Houston's Best Mexican

Houston's best secret Mexican restaurant: Other restaurateurs love this under-the-radar gem

Houston's best secret Mexican restaurant: Foodies love this gem

Maria Selma Restaurant Houston rice, mole and beans
I usually stick with the enchiladas poblanas because the mole is very good at Maria Selma. Maria Selma/Google
Maria Selma Mexican Restaurant exterior day
If you havent', you should try the orange restaurant on Richmond Avenue, Maria Selma. Photo by Marene Gustin
Maria Selma Restaurant Houston interior dining room and bar
It doesn’t hurt that the flat screen over the bar at Maria Selma is usually tuned to soccer games and shows Rick Bayless’ cooking show on Saturday mornings. GoogleMaps
Maria Selma Restaurant Houston interior dining room
Inside the dining area are yellow, textured walls, a few tables in the center and two elevated sections along the side and back walls with bench seating. Maria Selma Restaurant/Google
Maria Selma Restaurant Houston ceviche
There's a nice looking seafood selection at Maria Selma. Maria Selma/Facebook
Maria Selma Restaurant Houston margaritas on bar
Oh, and they have their own house tequila, Rene’s Special Blend a Maestro Dobel blend. Maria Selma/Facebook
Maria Selma Restaurant Houston thatched-roof patio
Owner Rene Hidalgo added a giant thatched palapa to the patio. Maria Selma/Google
Maria Selma Restaurant Houston ceramic frog
Look at the decorations on the patio, like ceramic Mexican lizards, toads and such. Maria Selma/Facebook
Maria Selma Restaurant Houston rice, mole and beans
Maria Selma Mexican Restaurant exterior day
Maria Selma Restaurant Houston interior dining room and bar
Maria Selma Restaurant Houston interior dining room
Maria Selma Restaurant Houston ceviche
Maria Selma Restaurant Houston margaritas on bar
Maria Selma Restaurant Houston thatched-roof patio
Maria Selma Restaurant Houston ceramic frog

Sure, in Houston you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a Tex-Mex or Mexican restaurant and we all have our favorites, but lately I’ve run into a lot of folks who have never been to Maria Selma Restaurant.

If you're one of them let me explain why you should try the orange restaurant on Richmond Avenue.

I can’t remember the first time I came here, or why, but it was years and years ago. Owner Rene Hidalgo, who worked at the old Brownstone and Bistro Vino, opened Maria Selma in 2002. Back then the restaurant was at the end of a strip center that housed a package store and a used bookstore. Over the years Hidalgo's taken over the two stores, turning them into a private dining room for Maria Selma and a sports bar. Now the entire strip center is painted a vibrant orange.

He also added a giant thatched palapa to the patio, decorating the underside with ceramic Mexican lizards, toads and such. It’s a pretty cool patio with a little water feature. There’s a second patio out back behind the sports bar as well.

 Think Mexican dishes that are lower in fat than you usually find. 

Inside it’s like you imagine some little taqueria South of the border looks. Only cleaner.

Yellow, textured walls, a bar with all the requisite colorful tequila bottles behind it, a few tables in the center and two elevated sections along the side and back walls with bench seating. Some of the paintings on the walls are representative of Mexican art, some are by contemporary local artists. It’s a very casual, cool vibe.

Of course, the real draw here is the food.

I’m a big fan of El Real Tex-Mex for its authentic vintage border food cooked in real lard rendered in the kitchen.

But I equally like the food at Maria Selma even though it is a completely different taste. Here the kitchen turns out dishes made from fresh, healthy ingredients, many imported from Mexico. Think Mexican dishes that are lower in fat than you usually find. They also offer gluten-free, vegetarian and Atkins diet options.

Non-Greasy Tex-Mex

Maria Selma has a nice looking seafood selection — although I’ve never made it that far. I usually stick with the enchiladas poblanas because the mole is very good. I used to like coming here for a working lunch ($3 margaritas and free Wi-Fi!). But lately I’ve been hitting the restaurant on Saturday mornings for the weekend breakfast menu.

 “It’s my favorite Mexican restaurant,” Vallone says. “The food is so fresh and light, not greasy.” 

Not only do they open at 10 a.m. on weekends, but you can order off the regular menu or the breakfast side. And it’s more than just breakfast tacos (although Selma's has those and they are yummy) and migas. There are plates of huevos motuleños — sliced ham topped with fried eggs and black beans, jalapenos, onions and tomatoes — and cactus omelets. All plates come with a slice of orange and chilaquiles, more than enough food to fuel your weekend plans.

There’s also a full plate of those chilaquiles topped with chicken and sour cream. Get the tangy green sauce on them, it’s better than the red. Lighter eaters can choose buttermilk pancakes or fruit and yogurt, but it’s doubtful your margarita will pair well with those options. Oh, and Selma's has its own house tequila, Rene’s Special Blend — a Maestro Dobel blend.

It doesn’t hurt that the flat screen over the bar, usually tuned to soccer games, shows Rick Bayless’ cooking show on Saturday mornings. Mexico: One Plate at a Time will just make you hungrier.

I almost hate to tell you about Saturday mornings here because it’s my secret place. Usually it’s just me and one other table there. And, occasionally, restaurateur Tony Vallone and his family.

“It’s my favorite Mexican restaurant,” Vallone says. “The food is so fresh and light, not greasy.”

Now that’s a recommendation.