Recently, we posed the question: What's up with Upper Kirby? The recent rash of closings makes it clear that restaurants and bars come and go in this fickle business and there was no better example than the parade of restaurants that came and went on the busy corner of Richmond and Kirby. But among the bad news of the closings, good news comes from the fact that it doesn't look like Pico's is going anywhere, anytime soon.
Although, I had never eaten there I remember the old location of Pico's Mex-Mex in Bellaire fondly, I grew up in the neighborhood just a few blocks from there and my mom's hair salon was just down the street, so we passed it every single day. I remember thinking it was a pretty fancy place, the fountain and the covered patio standing out amongst the strip mall hole in the walls and the surrounding taquerias. A friend of mine ate there with his father at least once a month since he was a kid and when we heard they were moving he told me I'd finally know what I'd been missing out on.
At Pico's new location on Kirby -- where I've paid several visits -- there will almost always be a wait but you won't mind it if you just make your way to the bar and order one of their signature margaritas. They have a Mucho Grande that is 48 oz. if you're so inclined. The wait moves fairly quickly, you'll see the hostesses walking through the crowds holding up your name on a dry erase board because it gets pretty loud in there (48 oz. margaritas and all.) A little bit of a wait also gives you a chance to look at the menu; trust me you'll need the time to decide.
If you want to stick with the traditional fajitas here, I wouldn't fault you for it. The Fajitas al Carbón are done simply and well. The portion for one ($17) is plenty for a reasonably hungry person or you could order that along with a few things and share it, like the Pescador ceviche ($10) -- the lime-marinated fresh snapper and Gulf shrimp with onions, tomatoes, serrano peppers, cilantro and avocado is light and refreshing. The Enchiladas de Espinacas ($16) is another great dish. Sautéed organic baby spinach and roasted almonds are rolled in fresh corn tortillas and topped with a poblano cream sauce and Chihuahua cheese. The spinach wasn't mushy from being overcooked and the almonds added great flavor and crunch.
For a more exciting dish you have to try the Conejo Relleno en Mole Almendrado ($18) rabbit that is stuffed with green olives and mushrooms with an almond mole. The mole is sweet, smoky, spicy and savory.
The best part of all the dishes that they are served with, are the homemade tortillas, I always go with corn and the corn tortillas here are wonderfully thick and have a slight sweetness that complements everything so well.
This is where I'll let you in on a little secret -- because I like everything far too spicy, I asked for hot sauce, fully expecting to be given a bottle of Cholula or Valentino, only to presented with two small bowls of a house made sauces. The first, a dark thick arbol chile sauce. It has a smoky flavor and the heat slowly hits you. The second, a light orange habanero-tomato sauce. One would expect just heat with this one but it had a hint of sweetness and was very subtle in intensity -- it lingered in the back of your palate. I struck gold with these and have asked for them every visit.
I can't compare Pico's now and then for those that say the move has changed their food and service. I can say that service was good, not great, and definitely slow -- but that's to be somewhat expected with the crowds. And I can say, that the food I've tried has been exceptional, and in a town so full of choices, it's one I'll keep coming back to -- and I'll keep asking for the "secret sauces."