Latin Fusion in Houston (Cafe Red Onion)

12 Apr

Easter weekend called for another trip down I-45 to Houston.  I wanted to meet up with some college friends while I was in the area, and we picked the original Cafe Red Onion for lunch due to its convenient location right off of Northwest Hwy (half the lunch attendees were coming from the northwest area).  Cafe Red Onion is now a mini local chain in Houston, with 4 locations (1 location specializing in seafood).

Cafe Red Onion emphasizes that its cuisine is Latin fusion, not Mexican, which translates into less use of spicy peppers and more emphasis on milder, sweeter flavors.  The head chef, Rafael Galindo, is from Honduras.  The restaurant was about half full on a Saturday lunch.  Upon seating ,we were immediately presented with chips and two salsas, one mild red salsa and one sweet pineapple salsa.

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Both salsas were crisp and fresh, although I would have preferred more spice in my red salsa.  The pineapple salsa was a bit too sweet for my taste, it seemed more fitting as a dessert topping than a chip dip.  But that’s just my opinion, as two of my companions (who usually prefer their foods with less heat) dug right through the pineapple salsa bowls.

I had heard raves about Cafe Red Onion’s End of Summer Chilean Bass Salad and had planned on ordering that at lunch.  However, with the weird weather we’ve been experiencing lately, Easter weekend in Houston meant 40 degree weather with freezing rain.  No longer in the mood for a cold salad, I chose the Chicken Choluteca, two chicken breasts marinated in beer and grilled in an open flame, served with a roasted poblano over habanero peach BBQ sauce, melted Monterrey cheese,  and corn fruit relish (description from actual menu).  Entree also comes with black beans and fried plaintains with sour cream.

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Quite the colorful dish!  What the menu doesn’t mention is that every single entree on the menu comes covered with these brilliant red tortilla strips.  I guess that’s Cafe Red Onion’s signature look (you would think it would be something involving red onions). 

Overall I enjoyed my lunch, the chicken was tender and the use of a sweet BBQ sauce in an otherwise Latin dish was interesting if nothing else.  I couldn’t detect any hint of the habanero in the BBQ sauce though the presence of peach was obvious.  The dish sounded more creative on the menu, when it came out it was just chicken covered in BBQ sauce and cheese (and let’s face it, 99% of Texans would be in love with that, right?)  I tried to take breaks from the rich sweetness of the chicken with the corn and fruit relish to no avail.  The relish was also syrupy sweet.  The only low-sugar item on the plate were the black beans, which were richly flavored with cilantro but a bit on the too salty side.  I’ve never paired fried plaintains with sour cream before but found the combination enjoyable.

I don’t think Cafe Red Onion is as mediocre as I’m making it out to be, as most of my dining companions really enjoyed their lunches (other entrees sampled include the Pupusas Revueltas, Chicken Quesadilla, fajitas, and a couple more chicken dishes, Fiesta and Tikal, I think).  Personally, I am just not able to handle that much sweetness in one meal.  When the waitress asked if we wanted dessert, I thought I would hurl.  Next time I’ll know to order something that seems to have less sugar.

Service was friendly but a bit on the slow side.  We weren’t in a hurry though, just sitting around and catching up on what’s been going on since we graduated college.

Rating: 3/5

Cafe Red Onion
12440 Northwest Fwy
Houston, TX 77092

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