This year leading up to our annual Best of Houston issue, we're counting down our 100 favorite dishes in Houston. This list comprises our favorite dishes from the last year, dishes that are essential to Houston's cultural landscape and/or dishes that any visitor (or resident) should try at least once.
Xuco Xicana, El XX or whatever it's going by these days has two enormous assets under its still-new belt right now: Jonathan Jones and Brandon Fisch, two of the city's brightest young chefs. It's not just that the pair is extraordinarily talented, however, with Jones juggling the executive chef position at the still-popular Beaver's and Fisch fresh off a gig as the youngest executive chef in the city at Yelapa Playa Mexicana. It's the deep appreciation that the duo has for its Houston roots and the bounty we have in our own backyard.
Jones and Fisch are both highly competent with a piece of fish, Jones having studied the art of ceviche in Peru and Fisch known for his own Peruvian-style ceviches back at Yelapa. And although it's ostensibly a barbecue restaurant, Beaver's has long served ceviches and various other raw fish preparations for daily specials. Seeing these two men come together at Xuco Xicana was a blessing for all those who delight in seeing Gulf fish given the respect it deserves with such creative and invigorating treatments.
And it's Gulf fish that takes center stage in all of the ceviche preparations here, whether it be a pillowy black drum spiked with warm chipotle peppers and garnished with radishes, avocado and corn, or a golden tilefish humming with howlingly hot chile de arbol and teased up even further with slices of pert grapefruit. And the ceviches change nearly every day, depending on what the kitchen gets from the Gulf.
"Today's ceviche @XucoXicana is mahi mahi tiraditio, watermelon radish, jicama, avocado ," Fisch recently Tweeted, along with the photo seen above. Between Fisch and Jones, the duo does a good job of keeping their fans updated with what to expect that night for dinner -- or what to change your dinner plans to include, in some cases.
In an interview earlier this year, Jones spoke about how important the ceviches were at his newest restaurant, one that he feels is more representative of his true self and background:
"I worked with five chefs from Lima, Peru when I was working with the Cordua group," he said about the ceviche my friend and I ate every bite of last night. "I learned all the different ways of making ceviches and leche de tigre. You make your leche with lime juice and you add bruised celery ribs, carrots and onions -- just like a mirepoix -- and let that sit overnight."
"It adds this whole different dimension and roundness that you don't get from a regular ceviche with straight lime juice," he finished.
And despite of all the wonderful dishes that El XX currently serves -- including its wings, which just won a Best of Houston® award in our 23rd annual issue -- it's the ceviche that I always look for first when I come there for dinner, eyeing the chalkboard special near the entrance with each visit. And I'm not the only one.
One Twitter follower recently queried: "Thinking @XucoXicana for dinner. What's cooking up @PapaBeav, @bfisch?"
To which Fisch quickly replied: "Ceviche, of course."
