Best of Houston

Best of Houston® 2013: Aquiles Chávez left fame and Mexico behind for a restaurant in Houston

Aquiles Chávez was holding his face next to a bottle of Bigote Mexican wine and smiling for the camera. "Bigote" means "mustache" in Spanish, and the label design is a facsimile of his famous eyes and mustache. Produced in limited quantity in Mexico, where it's bottled just for him, it's one of the many things he might introduce to you when you visit his restaurant, La Fisheria.

The night that we met for this story, he introduced me to a whole bunch of items from his new menu. He was passionate and animated as he described the octopus chips, an appetizer of braised octopus that is finished on the grill and served atop a house-made potato chip with guacamole and topped off with a drizzle of special house-made Mexican chile oil.

He watched my eyes light up as I chewed on the crispy-chewy-smoky-spicy-creamy chip, delighted in my enjoyment. His obvious love of food is one of the things you'll fall in love with when you meet Chávez. I've had the pleasure of dining with him on a few occasions now, each time learning more about the flavors of real Mexican cuisine, marveling at how he uses local products (the octopus is from Galveston) to create dishes from his homeland.

"Texans are so proud to be Texan, they are so proud to be Houstonian. When I say that the meat that we use in the restaurant is Angus beef from Texas, the salt we use is from Galveston, all the seafood we use is from Galveston, the olive oil is from Lubbock -- they are so proud and they say, 'Thank you for using our local products.'"

This is what he is known for, after all -- applying French techniques to local ingredients to create a modern, vibrant Mexican cuisine. It was his use of a local specialty ingredient, gar, that propelled him to fame while he was in his hometown of Villahermosa, in the state of Tabasco. (Gar is a fish known for its voracious appetite and needle-like teeth.)

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Mai Pham is a contributing freelance food writer and food critic for the Houston Press whose adventurous palate has taken her from Argentina to Thailand and everywhere in between -- Peru, Spain, Hong Kong and more -- in pursuit of the most memorable bite. Her work appears in numerous outlets at the local, state and national level, where she is also a luxury travel correspondent for Forbes Travel Guide.
Contact: Mai Pham