Local Spotlight

Houston Restaurant Weeks: Caracol

What they're up to for Houston Restaurant Weeks: Two-course lunch for $20 or choose from one of three options for a four-course dinner for $45 or a four course vegetarian meal for $35. The other dinner options are seafood, meat or mixed. Caracol will donate $3 to the Houston Food Bank for every lunch sold and $5 or $7 for every dinner.

Service/Atmosphere: I flew solo for dinner on Monday evening and sat at the bar, though when I arrived around 6 p.m., there were a number of tables open as well. I had no trouble getting a HRW reservation on short notice, but this may not be the case later in the week. Things began to pick up a little around 7 p.m., making the restaurant a more fun, lively dining environment. The service at the bar is always great. Though the bartenders are constantly busy, they're easily able to check on guests dining right in front of them, and they're eager to re-fill drinks, mix more cocktails or provide doggy bags if you need them (and you probably will).

Items that won't be on the regular menu: Every dish on the vegetarian menu is a new one for Caracol that isn't available on the regular menu, as most--though certainly not all--of the dishes at Caracol contain either meat or seafood. The desserts have also been tweaked a little bit, according to the server, so they will vary slightly from what's on the regular lunch or dinner menu.

Don't miss this dish: The "Menu De Nuestro Estilo (Our Style)" spoke to me the most, so I dined first on a small serving of campechana, followed by mussels with chorizo verde, crispy duck leg and finally ice cream with sweet potato. Even without trying the other menus (I've had elements of all of them on previous visits), I know this one is the best thanks to the duck and mussels. The mussels are perfectly prepared and come to the table swimming in a bowl of broth reminiscent of Caracol's pozole verde (only with chorizo instead of pozole). The flavors are bright and fresh, and the mild spice of the tomatillos pairs wonderfully with the briny mussels. The duck is also a wonderful dish and a huge portion for a HRW meal. The crisp skin on the duck leg and medallions of meat maintains a crunch even while sitting in a delectable orange mole-type sauce made of pumpkin seeds.

Don't bother: Nothing I ate was something I'd recommend skipping, nor are any of the dishes I've had on the other menus--like the Pescado Alcaparrado a la Plancha (divine) and the Cañita de Puerco con Mole Mancha (rich and hearty). In fact, I'd even recommend ordering some oysters as an extra appetizer, because somehow a meal at Caracol feels lacking without them.

Final verdict: A must-try for HRW! Even though the non-vegetarian dinners at Caracol are $45 (as opposed to $35 at some restaurants) you get four courses and so much food for the price. I came home with leftovers enough for another complete dinner. If I were to go back, I'd probably opt for the wine pairings as well, as each pairing is only an additional $25 to $28 more. Whether Caracol is one of your old favorites or you've never been, give the place a try for HRW, and don't forget a tasty blue margarita while you're there.

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Kaitlin Steinberg