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A culinary bridge to the East Coast? Cyclone Anaya's Gould revolution puts a new spin on Tex-Mex

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Chef Jason Gould of Cyclone Anaya's Photo by Matt Callahan

News that Jason Gould, lately of Gravitas had taken residence as corporate chef at Tex-Mex staple Cyclone Anaya's seemed unexpected when it broke in March.

"I've lived in Houston for this many years, I thought it was about time I explored Tex-Mex," Gould says. "And I love the story of Cyclone Anaya's and they were really willing to try some new things, to stay fresh."

But while the classic Cyclone Anaya's Tex-Mex dishes aren't going anywhere, Gould hasn't been afraid to take the menu to new places, aiming to draw in health-conscious eaters, gourmands and even Tex-Mex-phobes. Each location has a menu tailored to its clientele and will roll out the changes differently. But ground zero of Cyclone's Gould Revolution is at the Durham location, though if the rumored expansion to the East Coast happens his new cuisine could serve as a culinary bridge.

We started with the ceviche (not new but improved by some jumbo lump crab in addition to the shrimp, avocado and fresh lime and citrus mix), then sampled the new Caesar's salad, plucked from Italian blasé and updated with a spicy chipotle dressing instead of an anchovy-based topping. (My one complaint: the leafy ingredients could have been a bit more chopped, but minimalism is the unfortunate trend here.)

If your only idea of a soup with a Mexican flavor profile is a tepid tortilla soup, the new corn chowder with ancho-roasted croutons with be a revelation. Best of all it's thick with slightly spicy flavor yet light enough to enjoy year-round.

The duck empanadas are baked instead of the traditional fried, making the doughy exterior more than a little bit thick and chewy. With a yogurt-based sauce drizzled on top, it had a strong resemblance to something more Mediterranean.

The fish taco features grilled tilapia, and just a touch of avocado and pico de gallo in a soft corn tortilla. I am not generally a fan of fish tacos, but there were no fishy notes, and the tilapia was grilled just right.

But Gould saved the best for last when he brought out his new signature tamarind-braised beef short ribs. Slightly crispy around the edges with a melt-in-your-mouth interior, the ribs were a triumph, and only improved by the watermelon salad on the plate, completed by a stew of masa grits cooked with (and flavored by) corn, without there being any corn included. Do people make corn risotto? They should, if it would taste like this.

With that plate, as with its predecessors, Gould has left behind the staid and expected in a typical Tex-Mex joint, and merged into the mainstream culinary consciousness of global flavors with a focus on fresh presentation and re-imagining classics. Most will still head to Cyclone Anaya's for enchiladas and tamales, but hopefully these fresh, ambitious new dishes will get the attention they deserve.

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