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Hugos Restaurant y Tequila Bar

Tequila bar first, restaurant second

Reviewed by Melanie Haupt, Fri., Sept. 16, 2011

Food Review
Photo by John Anderson

Hugos Restaurant y Tequila Bar

300 S. Lamar, 474-4846
Monday-Thursday, 11am-10pm; Friday-Saturday, 11am-11pm
Happy hour: Monday-Friday, 4-7pm
www.hugosaustin.com

From the ashes of Magna Sampaio's failed, eponymous Brazilian restaurant in trendy Rosedale comes Hugos, a South Lamar cocktail bar with a restaurant attached. The concept is vaguely Latin fusion set against contemporary minimalist decor, a fitting entry into the budding hipster condo enclave at the threshold of South Austin.

My husband and I made our first visit to Hugos for an early Wednesday night dinner. Because we arrived during happy hour, we were able to take advantage of reduced-price house margaritas ($3.95 during happy hour; $6.50, full price). The 'ritas were very tasty, with a mellowness and quality that belied the bargain price. I tried an Orange Chinaco ($8.50), a flavorful twist on the mojito, made with Chinaco tequila, orange juice, and mint.

To start our meal, we ordered the mini empanada sliders ($4 during happy hour; $7.50, full price). I'm not sure why these are called sliders – they're really just three small empanadas resting on a mound of mass-market mixed field greens. The crust is blistered like a state-fair cherry hand pie, and the filling is a simple pulled pork dotted with crushed red pepper. We really enjoyed the accompanying tangy-sweet mango poblano sauce.

For his entrée, my husband selected the Anderson's shrimp and grits ($16.50), six large-ish shrimp with a peppery char served atop a heaping mound of bacony-sweet grits. "They're very homonious," my husband punned; I don't disagree, but I was satisfied with just a bite or two, considering I was fairly invested in my Dueling Enchiladas ($10). While it may seem strange to use large flour tortillas for enchiladas, these are bizarrely successful. The tortillas are filled with smoky pulled chicken and topped with verde and roja sauces, with a unifying squiggle of queso down the middle; though they were very filling, I could not stop eating those enchiladas.

Perusing the dessert menu, we were intrigued by the promise of a tres leches cake superior to all others, but alas, it was sold out. So we opted, out of sheer curiosity, for the bacon s'mores ($6). While the term "s'more" may conjure memories of oozy-sweet charred marshmallows mingling ecstatically with a slightly gooey Hershey's bar and ushered into your mouth with the satisfying crunch of graham crackers, at Hugos the dessert is a cold pie composed of marshmallow fluff studded with revolting hunks of cold, chocolate-covered bacon. Perhaps if we had enjoyed more of the tequilas over the course of our meal, we would have enjoyed the dessert as well.

A few weeks later, I assembled a small group of friends for a Friday afternoon ladies-who-lunch outing. Our sampling from the appetizers menu included the Duck Cigars ($8) and the habanero-honey brie ($8). While I would have preferred the rich flavors of the duck to stand out above the tangy pop of the goat cheese, the cigars and their mojo mayo dipping sauce garnered rave reviews (and perhaps some accusations of hoarding) among our party. The brie, coated in panko and flash-fried, was served barely lukewarm; we would have preferred a legitimately warm, slightly oozy wedge of cheese.

The entrées were similarly inconsistent. Because we had a vegetarian in our midst, we were careful to select two meatless options. The Capitol Flatbread ($13) was a sleeper hit, exceeding everyone's expectations with succulent figs and big flavor from the commingling of basil pesto and three cheeses. The portabello sandwich ($8) was serviceable, the meaty mushroom approximating a burger down to its umami-meets-grill essence.

For the omnivores, we selected the El Cubano ($7.50) and the Tamale a la Hugo ($9.75). The Cuban-style sandwich, with layers of pork butt, ham, Swiss cheese, and pickles, was, hands down, the best dish we had. No flavor overpowered any other, and the house-cut, wafer-thin waffle fries were demolished in a very unladylike fashion. The tamale, on the other hand, was the big loser of the day, with the bland mashed yucca totally dominating the diminutive serving of delicious pulled pork nestled amid its bulk. Worsening matters was the too-sweet curry-coconut sauce smothering the dish. No tamale worth its lard would abuse its flavorful filling in such a manner.

I was determined to get my hands on Hugos' mythical tres leches cake – sold out again. We decided to try the tequila bread pudding ($7) and were not disappointed. It's delicately flavored with orange and just the slightest hint of tequila and garnished with five or six slivers of sugared orange rind and a couple of squares of dark chocolate. This is the dish that should be the centerpiece of the dessert menu.

All told, given the impressive array of tequilas on offer, the amount of real estate given over to the bar, the slackadaisical hipster-cool ethos of the service staff, and the inconsistency of the menu, Hugos is ultimately a reasonably priced bar with high-quality cocktails and pretty good food.

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