First Bite

Game On at Newly Reopened Irma's Southwest

White Cross Ranch keeps the restaurant stocked with wild boar and axis deer.

By Alice Levitt December 19, 2018

The Wild Game Combo features an Axis tamale and barbacoa taco, and wild boar sausage and peppers.

Image: Alice Levitt

Louis Galvan isn't one of those famous scions who tries to dodge his heritage. Upon meeting you, the first thing he asks is, "Do you know who my mother is?" Of course, there's reason to be proud when that woman is Irma Galvan, who started a sandwich shop in 1988 that has grown into Irma's, a menu-free Tex-Mex spot so beloved that in 2016 it garnered a James Beard America's Classic designation.

One frequent customer, Bruce Williams, told the younger Galvan that if he ever wanted to strike out on his own to call him. That happened in 1998, when the pair opened Irma's Southwest on Texas Street in Downtown, still without menus. Now they're in a swanky new address in the Catalyst Houston, a luxury high-rise still on Texas Street. And what sets the restaurant apart from other chile-flecked Southwestern spots is thanks to Williams, who is also owner of White Cross Ranch.

That's where he raises axis deer and wild boar that make their way to Houston from the Hill Country. They're processed at Broken Arrow Ranch, including stuffing the boar into sausage just for Irma's.

Bacon-wrapped Texas axis will leap onto your list of favorite apps.

Image: Alice Levitt

It's a good bet to start a meal at the new restaurant with a skewer of chunky bacon-wrapped axis. The crisp belly is blackened on the grill, a stark contrast to the almost fork-tender deer that's in turn wrapped around colorful peppers. Savory, fatty tasting wild boar sausage (spoiler alert: it's actually low-cal) is also paired with peppers—in this case sautéed slices. But game lovers' eyes will gravitate right to the section of entrées specifically devoted to exotic meat.

The best way to mainline rare flesh is to order the Wild Game Combo. The sausage and peppers add a bright touch to the plate, but a creamy tamale stuffed with axis (also known as chital) and lush strands of barbacoa made from the deer are standouts. The whole plate impresses though, even the veggie-speckled rice that's usually a throwaway.

If that isn't enough game, either of the meats can be made into tacos or tamales, but also enchiladas. If there's a better way to run wild with a restaurant's first-ever printed menu, we haven't tasted it.

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