When Julio and Amber Garcia, the duo behind the highly heralded Ambriza Social Mexican Kitchen announced they were signing a deal to expand their operations into Cypress, they became the latest in a series of restaurateurs to see the suburb as something of a Promised Land.
The restaurant will open at 9945 Barker Cypress Rd. in the Boardwalk development on Towne Lake in July.
"Cypress needs better restaurants," Julio tells CultureMap. He founded Ambriza two-and-a-half years ago, bringing the comfort food of his native Mexico to Houston's Champions area. "It has your typical big chain, big box restaurants. But honestly, the people that live in Cypress are well-educated and well-traveled and they need us."
"They're foodies," Amber interjects; Julio agrees.
"They understand food," he elaborates, "and they need something like this."
Ambriza's combination of casual, welcoming atmosphere paired with an approachable, affordable menu of comfort dishes like street corn, enchiladas, steaks, and seafood, has earned it a devoted following and a slew of awards, including one for its signature cucumber margarita.
The restaurant sources authentic ingredients, such as the unique Menonita cheese created by northern Mexico’s Mennonite community, and products Julio has found traveling to regional mezcal, tequila, and mole festivals in Mexico. Julio says it's important his diners feel like they are eating in Mexico, and not just experiencing an Americanized version of his native cuisine. So far, he says, he's been rewarded for his efforts; his customers tell him regularly they've come in from Katy, Sugar Land, and The Woodlands to sample Ambriza's fare.
The new location will keep Ambriza's easy vibe and many of its menu items.
"But we're going to change the decor a little bit," says Amber. "It'll be a little more sexy, softer colors, more sleek."
The couple plans to locate the bar in the middle of the restaurant, giving seating for 28 — nearly double what the Champions location has. There will also be an entirely open kitchen, so diners can see the chef and team at work. There will also be a private dining area. The interior is "beautiful," says Julio, and was designed by Arizona-based group CMDA, the group responsible for North Italia and True Food Kitchen. Adding to the original touches are hand painted plates and hand-crafted glass and silverware from Mexico.
"But the social aspect is staying the same," Amber promises. "Our Latin Nights have been crazy popular. They're not going away."
The menu, too, says Julio, will stay pretty much intact from Ambriza Vintage, although he's not ruling out offering a smaller menu of featured items that will be different in each location. And he's working to bring in wines from Mexico, to help diners see how the country has upped its wine game over the years.
What matters to the couple most, however, is that as they grow, they stay true to the core aspects of their food philosophy: to be a gathering place where people feel comfortable.
"You can come in after a softball game, in flip flops, or you can dress up for date night," Amber says. "And you'll have great service and feel like you belong."
"I think people will see the pride we take in what we do when they come in," says Julio. "We'll give you authentic, fresh, comfort food."
Ambriza Social Mexican Kitchen; 9945 Barker Cypress Rd, Cypress.