A new dining concept opens in near northwest Houston… and it’s “slow food” served fast!
Chef Benjamin G. Arcizio and Owner Claudia Oakley
Claudia Oakley grew up in Monterrey, Mexico.Every day, she bought fresh hot tortillas across the street in her neighborhood and her mother, Graziella, made fresh tacos, enchiladas and exciting meals using the local produce available, including the fruits and vegetables that they grew in their own yard. When she moved to Houston, she dreamed of offering this concept of totally house-made meals, with many of the fresh ingredients that she enjoyed as a child… yet with exciting contemporary presentation and classic preparation of local ingredients from the Texas gulf coast area, whenever possible. She and her husband, a food service food supplier professional, and her Concept Chef (an eight year veteran of major Houston restaurants, as well as a culinary school graduate), Chef Benjamin G. Arcizio, have carefully crafted the concept of Claudia’s Fresh-Mex and opened her first restaurant on Barker-Cypress near Highway 290 on Monday of this week. I heard about the restaurant yesterday on my morning Starbuck’s run near the Galleria and was in Claudia’s by lunchtime.
House-made tortilla station
I ordered my choices at the attractive counter at the entrance (next to the house-made tortilla station), then had a seat in the large contemporary dining area. Servers bring the orders to your table when ready and although it is prepared relatively quickly, the prep may have started hours before.Spice-dry-rubbed chickens for tacos and enchiladas are slowly turning in a rotisserie as you order… beef short ribs have been braising in red wine and rich pan juices for hours before the tender meat is pulled for your enchilada or taco. Corn-on-the-cob is roasting to a slight char to make a tangy corn pico for a side on orders… then the cobs (affectionately dubbed “corn bones”) are boiled to make the rich corn broth for a corn soup. Rotisserie chicken bones are boiled for a robust broth for Mela’s Tortilla Soup.
Mela’s ortilla Soup
My lunch started with a rich Mela’s ortilla Soup that had quite a flavor depth from the fact that it was made from rotisserie chickens. The broth was thickened by house-made corn tortillas pureed into it with emersion blenders. Chunks of chicken… crisp corn tortilla strips… and slices of avocado make this an excellent and rich version of a soup that is made a hundred ways in Houston.
Salads are a showcase for the passion for fresh ingredients
at Claudia’s… this one’s topped with BBQ Grilled Shrimp
Salads are a showcase for the passion for fresh ingredients at Claudia’s and all come with dusting of Cotija Cheese and a “streak” of Lime Crema and may be topped with choice of BBQ Seasoned Shrimp, Grilled Ahi Tuna, Rotisserie Chicken or boneless Beef Short Ribs. Mine was topped with the perfectly grilled shrimp.
Grilled Ahi Tuna Taco
Next I had a Grilled Ahi Tuna Taco served in a bed of chipotle carrot slaw and a grilled pineapple pico de gallo… then topped with a Sambal Lime Vinaigrette.The tuna was grilled rare was a really good match for the sweetness of the slaw.While the tacos are automatically served on corn tortillas, house-made flour tortillas may be substituted.My second was a Rotisserie Chicken Taco and it had been mixed with a mole sauce, bell peppers, onions and romaine lettuce, then topped with a tangy lime vinaigrette.
Grilled Shrimp Enchilada
Boneless Beef Short Rib Enchilada
I opted next for a Grilled Shrimp Enchilada topped with an Anaheim green Chile sauce, then drizzled with a romesco sauce. While (as with a lot of the choices here), this enchilada wouldn’t be considered a “traditional” Mexican enchilada… it would be considered delicious by anyone. No pretense is made here about offering a menu of genuine “authentic Mexican food”… it is Mexican-inspired and dedicated to FRESH ingredients… local when practical and available to suppliers. My next choice was the Boneless Beef Short Rib Enchilada. The ribs are braised for hours in a merepoix (red wine and an aromatic mixture of celery, onions and carrots). There’s a lot of attention paid to presentation here and this showpiece is as good looking as it is delicious. This one is topped with grilled portobello mushrooms, onions and the pan juice from braising the ribs… then dressed with a streak of poblano sauce. Speaking of presentation, I saw a “to go” order prepared and it was presented in a styrofoam carton exactly as it had been for me on a plate for dine-in.
For a “first restaurant” effort I was amazed by the slick look and smooth operation of Claudia’s Fresh-Mex, but attribute this to the involvement of an experienced formally trained chef in the kitchen and the passion that Claudia has to insure that although the price points are LOW here, the product looks like it should be served on a white tablecloth. If this isn’t the first of several locations for Claudia, it ll not be because she doesn’t have the formula.
Claudia’s Fresh-Mex is one block north of Highway 290 on Barker Cypress Road, on the right, about 25 minutes from downtown Houston.