Los Cucos Signature Cafe
BY MIKE PUCKETT
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Los Cucos Signature Mexican Café is located off Studewood just past E11th in the Heights. If you have been in Houston very long, chances are that you have heard about Los Cucos as there are over 23 locations in and around town.
All branches of the Los Cucos chain are known for carrying on the family tradition of delicious, authentic Mexican food at the best possible value. However, the Signature Mexican Café is a novel concept featuring both new and classic menu items with an innovative twist. Expect the unexpected…
The first thing I noticed as we walked up to the Café is the spacious outdoor patio encased by a beautiful red-brick building. Right off the bat, it’s obvious this isn’t just any ‘ole Los Cucos. The patio has plenty of seating and a comfortable lounge area that’s just perfect for springtime in Houston.
Inside, it’s apparent that a lot of love and attention to detail was put into this location. Beautiful art and decorative pieces are strategically placed around the wide, open dining area. The well-stocked bar is just to the left as you walk in. As you can see by the photography, it has a large number of monitors so you can catch the action from just about anywhere in the restaurant. It’s definitely the best place to be if you want to keep on top of the score!
As we walked in, we had the good fortune to be greeted by one of the owners, Sergio. He was happy to provide me with first-hand information about the wholesome and healthy menu offered at the Signature Café. Many hungry Houstonians will be delighted to hear that most of the ingredients used in their recipes are gluten-free, fat-free and contain no MSG – a big plus in a health-conscious area like the Heights. Sergio then filled me in on some background information about the family and how they still, to this day, are involved in everything from restaurant planning and construction to daily operations to menu design. What a great story!
Well, we didn’t want to waste any time getting this experience underway. I was anxious to try their specialty Margaritas that so many people are raving about. We ordered the Berry Berry Margarita; a wonderful blend of Avion Reposado, Grand Marnier, blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, lime juice and agave nectar. We also ordered the Mango Chamoy, my personal favorite, which delightful mix of Maestro Dobel Reposado, fresh mango, Chamoy and organic agave nectar. You can’t go wrong with either Margarita as both are sweet, fruity and mixed perfectly using only the freshest ingredients!
We decided to order a couple of appetizers to have with the margaritas. Now, I believe the best way to evaluate any Mexican restaurant is by its guacamole. In my eyes, this classic Mexican dish offers a prime example of the passion for good food and attention to detail in any restaurant. Well, my eyes had 20 – 20 vision into Los Cucos Signature Café’s devotion to great, authentic Mexican food. The guacamole we had here might not have quite the flavor that you are used to, but its extraordinary taste is what makes it stand out. The corn tortillas are made with hibiscus flowers resulting in a guacamole that is unique and delightful. The Guacamole Veracruz is prepared by first grinding the avocado in a molcajete (a tool made of volcanic stone, similar to a mortar and pestle), accompanied by a brunoise of tomato, white onion, and serrano peppers and just a touch of citrus and served with fresh cheese and crispy corn and hibiscus tortillas. Wow, this would be a great Happy Hour meal at the bar along with the specialty margaritas… hint, hint!
We also ordered the Clasico Ceviche; ground shrimp, onions, cilantro, tomatoes and jalapeno, marinated in lime juice and salt until “cooked”, and served with fresh avocado and crackers. I have tried hundreds of ceviche recipes from all over the world and I must say that this was as tasty as any of the others. I was very impressed with the job Los Cucos Signature Café did here. They have stayed true to the classic version that we have all grown to love, but just stepped it up a notch.
We ordered two entrées and split them to get a taste of what the Café does best. First, we sampled the Quesadillas las Quecas; a hand-made corn hibiscus (jamaica) tortilla filled with home-made Oaxaca cheese and rich, flavorful beef tips cooked in the restaurant’s signature sauce. I thought I had died and gone to heaven! Such exquisite flavor just bursts from this quesadilla. Vacation! This is the type of entrée that, if I were to get a craving for it on a Saturday afternoon, I wouldn’t hesitate to hop in the car and drive across town just to enjoy it. Wow, I am extremely impressed with this dish.
We also ordered a fan favorite, the Costillas al Ancho; braised beef ribs, brushed with ancho chile purée and finished on the grill. The dish comes accompanied with sweet corn. As the photography perfectly displays, the meat just falls off the bone. This entrée was so rich in flavor and sweet corn has always ranked among my favorite sides. You can’t miss with either of these entrées.
Los Cucos Signature Mexican Café did not fall short when it came to the finale. Having spent the last 10 years in Southern California, I have enjoyed my fair share of Churros, all the way from Baja to L.A., but the mini Churros served here were just like little cinnamon doughnuts, absolutely incredible! Served with a special blend of Hot Chocolate, it was great way to end a wonderful meal. I can only imagine what this delectable dessert would taste like on a cold Houston evening. I also ordered my favorite Mexican dessert, a creamy and moist Tres Leches Cake (from Spanish, “three milks cake”). This classic Mexican treat is a sponge cake soaked in a mixture of different types of milks. Another must-try dessert!
Well, when all is said and done, I must admit I am very impressed with what this family is doing at the Los Cucos Signature Mexican Café. Keep in mind that the dining experience at the Signature location is more upscale than at the traditional Los Cucos.
PHOTOGRAPHY: MIKE PUCKETT
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