I'll admit it when I saw the sign for Hugos Restaurant y Tequila Bar at the bottom of the Cole Apartments on South Lamar I was a bit leary. When I googled it, I found two restaurants with similar names; one out of Southern California and the other from Houston. I thought to myself, "Oh no, another chain biting away at Austin’s soul."
However, this Hugos is an Austin original, created by Magna Sampaio formerly of Sampaio’s on Burnet Road. To round out her team, she brought Executive Chef Jeff Parks on board (who most recently worked at Gumbo’s downtown) to create a menu of nontraditional Tex-Mex with a heavy Latin American flair.
Hugos boasts one of Austin’s largest patios (somehow Austinites love patios, even in triple digit heat). Inside the restaurant is open and airy, with clean lines and concrete floors lending to an industrial feel. A long bar is equipped with flatscreen televisions and a few adjacent cocktail tables. An open dining room overlooks Lamar Boulevard. The service is warm and accommodating.
Everything is homemade, including the chips, served with a flavorful, spicy salsa. You can tell a lot about a restaurant just by sampling their chips and salsa. These chips had just the right amount of heft and crunch. As for the drinks, they offer an extensive list of specialty cocktails. I spied Latin American classics such as the Pisco Sour Martini made with white brandy, lime juice, cane sugar and a dash of bitters and the Capirinha which combines fresh lime, cane sugar and Cachaca—a Brazilian rum-like liquor.
Even more impressive than the specialty cocktails is the selection of 75 tequilas including a local favorite, Z Tequila. For the exploratory types, they offer tequila flights ranging in prices from $10—$55 that include My Future Hangover ($10), Blue Bottle Flight ($14), The Agave Gallop ($25), Con Gusto Flight ($40) and Hugos Way ($55). There are four beers on draft including two locals—Fireman’s #4 and Real Ale Lost Gold IPA—and over 20 beers available by the bottle. The wine list is small but sufficient and included a Carmenere, which is similar in style to a Malbec, holding up well to the enticing flavors Chef Parks is turning out of the kitchen.
If you get hungry, opt for the Duck Cigars, the most popular menu item. Chef takes duck confit, spices and goat cheese and rolls them in flour, deep fries them and serves them with a drizzle of habanero honey and a side of house-made mojo mayonnaise. Lastly, be sure to save room for the Bacon S’mores. Think a traditional S’more, but with chocolate covered bacon, need I say more?
“All of the food and drinks are crafted with love and served by a staff that gives a damn,” says Chef Parks. I couldn’t have summed it up better myself!