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The list so far:
No. 100: Dumplings at Heights Asian Cafe No. 99: Mixta Pizza at Friends Pizzeria No. 98: Veggie tacos from Radical Eats No. 97: Bean pie from Conscious Cafe No. 96: Swiss chard crepes from Giacomo's Cibo e Vino No. 95: Eggs Mia Bella at Mia Bella No. 94: Mulligatawny soup at the Queen Vic No. 93: Helado de Lúcuma from Pollo Bravo No. 92: Black bean burger from Natachee's No. 91: Chupacabra pizza from ERA No. 90: Roast chicken from El Norteño No. 89: Eggs El Salvador from Brasil No. 88: Frank the Pretzel from Eatsie Boys No. 87: Caldo Tlalpeño from Tacos del Julio No. 86: English pea soup at Brasserie 19 No. 85: Falafel from Zabak's No. 84: Buttermilk-fried pork loin with fried eggs at Canopy No. 83: Grillades and grits from BB's Cajun Cafe No. 82: Haemul dolsot from Seoul House No. 81: Pandan waffles at Parisian Bakery III No. 80: Pita bread and hummus at Phoenicia No. 79: Goat pepper soup at Peppersoup Cafe No. 78: Melon and Texas feta salad from Beaver's No. 77: Hot Italian beef from BB's Beef & Hot Dog No. 76: Bacon-avocado burger from Facundo Cafe No. 75: Pancakes from Fountain View Cafe No. 74: Hobnobs from Fluff Bake Bar No. 73: Chu chee eggplant from Nidda Thai No. 72: Sausage sampler from King's Biergarten No. 71: Shawarma from Abdallah's No. 70: Moules-frite at the Broken Spoke No. 69: Hong Kong-style French toast at House of Bowls No. 68: Sashimi sampler at Sushi Miyagi No. 67: Baleadas from Honduras Mayan No. 66: Snow ice from Star Snow Ice & Teriyaki No. 65: Boudin balls from MerCheri's No. 64: Miso ramen at Umai No. 63: Grim burger at Lankford Grocery No. 62: Dabeli at Bansuri Indian Food Corner No. 61: Wine and cupcakes at 13 Celsius No. 60: Pâté de France from Spec's No. 59: Steak and eggs from Ninfa's on Navigation No. 58: Breakfast pita at Niko Niko's No. 57: Vegan curry at Cafe TH No. 56: Samosas at Shiv Sagar No. 55: Ceviche at Latin Bites Cafe No. 54: Wicked Philly at Pappa Geno's No. 53: Pork chop at Perry's Steakhouse No. 52: Soft-shell crab at Pico's Mex-Mex No. 51: Sno-balls at MAM's House of Ice No. 50: Whole catfish at Saigon Pagolac No. 49: Nova fish box at New York Bagel & Coffee Shop No. 48: Sojok mana'eesh at Cedars Bakery No. 47: Pho ga at Pho Ga Dakao No. 46: Sicilia salad at Trevisio No. 45: Dahi puri at Sweet 'n' Namkin No. 44: Hot dogs at Moon Tower Inn No. 43: Real guacamole at Yelapa Playa Mexicana No. 42: Akaushi short ribs at Soma Sushi No. 41: Country-fried chicken livers at Haven No. 40: Seafood gumbo at Cajun Town Cafe No. 39: Tacos at Karanchos No. 38: Crepes at Melange Creperie No. 37: Gua bao at Yummy Kitchen No. 36: Guanciale burger at Plonk No. 35: Snapper al cilantro at Teotihuacan No. 34: The Houstonian at James Coney Island No. 33: The Montrose at Amy's Ice Cream No. 32: Lobster bisque at Philippe No. 31: Tacos de cabeza y orejas at El Ultimo No. 30: Oyster stew at Danton's No. 29: Fried oysters at TQLA No. 28: Banh mi at Cali Sandwich No. 27: Captin's fried chicken at Zelko Bistro No. 26: The Brisket House Special at The Brisket House No. 25: Menudo at La Mexicana No. 24: Chargrilled oysters at Wild Cajun No. 23: Breakfast tacos at Revival Market No. 22: Sticky toffee pudding at Branch Water Tavern No. 21: Tex-Mex burger at El Real Tex-Mex Cafe No. 20: Lasagna at Capri Pasta Pizza & More No. 19: Pork rillette at Feast No. 18: Chicken fried steak at Triple A No. 17: Crème brûlée bread pudding at Killen's No. 16: Migas at La Guadalupana No. 15: Snapper with grapefruit at Kata Robata No. 14: Venison carpaccio at Thanh Phuong No. 13: Mesquite-grilled shrimp poboy at Goode Co. Seafood No. 12: Tamarind-glazed salmon at Samba Grille No. 11: Bone marrow service at Stella Sola No. 10: Ribs at Gatlin's No. 9: Shrimp and grits at Brennan's No. 8: Barbacoa at Hugo's No. 7: Texas shrimp chaat at Pondicheri No. 6: Saigon burger at The Burger Guys No. 5: Tagliarini with black truffles at Da Marco No. 4: Oysters on the half-shell at Casey's No. 3: Boudin kolaches at Shipley's