Over the course of the next few months, I'm counting down 100 of my favorite Houston dishes. I chose some because they are such quintessential Houston creations, others for their cultural or historical significance, and others because they are just so damn tasty. Share your own nominations in the comments.
#39 Mole Poblano at Hugo's
Ever since it opened in 2002, Hugo's has been the best Mexican restaurant in the city. In the 2003 "Best of Houston" issue, the Houston Press named Hugo's Houston's "Best Restaurant," period. The restaurant roasts its own cocoa beans and grinds them by hand in an old-fashioned stone mill imported from Oaxaca. The fresh-ground cocoa paste is used to make its signature mole.
"Very few restaurants in Puebla serve mole poblano," Hugo Ortega says. "Because everybody's grandmother makes it better."
The mole poblano at Hugo's is velvet on the tongue. The incredibly smooth texture combines the rich taste of dried chiles, the fresh-ground cocoa paste, toasted sesame seeds, aromatic almonds and other nutty flavors. And then there is a deeper wave of flavor, a complex fruitiness and a shining high note of tartness.
"That's the raisins and the plantains," Hugo confides.
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American foodies make the mistake of thinking that reading Diana Kennedy or Rick Bayless's cookbooks is all it takes to master Mexican cuisine. Cookbooks only skim the surface. Native chefs like Ortega are a reminder of how deep Mexico's culinary traditions really go.
The Ortega family has mole in their blood. A relative of Hugo's makes the mole at the restaurant. "She learned from her mother, who learned from her mother and so on. [Her] mole poblano is fourth-generation. You should taste the mole that my grandmother makes back in Puebla," Hugo says with a grin.
The list to date:
#100: Green Chile Chicken Kebabs at Chatkhara Grill #99: The All-Day Burrito at Cherry Top Bakery #98: "You Buy We Fry" Trout Basket at Hank's Fish Market #97: Chicharron de Barriga at La Michoacana Meat Market # 10 #96: Pakistani Breakfast at Kings Chicken #95: Fried Mojarra at Taqueria Jesus Maria #94: Chocolate-Peanut Butter Cake Ball at Coffee Groundz #93:Cheeseburger at Leonard's Famous Burgers #92: Lasagna at Doyle's #91: Cochinita Pibil at Tacos La Bala #90: Fajita Tacos at Taqueria El Charro #89: Kubideh and Zereshk Polo at Kasra Persian Grill #88: Trentino Gelato's Dulce de Leche at Shisha #87: Deviled Eggs at Nielsen's Deli #86: Italian-Cuban Sandwich at Logan Farms #85: Vegetable Trio in Sichuan Sauce at Spicy Sichuan #84: Salchi-Burger at Brisa Cocina #83: El Ultimo Taco Truck's Breakfast Tacos #82: Kielbasa on a Sizzling Comal at Polonia #81: Shrimp and Grits at Bistro Alex, Hotel Sorella #80: A Bowl of Chili at James Coney Island #79: Lamb Dumplings at Lucky Pot #78: Crazy Irishman Sushi Roll at Soma #77:Tesar's "Magic" Burger #76: Mac n' Cheese at Two Saints #75: Spicy Armenian Kebabs at Café Rita #74: Jalapeño Gefilte Fish at Rustika #73: Greek Burger at the Hubcap Grill #72: The Basil Inferno at Thai Bistro #71: Paella at Rioja on Kirkwood #70: The Big Adrian Burger at Adrian's Local Café #69: Dulce de Leche Ice Cream Bar at La Paletera #68: Indonesian Deviled Eggs at Rice Bowl II #67: Al Pastor Quesadillas at Tierra Caliente Meat Market #66: Boudin Kolaches at Shipley's on North Main #65: Banh Cuon at Tay Ho 18 in Hong Kong City Mall #64: Cumin Lamb at Chinese Halal Cuisine on Bellaire #63: Stuffed Artichoke at Mint Café on Sage #62: Italian Sausage Pie at Russo's Coal Oven Pizza #61: Tom Kha Gai at Thai Choice on Wilcrest #60: Torta Cubano Estilo Mexicano at El Amigo Taco Truck #59: Whataburger Triple Meat, Triple Cheese with Bacon and Jalapeños #58: The Banana, Ghiradelli Chocolate Chip and Dulce de Leche Empanada at The Original Marini's #57: The Barbecue Brisket and Egg Breakfast Taco at Plantation BBQ Trailer #56: Chicken-Fried Steak at Frank's Chop House #55: Catfish and Grits at the Breakfast Klub #54: Bun Bo Hue at Kim Chau #53: Beef Tips at Davis Meat Market #52: Moules Frites at Jeanine's Bistro #51: The Fajita Taco at the Taconazo Truck #50: Frito Pie at the Rio Verde Taco Truck #49: Ceviche at Yelapa #48: African-American Beef Links at Bar-B-Que Done Right #47: Pasta with Fresh Peas, Ham and Mushrooms at Ciao Bello #46: Ice Cream at Hank's #45: Oysters with Lardons and Leeks at Brocante #44: Steak Tikka at Himalaya #43: Barbacoa Soup at De Buey Y Vaca #42: Banh Mi Xiu Mai at Don Cafe #41: The BBQ Burger at Guy's Meat Market #40: Indian Borsch at Indika