Hugo Ortega’s new URBE restaurant in Houston offers all-day street food
Award-winning chef James Beard Hugo ortega and James Beard Award semi-finalist restaurateur Tracy vaught are known for the high end Mexican cuisine they serve at Hugo’s, Xochi and Caracol. However, the golden taquitos to Xochi and Ortega’s cookbook, Hugo Ortega’s Mexican street food, that the varied dishes served by Mexican roadside stalls are a source of inspiration for many dishes at the couple’s restaurants. Today, they opened a restaurant dedicated to Mexican street food: URBE. Located at 1101 Uptown Park, in the same mall as Etoile Cuisine Et Bar and Giant Leap Coffee, the restaurant – whose name means ‘town’ – offers a light and relaxing atmosphere, with counter service and a more casual menu for just added breakfast, lunch, weekend brunch and sit-down dinner service.
Breakfast at URBE
Chilaquiles are a staple that can be found in many places that serve Mexican breakfast. Typically, this is a simple dish of corn tortillas cut into wedges and fried (crisps, if made lazily) topped with refried beans, eggs, cheese and salsa that are gently cooked until ‘until the tortillas start to soften. Ortega’s version shows her willingness to play with the dishes. Instead of using the traditional tortillas, he uses homemade blue corn totopos stuffed with refried beans. The totopos gives the dish an unusual but not off-putting thickness and texture. The masa rectangles are mixed with a sweet and slightly tangy tomatillo salsa and topped with a runny fried egg, a queso fresco (almost imperceptible), a Mexican cream, fresh cilantro and a few fines radish slices to add an eye-catching splash of color.
Despite so many components, the dish is vibrant and most of the individual flavors stand out enough to be noticed. While the dense texture of the filled masa is a mouthful, it may take a moment to adjust to it, URBE has succeeded in creating a unique version of chilaquiles.
Other breakfast main dishes include the familiar Huevos Rancheros and torta pambazo, a Mexican sandwich usually filled with potatoes and chorizo, although URBE’s version is stuffed with chorizo, avocado, fried black beans, queso fresco, pickled jalapeno, radish, salsa costeña, and a fried egg. The torta bread is dipped in a dark red and peppery sauce, then toasted.
Of course, no concept of street food in Houston would be complete without breakfast tacos. URBE offers three. Each option is filled with eggs, potatoes, raja (strips of poblano peppers), onions, and chihuahua cheese. The customer can choose only the egg and potato version or can add pork carnitas or beef brisket.
Posters and Pastels
At the service counter, tucked between the two registers, is a display case filled with a generous selection of classic Mexican desserts and pastries. Arguably the most famous staple of Mexican pastry cases, the conch is practically an exercise to see how many calories can fit in a single sweet bun by covering it with a crust formed from a combination of fat and sugar. URBE’s conchas are unusually light and airy, while the crust retains a solid crunch.
Likewise, URBE cakes with chocolate chips differ from what customers might expect from some panaderia style cookies. Instead of a dense scone-like texture, the restaurant’s shortbread version crumbles with minimal effort. Instead of relying heavily on sweetness, cookies allow buttery flavors to take over, interrupted only by bites of chocolate chips.
As you would expect from an award-winning chef James Beard’s restaurant at an address in the Galleria area, the prices for pastries and desserts are higher than you would see in a traditional panadaria.
Lunch and brunch
The lunch menu is extensive – much of it centers around masa and the many forms it takes in Mexican cuisine. Options include huarache, a sandal-shaped masa cake topped with carnitas, rajas, refried beans, salsa verde, crema and queso fresco; and Gorditas, a thick pocket of masa stuffed with carnitas, chicharron, refried beans and salsa verde. Of course, there is a wide selection of the most well-known uses for masa: Tacos. Options include usual favorites from al pastor, by birria and barbacoa. However, there are also several specialty tacos, such as carbon pulp tacos with charred octopus, onion, cilantro, chilaca peppers and chipotle-tomatillo salsa. In addition, there are vegetarian options, such as tacos de camote las brazas, Which one is filled with roasted sweet potato, goat cheese, pumpkin seeds, salsa macha and requesón cheese.
In addition, the lunch menu includes three tortas: one torta ahogada with pork, which, like pambazo, is dipped in sauce; Milanese chicken and minced breast burger served on a telera bun. In addition, the enormous chicharron is likely to attract attention on social media.
Customers can also buy in bulk from the para llevar menu, which offers carnitas, trompo, birria, brisket and barbacoa sold by the pound, as well as rice, refried beans, salsa and guacamole by the pint.
On Saturday and Sunday, instead of lunch, URBE welcomes brunch 10:00 am to 3:00 pm The menu combines a clean selection from the lunch menu with a handful of breakfast menu items such as huevos rancheros and chilaquiles.
After a smooth opening with only morning and afternoon service, URBE also recently added dinner from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. from Wednesday to Saturday. Unlike counter service for breakfast, brunch and lunch, URBE’s dinner is full service. The dinner menu features many of the masa-based street foods that can be found on the lunch menu, such as tlacoyo, a masa cake stuffed with mashed chickpeas, cream, queso fresco, salsa costeña and watercress. In addition, customers will also find plates of barbacoa, Birria, pollo ahumado (half a smoked chicken with albañil salsa and papas bravas) and carnitas, or simmered pork, served with refried beans, Mexican rice, salsa albañil and tortillas.
The Beverage Program, which was developed by a well-respected Beverage Manager Sean beck, emphasizes the restaurant’s Mexican influences, with tequila and mezcal receiving the most secluded bar space. There’s also a small but thoughtful selection of whiskeys, gins, and rums, including a handful of Mexican rums. The cocktail menu includes two frozen drinks. One is the Roasted Mojito which features a spirit of central Mexico, charanda, which is similar to rum. It gives a strong, grassy bite to the mint infused cocktail, which is topped with toasted and mashed fruit.
The restaurant offers four margaritas. The homemade margarita, or URBE Rita, replaces the orange flavor of a traditional recipe with a light passion-agave mixture. The drink is well balanced, with a quarter of the glass covered in a layer of shiny citrus salt, giving customers the flexibility to alternate between subtle or bold flavors.
Beck offers two wine-based cocktails: Sangria and the less common Kalimtxo, which combines red wine, Mexican Coke and a tincture of spices. The drinks menu is complemented by a handful of micheladas and many Mexican beers, with artisanal choices from Monstruo De Agua and Colibre breweries, as well as classics such as Modelo, Dos XX and Pacifico.
In addition, URBE offers several wines, including a few from Mexican producers, such as Bruma Ochoa Blanco from Guadalupe, Mexico and Santo Thomas Tempranillo blend from Baja, Mexico.
During the soft opening, URBE’s opening hours are as follows: Tuesday 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Wednesday to Friday 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.