In our weekly “My Top 5” series, we serve up the favorite things to do of popular, enterprising Houstonians. This week, we’re very pleased to showcase Chef Hugo Ortega of Backstreet Café, Hugo’s and Caracol, who shares his favorite things across the city where he realized his American dream.
My Top 5 Things to Do in Houston
by Chef Hugo Ortega
- Terry Hershey Park – Since I spend so much time inside in kitchens, when I’m not at work I like to get outside. One of the things I like to do most is ride my bike, and one of my favorite places to do that is Terry Hershey Park. It’s a great stretch of nature along Buffalo Bayou and you hardly feel like you are just minutes from the hustle and bustle of Katy Freeway.
- Canino Produce Co. – Like painters work with paint on the canvas, chefs work with food on theirs, and I enjoy shopping for fresh produce. I love going to the Saturday farmers market but sometimes to get some of the more hard-to-find items, you have to go to Canino Produce Co. There’s 20,000 square-feet of space filled with all kinds of ingredients from fresh produce to spices to jarred sauces. You can also get a great taco or torta from taco trucks there, and if you time it right, you might even hear some live music.
- Buffalo Bayou Park along Allen Parkway – There are a lot of changes happening throughout our great city, new homes and buildings, and new businesses, too. Houston has always been a welcoming city and a place of opportunity–I should know, my American dream came true here! One of the things I am most excited about is all the change along Allen Parkway. It is close to home and two of my restaurant kitchens, and a great way to bike, hike, walk and kayak in the shadows of the great Houston skyline. There are special events held there throughout the year, and Buffalo Bayou Skate Park is fun to visit. But now even more is happening there, and we will soon be able to dine and see live performances there as well. I can’t wait to bike the newly renovated Buffalo Bayou Park!
- Bay Area Coast – I grew up in Central Mexico and didn’t see the ocean until I was about nine years old, but it had a huge impact on me. I love the water–and I loved seafood from my first bite on that first trip to the ocean! So I love the proximity to the coast that Houston offers. It’s nice to be able to hop in the car and drive less than an hour to spend a day or weekend at the beach. A quick getaway!
- Houston’s Arts Scene – To be a great city, I think cultural activities and venues are a must. We are so fortunate here in Houston to have an incredible arts scene. In any given week, you can hear live music by local bands, Houston Symphony or Houston Grand Opera; take in a play at Alley Theatre or Talento Bilingüe de Houston; see a musical at The Hobby Center; or experience the great masters of art at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and see what is happening in the local art scene at Lawndale Art Center. There are too many wonderful organizations to name, but together they make Houston a cultural mecca!
About Chef Hugo Ortega
Chef Hugo Ortega is one of Houston’s best-known and best-loved chefs. He was raised in Mexico City and Puebla, Mexico and learned his love of cooking from his mother and grandmother, a revered mole maker. At age 17 he left Mexico for Houston, where he began his career in the restaurant industry as a dishwasher and busboy at Backstreet Café before graduating from culinary school and later becoming its executive chef and owner, along with his wife Tracy Vaught. His American dream continued in 2002 when they opened Hugo’s on Westheimer in Montrose. In 2013 they opened Caracol, a Mexican coastal kitchen, in the Galleria area. He has published two cookbooks: Hugo Ortega’s Street Food of Mexico and Backstreet Kitchen: Seasonal Recipes from Our Neighborhood Café. Ortega has been a three-time finalist for Best Chef: Southwest at the prestigious James Beard Awards from 2012 through 2014. He and Vaught have one daughter, Sophia, and live in River Oaks, less than a mile from the restaurant where they started their careers in the restaurant industry, met and fell in love.