. 35: Morning Thali at Pondicheri No. 36: Fried Mini Fish at House of Bowls No. 37: Trompo Tacos at Taqueria La Macro No. 38: Spicy Tamale Plate at La Mexicana No. 39: Mum's Chicken Curry At The Queen Vic Pub No. 40: Canestri alla Funghi at Paulie's No. 41: Biscuit with Marmalade and Crème Fraîche at Blacksmith No. 42: Fried Oyster Po'Boy at Goode Company Seafood No. 43: Roasted Duck Red Curry at Morningside Thai No. 44: BBQ Pulled Wild Boar Sandwich at Sammy's Wild Game Grill No. 45: Guanciale Burger at Plonk No. 46: Parma 600 Pizza at Pizzeria Solario No. 47: CFC Deviled Eggs at Liberty Kitchen & Oyster Bar No. 48: The El Real Burger at El Real Tex-Mex Cafe No. 49: Custard Sandwich at Petite Sweets No. 50: Black Pepper Beer Lobster at Hai Cang Seafood Restaurant No. 51: Red Dragon Roll at Michiru Sushi No. 52: Fried Bananas Foster at Custom Confections No. 53: Bánh Canh Hue at Simply Pho No. 54: Kimchi Koagie at Koagie Hots No. 55: The Juicy Lucy Burger at Lowbrow No. 56: Eggplant Fries at Batanga No. 57: Macarons at Ganache Dessert Bar No. 58: Grilled Cheese at The Golden Grill No. 59: Baklava French Toast at Harry's Restaurant & Cafe No. 60: Patata e Funghi Pizza at Pizaro's No. 61: Old Fashioned Frito Pie at Armadillo Palace No. 62: Korean Spiced Brisket Plate at Revival Market No. 63: Bánh Mì at Les Givral's Sandwich and Cafe No. 64: Squirrel Master Burger at Cottonwood No. 65: Shorty Mac at H-Town StrEATS No. 66: Enchiladas de Mole at La Guadalupana No. 67: Bad Ass Hambur-Torta at Pistolero's No. 68: Green "Hurry Curry" at Nit Noi No. 69: Dozen Raw Oysters at Pappas Seafood No 70: Banana Split at Cloud 10 Creamery No. 71: Lazy Lane Frites at Brasserie 19 No. 72: Chicken Pot Pie at Kenny & Ziggy's No. 73: Chili Cheese Mac from Jus' Mac No. 74: Taco al Pastor at Taco Keto No. 75: 'Date With a Pig' at Sparrow Bar + Cookshop No. 76: The Heights Burger at Gratifi No. 77: Lamb Lollipops at Américas No. 78: Mortadella Sandwich at 13 Celsius No. 79: Carnissima Pizza at Coppa Osteria No. 80: The Marie Laveau Sandwich at Sandy Witch No. 81: Catfish and Grits at The Breakfast Klub No. 82: Grilled Ahi Tuna at St. John's Fire No. 83: Lobster Roll at Maine-ly Sandwiches No. 84: Greek Burger at Hubcap Grill No. 85: Pork Tamales at Irma's No. 86: Ham, Egg & Cheese Crepe at Melange Creperie No. 87: Crab Daddy Bao at Fat Bao No. 88: Sesame Soft Balls at Golden Dim Sum No. 89: Porchetta e Fagioli at Giacomo's Cibo e Vino No. 90: Uncle Daryl's Cake at The Chocolate Bar No. 91: Lobster Cake Benedict at Sorrel Urban Bistro No. 92: Homeroom at Bernie's Burger Bus No. 93: Vuelve a la Vida Soup at Connie's Seafood No. 94: Foie Gras Mac & Cheese at BRC Gastropub No. 95: Sweet Potato Gnocchi at Brooklyn Athletic Club No. 96: Chicken and Waffles at Adair Kitchen No. 97: Soft Pretzel from Mongoose Versus Cobra No. 98: Bulgogi Tacos with Kimchi at Chi'Lantro No. 99: Almond Croissant at Phoenicia No. 100: Bangkok Fries at Boheme