Indulge your palate with the rich, deep and authentic flavors of Mexico at Arnaldo Richards’ Picos – Seven Regions of Mexican Cuisine at the corner of Upper Kirby and Richmond.
There’s one thing Chef Arnaldo Richards wants to make clear: he doesn’t take shortcuts.
“We chop by hand. We use everything fresh,” he emphasizes.
Sitting back in a table overlooking the dining room, the affable perfectionist takes in the scene on a busy Thursday night: the bar is packed three-deep, the dining room is overloaded with raucous laughter, servers weave in and out between the tables in choreographed hustle and bustle. There’s a mariachi band adding to the festivity of the noise level. Richards has a look of grateful satisfaction on his face. And why not? Look what he’s created.
A Houston Culinary Institution
Arnaldo Richards’ Picos has been a Houston institution since the 1980s, its original Bellaire location a must-visit address for Mexican cuisine in this Tex-Mex-loving city. Last year, the restaurant moved to its current location in Upper Kirby, and both regulars and newcomers have been steadily streaming through the doors ever since.
“We began as a hole in the wall,” Richards says. “There was nothing around us in Bellaire – for many years. Times are different now. And our restaurant is different.”
When it began, Picos had something of a coastal Mexican flair – regular diners will remember the bright colors and parrots that gave the Bellaire spot its ambiance. Now that he’s taken over the spot on Kirby and Richmond that used to be Ninfa’s, the vibe is a little more grown up – think dark woods and wrought iron. The Mexican fare remains the same.
Seven Regions of Mexican Cuisine
The emphasis now is on the seven regions of Mexico, with dishes representing each packing the menu. Richards will tell you he’s always showcased regional cuisine, now he’s just making sure you know it. The upside for diners is a lesson in geography and history, along with glorious dishes like the Chilorio, from the North Pacific Coast, beautifully slow-roasted pulled pork served with avocado and pico de gallo and tortillas, an appetizer so popular and done so right, Hispanic businesspeople bring their international clientele to Picos to eat it.
Family and Heritage
“My family has been in this business since I was two years old,” Richards says. “I grew up in the kitchen. This is my passion.”
That passion is something he shares not only with his diners, but with his daughter, Monica, who is making her own way in the family business. She came on board as beverage director shortly after the move to the Kirby location, and she’s put her stamp on the bar program, adding seasonal cocktails and amping up the wine list to pair with her father’s flavors. She’s also taken on a role behind the scenes, creating training policies and procedures to help bring the business into the next decade.
“This is home,” she explains. “I remember being a little girl and being in the restaurant on Christmas Eve and it was so, so busy. We were there to dine, my mom my sisters and I. But were short-staffed, so we ended up on the line, helping out.”
That sense of family and pride in their creation is not mere lip service. It permeates the experience. Members of the wait staff have been with Picos since the beginning. That mariachi band has been delighting diners for 29 years. For Richards, it’s one more thing to be proud of.
When he talks about food and about his restaurant, it’s with a love of heritage, and an appreciation for history. He knows that Mexico’s cuisine is a cornucopia of influences, from the Caribbean, to the Spanish to the ancient. And in that melting pot, he’s found his own story – one that erupts with happy joy in dish after dish. For Richards, culture and cuisine are one, and they are to be shared.
“It’s alive,” he says.