Alison Cook tries Flora Mexican Kitchen’s epic lunch in Houston

Down a vitrified concrete walkway, past horizontal wooden slats and weathered concrete columns, the view of Lost Lake and the greenery of Buffalo Bayou Park floats like an aquatic mirage. The towers of Allen Parkway and the skyscrapers of downtown tell you the city is there, but suddenly it’s not.

Through a doorway in a glass-walled box, past the characteristic flock of mismatched crystal chandeliers, you reach a covered patio that’s one of my new favorite places to dine.

Part of my pleasure is this intensely green view, which brings me out of my urban bubble. Part is Flora’s caring staff. But the sine qua non is serious Mexican cuisine worthy of the envy of the kitchen team of Epifanio Rosas, the head chef, with Daniel Gonzalez and Reynaldo Quezada.

Pretty much everything I tasted at a recent epic lunch was memorable. I still think of the little round masa boats called sopesitos, topped with refried beans and snows of queso fresco and crema, to eat with a lively green table salsa. There were three of these babies per $12 order, I’m sorry to say, as I could have consumed a large plate on my own.

The patio of Flora Mexican Kitchen in Buffalo Bayou Park.

Alison Cook / Staff

Yes, there is a sticker shock at play here, compounded by current food price inflation. The homemade frozen margarita is a distinguished version and costs $15. Sip. A prime rib wrapped in a soulful deep red taupe rings in at $48, joined on his plate by a black bean tamal.

Both items were amazing: the short rib perfectly cooked so that it fell apart; the tamal made of masa light as a feather and lifted by a haunting current of hoja santa, the heart-shaped leaf with a light licorice scent of root beer. Still, $50 is a big splurge for an entry — or at least it was, not too long ago.

And $26 for my new favorite green enchiladas in town is a sobering price. Stuffed with velvety chunks of poached chicken and topped with a lively salsa verde, these enchiladas were perfectly accessorized. Just enough pie, fresh cream, just enough melted cheese, just enough pickled onion strips on top.

The refried beans and Spanish rice have also passed filling status.

I admired the homemade corn tortillas I ordered to go with the short rib. Soft and fragrant, they were well worth the $3 price tag. The flour tortillas for the same price were just ok. The only item I found seriously lacking was a tuna tostada assembled like a stained glass window, with a translucent slice of dried albacore tuna at its heart. Unfortunately, the cure had enough salt to overwhelm the other flavors, from the tortilla itself to the avocado, leek and chipotle aioli fillings.

Flora pays a lot of attention to light seafood preparations, salads and soups – a necessity on a menu for a group of restaurants that caters to an upscale crowd long on the lunch ladies – and the men who love them.

Senior partner Grant Cooper, who recently split the business empire he built with chef Charles Clark, now also runs Gratify, a French bistro and raw bar in Rice Village; and the nearby Coppa Osteria Italian restaurant. They attract some of the same social butterflies that flock to Brasserie 19, the River Oaks bistro that Cooper handed over to Clark as part of the split.

Cooper says he’s always wanted to open a Mexican restaurant, and his love of the genre shines through in Flora. The mix of regional Mexican, Tex-Mex, and Baja-style seafood menus is a perfect fit for Houston, and it has a few surprises in store as well as familiar ideas.

Cucumber and chayote salad at Flora Mexican Kitchen

Cucumber and chayote salad at Flora Mexican Kitchen

Alison Cook / Staff

I loved a crispy fresh salad of sliced ​​raw chayote and cucumber sprinkled with mint and a bit of chilli, even though the puddle of yogurt underneath had no trace of the advertised hoja santa. The chayote squash worked so well as a thin ribbon, I vowed to make my own version of the dish at home, where my supply of hoja santa is endless.

A small pot of cream made with cajeta instead of chocolate turned out to be an incredibly rich and dreamy substance, with a strong hint of caramel and smooth layers that descended from mahogany to chestnut.

What a brilliant idea, I thought, lounging on the terrace with a few mid-afternoon lunches. And how civilized it is to serve lunch from cover to cover, to better enjoy the cocktails, the food and the setting.

Dulce de leche Pot of Cream at Flora Mexican Kitchen

Dulce de leche Pot of Cream at Flora Mexican Kitchen

Alison Cook / Staff

A word to the sage to get to Flora. Driving west on Allen Parkway, the easiest way in, start looking for a right turn after passing Waugh Drive. You’ll take a long drive to the circle in front of Flora’s building, which once housed the park’s Lost Lake Visitor Center. (It’s being renovated to serve as Flora’s cocktail arm and pen.)

Valets will take your car and park it. You will thank them.

Mexican cuisine Flora

3422 Allen Parkway in Dunlavy in Buffalo Bayou Park, 713-360-6477

[email protected]

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