Restaurants / Lists

Pioneering Houston Restaurants Touted as Icons by National Magazine

Why Himalaya and Hugo's Deserve All This Classic Love

BY // 10.05.19

New restaurants tend to be fawned over and feted like an Instagram influencer or hot sports prospect. Good ones get on all the lists — and feed off the national buzz. In many ways, the foodie world is built around discovering the latest and greatest.

And then crowing about it online.

A national magazine is breaking from that pack though and touting the New Classics, restaurants that are old enough to be forgotten about, but ones that shouldn’t be. That puts two Houston restaurants that have helped define dining in the nation’s fourth largest city back in the spotlight.

Both Himalaya and Hugo’s make GQ magazine’s New Classics. This isn’t like being included on any self-important local critic’s Top 100. This is GQ, one of the real restaurant bibles out there, and Brett Martin, one of the few legitimate national food critics remaining.

For Himalaya, which opened in 1994, and Hugo’s, which debuted in 2002, this is a welcome (and probably overdue) return to the spotlight.

GQ touts Kaiser and Azra Lashkari ‘s stewardship of Himalaya, even detailing the simple painting of women at the market that decorated the unassuming restaurant’s walls when it first opened. The painting happened to be a leftover from the shuttered Mexican restaurant that previously occupied the space in an unassuming strip mall.

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Of course, now Himalaya’s walls are filled with framed gushing write-ups of the restaurant from food writers around the world. One thing that hasn’t changed at Himalaya is the overflowing menu with everything from traditional Indian and Pakistani food to creative busts of fusion.

“All of it under Lashkari’s hand in the kitchen is eclectic with a revelatory clarity, structure and vibrancy,” Martin writes.

Hugo’s may have an even better story — with its chef/co-owner Hugo Ortega crossing the border from Mexico in the trunk of a Chevy Impala to even arrive in America. Ortega started his restaurant career as a dishwasher and become a James Beard Award winner. At the very least, Netflix needs to turn this into a limited series.

Of course, Hugo Ortega and Tracy Vaught’s love story stands at the heart of Hugo’s. This husband-and-wife duo are a team in every sense and this New Classic restaurant still reflects that.

“Hugo’s, which remains Hugo Ortega and Tracy Vaught’s flagship, introduced the cuisines (and, notably, drinks) of Mexico’s interior to what was overwhelmingly a Tex-Mex town. And it did so in swank environs that demanded the food be taken every bit as seriously as French or Italian,” Martin writes.

Himalaya and Hugo’s are two of only 22 restaurants on GQ’s list of New Classics. They are the only Texas restaurants to make the cut and join such legendary foodie meccas as Bouchon, Prune, Gramercy Tavern and Fig.

It’s good to be remembered, especially when you can still bring it. Himalaya and Hugo’s are still relevant because they’re still outstanding. Consider GQ‘s love a good reminder of what Houston has.

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