Hugo Ortega’s new Houston restaurant URBE serves all-day avenue meals

James Beard Award winning chef Hugo Ortega and multiple James Beard Award semi-finalist restaurateur Tracy Vaught are known for the fine Mexican cuisine in which they are served Hugos, cross and slug. However, it is golden taquitos in the cookbook by Xochi and Ortega, Hugo Ortega’s Street Food from Mexico, showcasing the diverse cuisine of the Mexican street stalls are an inspiration for many dishes in the couple’s restaurants. Now they have opened a restaurant dedicated to Mexican street food: CITY. Located in 1101 Uptown Park, in the same mall as Etoile Cuisine Et Bar and Giant Leap Coffee, the eatery – whose name is Spanish for “city” – offers a light, relaxed atmosphere, with counter service and a more casual menu for breakfast, lunch and weekend brunch and seat service for dinner, which has just been added.

URBE’s shop window in Uptown Park. Photo by Ryan Baker.

Breakfast at URBE

Chilaquiles are a staple food found in many places serving Mexican breakfast. Typically, it’s a simple dish of quartered and deep-fried corn tortillas (chips if they’re lazy) with beans, eggs, cheese, and salsa, gently cooked until the tortillas soften. Ortega’s version shows his willingness to play with dishes. Instead of the traditional tortillas, he uses homemade blue corn totopos filled with beans. The totopos gives the dish an unusual, but not repulsive, thickness and texture. The masa rectangles are thrown into a mild and slightly sour tomatillo salsa and with a running egg with the sunny side up, an (almost imperceptible) queso fresco, a Mexican-style crema, fresh coriander and a few thin radish slices as an addition garnished with a striking splash of color.

Despite so many components, the dish feels alive and most of the individual flavors stand out enough to be noticed. While the dense texture of the filled masa is a bite and may take a moment to get used to, URBE has successfully created a one-of-a-kind version of chilaquiles.

Other breakfast starters include the familiar Huevos Rancheros and Pambazo cake, a Mexican sandwich that’s usually filled with potatoes and chorizo, although URBE’s version is filled with chorizo, avocado, fried black beans, queso fresco, pickled jalapeno, radish, salsa costeña, and an egg sunny side up. The bread of the torta is dipped in a deep red, peppery sauce and then grilled.

Of course, no street food concept in Houston can be missing without it Breakfast tacos. URBE offers three. Each option is filled with eggs, potatoes, raja (strips of poblano chili), onions, and Chihuahua cheese. The customer can only choose the egg and potato version or add either pork carnitas or beef brisket.

Mexican pastriesA selection of baked goods from URBE. Photo by Paula Murphy.

Desserts and cakes

At the service counter, embedded between the two cash registers, there is a showcase with a generous selection of classic Mexican desserts and pastries. Probably the most famous staple of Mexican baked goods, the concha is practically an exercise to see how many calories fit into a single sweet bun by topping it with a crust of a combination of fat and sugar. URBE’s conchas are unusually light and airy, while the crust retains a firm crunch.

Likewise URBEs Chocolate chip cookies differ from what customers can expect from some Panaderia style cookies. Instead of a dense, scones-like texture, the shortbread-based version of the restaurant crumbles with minimal effort. Rather than relying heavily on sweetness, the cookies let butter flavors take the lead, punctuated only by bites of chocolate chips.

As you’d expect from a James Beard Award-winning chef restaurant in a Galleria area address, pastries and desserts are priced higher than you’d see in a traditional panaderia.

overheard look at three soft tacosSweet potato tacos las frazas at URBE. Photo by Paula Murphy.

Lunch and brunch

The lunch menu is extensive – much of it revolves around masa and the many forms it takes in Mexican cuisine. Options include huarache, a sandal-shaped masa cake with carnitas, rajas, bean puree, salsa verde, crema and queso fresco; and chubby, a thick masa bag filled with carnitas, chicharron, bean puree and salsa verde. Of course there is a large selection of the most popular uses of masa: Tacos. Options include the usual favorites from pastor, from birria and Grill. However, there are also some special tacos, such as Charcoal squid tacos with charred octopus, onions, coriander, chilica peppers and chipotle tomatillo salsa. There are also vegetarian options such as: Tacos de Sweet Potato Las Brazas, that is filled with roasted sweet potatoes, goat cheese, pumpkin seeds, salsa macha and requesón cheese.

There are also three tortas on the lunch menu: a Pork drowned cakeSoaked in sauce like the pambazo; Chicken Milanesa and Minced meat burger served on a telera bun. Plus, URBE is massive Pork rind will likely get noticed on social media.

Customers can also purchase in bulk from the Para llevar menu which has features Carnitas, trompo, birria, brisket and barbecue Sold per pound, plus rice, beans, salsa, and guacamole by the pint.

URBE hosts instead of lunch on Saturday and Sunday brunch from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The menu combines a reduced selection from the lunch menu with a handful of items from the breakfast menu, such as Huevos Rancheros and Chilaquiles.

large chicharron with sidesURBE’s Chicharrón for brunch, lunch and dinner. Photo by Paula Murphy.

Dinner

After a soft opening with morning and afternoon service, URBE recently started offering dinner from Wednesday to Saturday from 5 to 9 p.m. In contrast to the counter service at breakfast, brunch and lunch, dinner at URBE is full service. The evening menu features many of the masa-based street foods found on the lunch menu, such as: tlacoyo, a filled masa cake with chickpea puree, crema, queso fresco, salsa costeña and watercress. In addition, customers will find appetizer-sized plates with barbacoa, birria, smoked chickena smoked half chicken with salsa albañil and papas bravas) and Carnitas, or slow cooked pork served with beans, Mexican rice, salsa albañil and tortillas.

URBE Rita with passion fruit agave nectar. Photo by Paula Murphy.

The bar

The beverage program developed by renowned beverage directors Sean Beck, emphasizes the restaurant’s Mexican influences, with tequila and mezcal taking up the back of the bar. There is also a small but well-considered selection of whiskeys, gins and rums, including a handful of Mexican rums. There are two frozen drinks on the cocktail menu. One is that Roasted mojito which contains a central Mexican spirit, Charanda, which is similar to rum. It gives the mint-infused cocktail a sharp, grassy bite that’s covered in roasted, blended fruits.

The restaurant offers four margaritas. The Margarita House, right? URBE Rita, replaces the orange flavor of a traditional recipe with a light mixture of passion fruit and agave. The drink is well balanced, with a quarter of the glass lined with a layer of light citrus salt, allowing customers to alternate between subtle and bold flavors.

Beck offers two wine-based cocktails: Sangria and the less common Kalimtxowho combines red wine, Mexican cola, and a spicy tincture. The drinks menu is rounded off with a handful micheladas and several Mexican beers, with artisanal offers from the breweries Monstruo De Agua and Colibre as well as classics such as Modelo, Dos XX and Pacifico.

In addition, URBE offers several Wines, including some from Mexican manufacturers, such as White Ochoa Mist from Guadalupe, Mexico and Santo Thomas Tempranillo Mixture from Baja, Mexico.

The opening times of URBE during the Soft Opening are as follows: Tuesday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Wednesday to Friday from 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. clock

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