When a Beard-nominated food writer invites you out to lunch in her hometown, you let her choose the destination, right? Not me. Houstonia managing editor Katharine Shilcutt was kind enough to let me pick the spot when we headed out for a lunch meeting yesterday and I know she agrees that my new-to-her pick worked out.
You could say Puebla's Mexican Kitchen & Bakery is hiding in plain sight. Though it's right on North Main Street in Sunset Heights, Katharine told me it had never occurred to her to stop in. Now, she and I will both make it a regular haunt.
Puebla's started as a panaderia down the street from its current location back in 2001. Though it's now a full-service restaurant in a larger space, that homespun feeling is deeply palpable. Ethereally crisp chips come to the table the moment you sit down, alongside a mild salsa that's warm and chunky enough to conjure a winter stew. It might not be your abuela's recipe, but you can bet it came from someone's granny.
The yielding ribbons of pork served in asado sauce is similarly comforting, if more pleasingly prickly. But what truly stands out at Puebla's is the Platonic preparation of the sides. Refried beans, usually bland by default, are creamy and packed with flavor. The rice is just slightly al dente, far from the "slouching toward mush" texture I usually expect.
But the mole negro, the flavor of a moonless midnight, is worth your time even if you don't work in the Heights like we do. The one caveat in planning a meal at Puebla's is that it closes at 4 p.m., so dinner isn't an option. But square away an hour or two for lunch and you'll be richly rewarded with braised chicken that melts into its handmade corn tortilla blanket, all chiles and sesame.
The sweet spot in the limited hours is that breakfast is served all day. Sooner rather than later, I'll be rolling like a boss, plunking down a hefty $2.49 for a breakfast gordita served with those glorious beans. By then, the currently empty bakery case will likely be filled, too. Our server said pastries will be back for winter.