With so much Latin food in Houston, and from so many countries of origin, it's hard to believe that there wasn't a Latin Restaurant Week before this year.
That's what Houston-based food blogger Karinn Chavarria thought to herself before creating Houston Latin Restaurant Weeks. The inaugural event kicks off Sunday, June 2, and lasts until June 16. More than 25 restaurants will offer special prix fixe meals throughout the weeks, and special events held during the weeks will help bring chefs and businesses together.
Why do this? It's simple, says Chavarria: to shine a light on a frequently underrepresented group of people, who also make up about 36 percent of Houston's population.
"There are so many types of Latin cuisine, and so many storefronts and businesses—the taco trucks and the mom-and-pops, the hidden gems that, if you're part of the community, you're gonna know about it," Chavarria says. "But they are typically overlooked, so I wanted to give them that platform."
The restaurants run the culinary gamut, from upscale Heights bistro Maison Pucha, to the homespun Mexican of Mucho Mexico on Wayside, to outstanding Puerto Rican sandwiches and lunch fare inside a GOOF car wash, also known as Sofrito.
"This is a platform for all Latinos to celebrate their accomplishments and give them an opportunity to serve as mentors," Chavarria says.
One way Latin Restaurant Week is extending mentorship opportunities is through its La Mesa event, scheduled for June 5 at Morales Radio Hall. A panel of Latin chefs and businesspeople will discuss strategies for chefs and business owners to find success in the culinary world. Other events include a pop-up dinner June 15 at an unknown location, led by chef CJ Dilan of Sofrito, and Sabor!, a showcase for Latin catering businesses scheduled for June 12 at Big Brothers Big Sisters on Washington Avenue. By highlighting contributions from caterers, Sabor! marks a distinct difference between Latin Restaurant Weeks and most well-known restaurant weeks.
"That was a top priority," says Chavarria. "It's a huge part of our community. You think about weddings and quinceañeras and graduations." Showing off these catering companies in one place, she added, gives them an opportunity to network with people who may need them down the line.
Chavarria has high hopes for the event, proceeds of which will go back to the restaurants and businesses (participants' registration fees go partially toward the Hispanic Health Coalition). She hopes to expand Latin Restaurant Week to other cities while doubling the number of restaurants involved.
"I hope it becomes a full, comprehensive list of everyone from mom-and-pop shops to high-end concepts," she says.