One of the things I absolutely LOVE about Houston is that you can dine on dishes from around the world without leaving the 610 Loop. I flew my tastebuds to Oaxaca, Mexico, by way of Xochi in downtown Houston.
FYI: This is NOT Tex-Mex. It’s straight up Mex-Mex fancified in the absolute best way. Hugo Ortega and Tracy Vaught — aka THE power couple in Houston’s dining scene — are both James Beard-recognize restaurateurs and are an inspiration to all. Their concepts aim to be an EXPERIENCE for dinners, and Xochi DEFINITELY takes you on a wild ride.
Here are five things you can do at Xochi that you pretty much can’t do anywhere else.
1. Eating queso with a “trio of insects”
When I’m at at Mexican restaurant, my first move is ordering a marg and queso. I was feeling more hungry than thirsty on the night I was at Xochi, so I skipped right to the Antojitos part of the menu. Then, I saw it: Queso. (Probably in my top 5 favorite things in life — not even food specific.) For some reason, I was distracted by another favorite: Oysters. A half dozen for $10! This sounded like an amazing deal for a fancy restaurant and I jumped on it, leaving the queso at the wayside. The oysters came, they were fresh and delicious, then I revisited to see something I missed before about the queso. THERE WERE BUGS IN IT? The Queso del Rancho ($13.00) is a “housemade queso de cincho, chicharrones, trio of insects (gusanos, chicatanas, chapulines), huaxmole rojo.” A quick google search of these little critters reveals they are worms, flying ants and grasshoppers, respectively, and a big ‘ole NOPE for most of us, however, counterpoint: If you were going to eat a “trio of insects,” would you not want it in a bowl of cheese? I rest my queso.
2. Tableside margaritas
I showed up late to my dinner party at Xochi (whoops) and shortly after settling into my seat, several servers surrounded us — shakers in hand. They all assumed the position behind the dinner guests, cast sidelong glances at each other, and, completely insync, started shaking their ice- and margarita-filled shakers. I was so confused — is this what heaven looks like? Sitting, stuffing your face, while margaritas are mixed around you? Wow, just wow.
3. Tasting a flight of mole sauces
Holy mole, y’all. A very confusing mole menu sits on the side of the dinner menu at Xochi. Mole = enchilada sauce and Hugo Ortega believes v passionately in the flavors and variety of mole. In fact, he argues, by way of his menu, that things served with mole are merely the vehicles for the sauces’ flavors. Fair. You can taste test four different mole sauces on tortillas for just $15. Yes, it’s just four sauces in four dishes while you dip corn tortillas in them. It’s pretty tasty and not at all weird, I swear.
4. Ordering off a James Beard Award-winning menu
Ok, obviously this is less specific, and yes, technically you can do this at Ortega’s other restaurants, but there’s something exciting about ordering off Xochi’s menu. You know it’s going to be good. You know it’s not going to be like anything else you’ve had. From the sweet potato and brussel sprout sides to the lamb and enchiladas entrees, everything was pretty, tasty and perfect. Heck, I settled on the corn soup — Huitlasquites ($11) which was just corn soup, huitlacoche, mayo, queso fresco — and it was amazing! (I was kinda sick, hence: Soup.)
5. Trying candied ants
Gotta round out the evening with more bugs, right? Right. There’s a cake on the desert menu that’s a tamarind mole cake with mole ganache, mandarin sorbet, candied ants and strawberry chips. TBH, the thing that bugs (pun intended) me here is not the, well, bugs. It’s the fact that there’s MORE mole? Calm down, sir! In fact, I got a whole lot of ants constantly trying to break into my apartment so I’d love to eat some of those stubborn bastards to show ’em who’s boss.