"We don’t know how to cook cheap Mexican food," Ford Fry told me last year when he announced his plans to open Superica in the former Bernadine's space at 1801 North Shepherd in the Heights. "We come from a fine dining background so we focus on buying quality stuff." At the time, La Lucha, the fried chicken and oyster spot drawing attention next door didn't even have a name. But Fry was eager to share his take on the Tex-Mex dishes of his Houston youth for the first time in his hometown.
There were already three Supericas before the Houston location opened on Monday: Two in Atlanta and another in Charlotte, N.C. But only here will diners likely share Fry's childhood affinity for Felix Mexican Restaurant. In fact, a sign from Felix Tijerina's beloved staple stands at the bar, a memory of its orange queso with its telltale pool of red grease on top. Don't expect the same thing from Fry and chef Kevin Maxey, though. At Superica, the queso is made with real cheese and flavored with the same tomatillo salsa that comes to the table free with chips (it's extremely well-balanced, but we love the accompanying avocado salsa even more).
The menu follows the basic prescription of all Tex-Mex dives, with both hard- and soft-shelled tacos, a slew of enchiladas, fajitas and nachos. But Fry was right. He and his team just can't make equally dive-y food. There's care in every bite, from the rustic flour tortillas to the lightly smoked onions that fill the tacos al carbon. Standouts include enchiladas con mole that feature chile-braised chicken in a cinnamon-tinged Poblano-style sauce. A carnitas plate arrives with lengths of pork belly sizzling as the fat renders from the tender meat, ready to be plied with all the fixings, including a standout guacamole.
But my favorite wasn't on the menu. The slim selection of desserts comes not on paper but by waiter's recitation. I was right not to overlook what my server called a chocolate custard. Made with Abuelita Mexican hot chocolate, the warm mound of sweetness was more of a flourless chocolate cake than the flan-like dainty I was expecting. The cinnamon of the Abuelita stood out under an island of whipped cream topped with candied orange peel.
Just as Fry promised, this was a fine-dining dessert in the middle of what feels like a quotidian spot to fill up on orange cheese. If you're looking for that, look elsewhere. Superica is several steps above your average Tex-Mex.