Located in the former La Strada digs at San Felipe and Sage, this new seafood place is a welcome addition to the Houston restaurant scene. Jimmy Wilson’s owners have a long history serving seafood in Houston — Willie G’s, Landry’s (the originals, pre-Fertitta), Denis’ Seafood, and Babin’s. Their new endeavor has a sophisticated, contemporary feel you wouldn’t expect in a seafood joint — high ceilings, a wine wall, and warm woods create a warm, inviting atmosphere. But have no fear, there’s no need to dress up. And there’s plenty of traditional items to draw those folks who only eat seafood if it’s fried. With comparable prices, this place should attract a crowd similar to Tony Mandola’s on West Gray.
There’s a full bar (with a bit of a scene for the older crowd on weeknights), and a nice wine list. We’d heard the service was shaky, but we enjoyed good service both times we were there. There are many fish and seafood options, as well as steaks, on the extensive menu. The fresh fish available each day is listed on a flat screen television over the open kitchen. And this seems like a restaurant that would prepare your seafood pretty much anyway you want.
The first visit was an all-girls outing within a couple months of the restaurant’s opening. Everyone enjoyed the food, including a discriminating New Orleans food afficianado who approved the Redfish Courtbouillon, a house specialty. The crab cake, more aptly described as a crab tower, was little more than warmed very fresh lump crab meat, topped with more lump crab in a lemon butter sauce. Also a house specialty, it is easily one of the best crab cakes in town. All entrées come with two sides, including a variety of salads, vegetables, and starches, so you won’t go hungry.
On a recent visit, we hit the oyster bar, starting with Denis’ Baked Oysters. These were are our only real disappointment as variously sized (mostly ranging on the small side) oysters were topped with a few pieces of crab and massive amounts of cheese that left for a gloppy mess. Undeterred, we tried the Steamed Garlic Oysters, which were much better. A dozen (significantly larger) fresh oysters were lightly gilded with garlic butter and steamed. Since we can’t pass up calamari on a menu, the waiter accommodated our request for a half order. Very nicely fried and pleasant enough, though it probably wouldn’t make our Top Ten list. But the fresh tasting spicy marinara and homemade tartar sauce were nice additions. We then shared the soft shell crabs, agreeing with our waiter’s suggestion that deep fat fried was the way to go. Although not as good as Pico’s pan sautéed and garlic butter topped version, we still enjoyed these seasonal favorites. Jimmy Wilson’s has the frying thing down pretty well. We enjoyed the creole style fresh green beans, but couldn’t say the same for the mundane caesar salad. The greek salad tried on the first visit was a better choice.
And, as a final comment, we were pleased to see that, unlike many local establishments, Jimmy Wilson’s figures you can manage to park your own car in the large parking lot, so there’s no need for valet parkers who cone off most of the nearby spaces.
5161 San Felipe
Family in town one weekend gave us an occasion to return to this highly regarded Mexican restaurant known for its authentic, upscale cuisine. The restaurant, decorated in subtle and sophisticated hues of blue and red, is housed in a restored art deco building on Westheimer between Shepherd and Montrose. The room is spacious and open, with a high ceiling and large windows.
We have dined at Hugo’s a number of times, enjoying them all. No Tex-Mex here. The menu lists many interesting and enticing items, the large majority of which you wouldn’t find at Pappasitos or Ninfa’s (Navigation location or otherwise). And you pay for the freshly made chips and salsa. The seafood campechana is good, but it’s no Goode Company. We particularly enjoyed the lamb barbacoa. The cabrito, served in a banana leaf, was too bland, notwithstanding the side of habenero salsa. Hugo’s is well known for its variety of tequilas, including a number of interesting margaritas made with different tequilas. Served tableside on the rocks in a martini shaker, there’s no frozen stuff coming out of a machine here.
Our most recent visit was for the popular Sunday Brunch. Reservations are advisable. The only option is the bountiful buffet, so come hungry. Service was not as attentive as at other meals, and the band was a little loud. But the food was great. There were numerous hot and cold items, as well as a dessert table ladened with various sweets. Highlights included the guacamole (some of the best in town), napolitos salad, beef brisket in achiote, chile rellenas, chilaquiles, mushroom quesadillas, mini tostadas with refried black beans, squash blossom soup, seafood enchiladas, and meatballs stuffed with rice and queso fresco. Everything was wonderfully spiced, with varying degrees of heat. We weren’t too excited about a couple of the entree items — the tamales did not pass the test of seasoned tamale makers and the whole roasted baby pig lay on its side in a chafing dish that reminded one of us of a bassinet. (Apologies to anyone offended by that visual.) One of our Mexican-born diners thought the flan was very good, although the same could not be said for the Mexican hot chocolate.
Hugo’s is a great place to entertain visitors to Houston. In a lovely setting that makes for a special night out or a relaxing Sunday afternoon, you can enjoy a style of Mexican cooking that is unique among Houston’s many Mexican restaurants and, in all likelihood, to anything available in your visitors’ home towns. And, although you now have to go outside the Loop for Molina’s Jose’s Dip, if you must have some vivid yellow queso, there are plenty of places to go the next day (or just throw some Velveeta and Rotel tomatos into your crockpot).