First Taste: The undiscovered Habaneros Mex-Grill
Polo Becerra is well-known as the proprietor of Post Oak Grill and the eponymous Polo's Signature, but his new Habaneros Mex-Grill in Midtown remains largely undiscovered.
And that's kind of a shame. Walking up for my first trip days after the opening, the smell of fajita meat sizzling on a grill on the patio immediately activated my every salivary gland. Becerra calls the cuisine upscale Mexican, but the menu as we tried it was safely in the Tex-Mex category, albeit with a few pleasant tweaks.
For example, the queso is thin, not overly thick or congealed, with a blend of jack and manchega cheeses that impart a bit of delicious sharpness. The borracho beans are outstanding — the beer flavor really shines through — and queso blanco is crumbled on the refried beans and other places around the plate, which is my go-to clue that the traditional Mexican flavors and ingredients haven't been totally subverted.
But the real standout here is the meat. Where fajita steak and chicken is often taken from inferior cuts and disguised by thin chopping, overseasoning or overcooking, this is steak that deserves the name. It's thick, flavorful and cooked to perfection. It's the kind of meat that takes effort to tear apart, in a good way, whether it comes in enchiladas, a burro (Habanero's term for a burrito) or on a fajita platter, served on a sizzling pagoda-like creation.
When it came to the aforementioned burros, on our first visit they were thin, tightly wrapped and served sauceless, the better to pick up like a wrap or like a burrito from one of the gourmet fast food chains. On a second trip, the burro was a more standard Tex-Mex, covered in a spicy tomato sauce with queso and sour cream also on top. Whatever your preference, they had a flavor richness and a spiciness that doesn't come standard at the Tex-Mex spots around town.
For a totally different lunch, Habaneros also offers American-style sandwiches, we assume for Tex-Mex-phobes outvoted during an office lunch outing. We wanted to try them, honestly, but we can't quite bring ourselves to munch on a sammie while everyone else's lunch sizzles.
The upscale Mexican description might be a but of a misnomer. The atmosphere is nice but not overly fancy—Habaneros lies somewhere between the Ninfa's and Cafe Adobe types and white tablecloth restaurants like Hugo's and Brisa Cocina Mexicana. But the quality of what I tasted was well above the price point.
For now, it's alright with me if Habaneros stays undiscovered (hey, walking in and snagging a corner table doesn't suck), but if they keep grilling that delicious-smelling meat outside, inquiring taste buds are bound to drop in.