Chef/Owner of Hugo's and Backstreet Cafe
Mexico City-born Chef Hugo Ortega is living the American Dream. He immigrated from Mexico to Houston and began in the restaurant business as a dishwasher at Backstreet Café. He moved to the kitchen, graduated from culinary school and is now its executive chef/owner. He also crated Montrose-set Hugo's restaurant and Caracol in the Uptown area.
There, he's rediscovered the foods of his homeland, serving up Authentic Regional Mexican cuisine and gaining national nods on Bon Appetit's "Top Table" list and as a "Restaurant We Love" in Gourmet magazine.
Ortega was a James Beard Award finalist for Best Chef: Southwest in 2015 and launched his first cookbook, Street Foods of Mexico several years ago.
Favorite type of cuisine...Recently, I was introduced to Indian and Pakistani cuisine, and I love that type of spice and food.
In one word, Houston is...GREAT!
One thing in Houston I haven't experienced yet, but would like to...A half triathlon. I'm a bad swimmer, but I'm working on it! I bicycle. I have a road bike and a mountain bike--I love cycling. I'm a decent runner, but I'm struggling with the swimming. Maybe they can give me a break, and I can cook!
Favorite local ingredients...Blue crabs.
Favorite place to shop for ingredients...I go to Central Market, Whole Foods, Fiesta and HEB. For Mexican, I go to a Mexican market on Airline called Canino's, and sometimes I shop at the Asian markets in Bellaire.
Houston's hidden gem...Downtown! I think Downtown has nice potential, and we need to support the businesses in Downtown. I think it can really be interesting.
Favorite part of town...It's got to be Montrose. I came here back in 1984, and I used to live just down the street, and now, today it's beautified completely. Just look at where the city is today. It's up to us--we have to make it better!
Inspiration for my menu...Mexican ingredients, spices and culture are my inspiration, as well as travel.
Favorite off-the-beaten-path restaurant...I haven't been to any new ones, but I've been to Latin Bites. And Himalaya, where my friend cooks Indian and Pakistani cuisine. It's very intense, and that's what I like.
Why Houston?...I consider myself a Houstonian now. I've been living here since '84, what is that? 29 years? And my wife and daughter are here and friends. This is our city, and we have to make it better.
How Houston's culinary scene stacks up to the rest of the country...I think it's our time to shine!
Explaining Houston to outsiders...Magnificent! Magnificent in many ways.
Always in my refrigerator at home...Chiles Curtidos (pickled jalapenos). I always put chiles curtidos on my sandwiches and in soups to give them an extra kick.
If I weren't a chef, I'd...be a music composer. I love music.
Favorite cocktail...Bloody Mary.