For a neighborhood that's known for being Houston's nightlife hotspot, Midtown has surprisingly few places to eat after 11 p.m. Even on the weekends, the traditional option of Mai's has only been recently supplemented by Jinya Ramen, but, other than Cafe Layal and Christian's Tailgate, nothing exists right in the thick of the bustling scene on Bagby.
At least until Tuesday, when Rico's Morning + Noon + Night makes its debut at Bagby Park on the corner of Bagby and Gray. Rico's is a quick serve kiosk that offers breakfast, lunch, dinner and, on the weekends, late night eats. Named after Cyclone Anaya's owner Rico Valencia, the restaurant serves a menu of classic American fare like hamburgers and hot dogs developed by Cyclone's corporate chef Jason Gould.
"The main concept was to come up with something that would fit in well with this urban living environment and make it appealing to everybody," Gould says. "So we thought, 'what better than classic burgers and hot dogs?'"
Gould explains that the Midtown District wanted an attraction that would help make the park a destination to supplement the movie screenings and concerts that are already held at the space. Valencia pitched the Rico's concept that's able to maximize the 400 square foot kitchen by utilizing the Midtown location of Cyclone Anaya's for part of the prep. Free wifi and outlets mean that area residents have a new space to "work from home," particularly on sunny days.
If the idea of classic American fare and a park setting reminds some people of a certain New York-based, rapidly expanding fast food empire — i.e., Shake Shack — well, that's just a coincidence. "We don't want to think that we stole the idea," Gould says. "The big thing was, what will work in this space? We wanted to have food that we could produce, drinks that we could offer, beer and wine, which we think is great for a park environment. We figured burgers, beer and hot dogs was the best thing."
At breakfast, the menu features breakfast tacos as well as lighter items like orange juice, granola and smoothies. At lunch and dinner, Rico's offers hot dogs, burgers, fries and shakes, as well as beer and wine, all of which can be eaten in the restaurant's outdoor seating area or on the park's grass.
"Late night we're doing what we're labeling as 'drunk food'," Gould says. "It will kind of be a mish-mash of different things, more heavy on some things. Chili cheese fries will be on the regular menu, but maybe at night we'll put bacon in it and cook them in lard just to make them more interesting."
Rico's makes an effort to keep things as local as possible. Both the burger meat and the all-beef hot dogs come from 44 Farms, buns and rolls come from Slow Dough Bread Co. and the tomatoes are from Atkinson Farms. Beverage options include local craft beer and locally roasted Katz Coffee, as well as all-natural Maine Root sodas.
Of course, serving a six-ounce patty on a potato bun that's easy to hold with one hand won't slow down the Shake Shack comparisons, but only Rico's will serve it in Tex-Mex form topped with guacamole, jalapenos, salsa and queso. The H-Town dog features a bacon-wrapped hot dog that's topped with ketchup and onion jam for a nice balance of sweet and salty flavors.
"We're doing it with ketchup because the mustard overpowered the flavor. It was too strong," Gould explains. "The tangy-ness of the tomato lends itself to the sweetness of the onion jam."
Now, when Midtown revelers leave the Dogwood or Pub Fiction, their choices within walking distance won't be limited to food trucks. Rico's will be ready to satisfy almost any craving.