Memories are short in Houston's food world. It wasn't so long ago that Chris Loftis left Killen's Steakhouse to take the position of executive chef at an upcoming concept from Hugo Ortega called Xochi. In preparation, he spent time with world-class chefs in Mexico City and Oaxaca and staged in New York with Cosme's James Beard Foundation award-winning chef Daniela Soto-Innes. He's had an enviable education in Mexican food, but he ended up leaving Xochi before it opened to take a position at the Pearl in the Sam Houston Hotel.
"The hotel was really hard because there was no marketing in the hotel," Loftis says of his decision to leave. "It's frustrating doing just a few covers on a Saturday night." And with that decision comes the big reveal of what he learned when training for Xochi.
The result is the same creativity we saw with the Pearl, but with a south-of-the-border edge. "You can never get bored," Loftis says. "There's something about Mexican culture—everything is made with love. You can't half-ass it."
That means dishes are more inspired than they might sound on the page. A tomato-and-burrata salad is enlivened with cilantro oil that lights up colorful heirloom tomatoes and charred avocado. A hanger steak comes with "Mexican gnocchi," masa dumplings like those common in Oaxaca. After a messy first half of the year that makes Loftis Peska's third chef in 2017, the restaurant, now dubbed Peska Cocina Latina and less focused on seafood than before, is worth giving another taste.