Film and TV

Aquiles en Houston in Real Life at La Fisheria

Houston has hosted its share of reality television shows, from Animal Cops (which I can't bear to watch even a single episode of) to the currently filming Mother of the Bride. And we've also seen shows such as Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, Eat St. and Meat & Potatoes come through to film our restaurant scene. But until recently, there hasn't been a reality show filmed entirely in Houston that focuses on food.

Now, we have Aquiles en Houston, which follows chef Aquiles Chavez and his family as they pick up and move from Mexico to Houston and open a brand-new business in the process. Granted, it's airing on Utilisima -- not HGTV or TLC -- but the Spanish-language channel is one of the most popular throughout Central and South America. (You can also catch it on Dish.) So even if Houston isn't getting a spotlight here in the United States, viewers to the south will be getting an eyeful of us when they tune in to Aquiles en Houston in the evenings.

Aquiles en Houston is the third in a series of shows that Chavez has produced with Utilisima, including the travel-oriented Aquilisimo and cooking program El Toque de Aquiles. So while U.S. audiences may not be familiar with Chavez, he's a bona fide star throughout the rest of the Americas. And you can experience some of his star power -- and the set of Aquiles en Houston -- for yourself at La Fisheria, the subject of this week's cafe review.

While the set itself is no longer active -- the show wrapped up filming a couple of months ago -- the restaurant certainly is. When La Fisheria first opened and I made an appearance on Aquiles en Houston offering my opinion of the food to the show's producers, I was unsure how the restaurant would continue along after the show was finished. Would this celebrity chef abandon it entirely and let it coast along on what little wake was left after the cameras left?

The answer has been, so far, a resounding no. Chavez appears, if anything, more invested in his new home than ever. He sports an Astros baseball cap over his signature dreadlocks these days, visiting nearly every table that comes to dine every day -- and there are a lot of tables to visit. La Fisheria has been consistently busy for the last several months, with up to an hour wait on weekend nights. (It doesn't take reservations, so come early if you want to eat on a Friday or Saturday evening.)

But they're not coming for Chavez. At least, I don't think they are. His celebrity is still minor, if recognized at all, in Houston. And as co-owner Mirna Riveroll estimates, only 20 percent of the clientele on an average night is Latin. No, they're not coming for Chavez; they're coming for his food.

Food like a stunning pato mariscal, savory chorizo stew filled with plump bites of duck and black-shelled mussels; a shrimp cocktail brimming with enormous Gulf shrimp and sharpened up with a bright Mexican mirepoix of xnipec; red snapper and sweet potato croquettes served with a zesty chile pequin aioli; or a rosy yellowfin tuna steak served over a bed of tangy nopales and earthy lentils.

It's why I keep going back to La Fisheria, after all. That and the habanero margaritas. And I think it's what will continue to make the modern coastal Mexican restaurant a success for as long as Chavez decides to stick around. And who knows? Maybe he'll get an English-language reality show one of these days as a result.

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Katharine Shilcutt