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Tlayudas, the traditional street food of Oaxaca, are among the featured menu items at Xochi.

January is barely finished, but the most anticipated downtown restaurant opening of 2017 has already arrived. Xochi, the fourth restaurant from chef Hugo Ortega, is now open in the Marriott Marquis. It joins Ortega's award-winning line-up of Hugo's in Montrose, Backstreet Cafe in River Oaks and Caracol in Uptown, all of which have been joint collaborations between Ortega, wife Tracy Vaught, brother (and pastry chef) Ruben Ortega and sommelier Sean Beck.

Though our local food scene spans every Mexican state, Xochi is the city's first to feature upscale Oaxacan cuisine. The capital of Oaxaca City has long been regarded as one of Mexico's primary culinary strongholds along with Michoacán, Puebla and Baja California.

"We celebrate traditional, time-honored dishes of Mexico at Hugo’s, and at Caracol we balance traditional coastal dishes with our own creations," said Vaught in a statement. "For Xochi, the team is spreading its wings and letting their amazing creativity guide the food and drink. In Mexico, the phrase they use is, ‘by author,’ and we are excited about this new concept and new chapter for our restaurant family."

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Left: scallops in mole verde, white beans, green beans, chayote, masa dumplings; right: the Illegal Farm cocktail.

Before leaving Mexico for the U.S. in 1983, at the young age of 17, Ortega and his siblings left their hometown of Mexico City to live on a farm with their grandmother near the Oaxacan border. Here, they learned how to rear animals, grow crops and make everything from chocolate to cheese.

"Oaxaca is so rich with culinary diversity and traditions and is a place I never tire of visiting," Ortega said in a statement. "Its large size and numerous geographic regions hold endless interest for me as a chef and as a Mexican native.  The richness of the love I feel for cooking goes back to time spent there preparing food with my mother and grandmother. Xochi is my tribute to Oaxaca and its culinary wealth."

In addition to traditional Oaxacan tlayudas, thin tortillas topped and cooked in a wood-fired oven much like Italian pizzas, the menu will also highlight a variety of moles, another staple of the region, prepared in a multitude of different ways. Also look for hearty options such as bistec con mole de chicatana (a grilled prime Black Angus ribeye served with a black bean tamal in an ant-based mole sauce) and the slow-cooked suckling pig dish known as lechon.

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Xochi's dining room

And yes—you read that right: ant mole. If you're a fan of the crunchy chapulines (a.k.a. grasshoppers) at Hugo's, you'll love Xochi's menu of edible insects. Of particular note is the queso del rancho, which features housemade cotija queso with chicharrones, a trio of insects including gusanos (larva), chicatanas (flying ants), more of those chapulines and guacamole.

Another Oaxacan staple, mezcal, is highlighted on the spirits menu and found in a variety of different cocktails developed by Beck, while Ruben Ortega's homemade chocolate is featured in many different applications. We imagine the Piedras y Oro, a chocolate tart with mixed nuts, praline and chocolate “river rocks,” and gold flakes, will quickly become as much as signature item as the tlayudas and moles.

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The Piedras y Oro chocolate tart features edible gold flakes.

Xochi is located on the ground floor of the Marriott Marquis, facing Discovery Green, and is now open Sundays from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Mondays through Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

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