|300 South Lamar Blvd.
Austin, TX 78704
I always pay attention when I learn that Magna Sampaio is involved with any particular restaurant. Why? Because as she so consistently demonstrated at her namesake Brazilian restaurant on Burnet for almost a decade, she gets the hospitality business. That’s why I was delighted to learn she was back in the fray with Hugos on South Lamar across from what will be the new Zach Scott Theater.
The new restaurant leans more toward eclectic Mexican, but the touches and nuances of Sampaio’s Brazilian roots are always present.
The appetizers are an intriguing blend of south-of-the-border flavors and textures. And there’s considerable diversity in the presentations. Let’s begin with the Duck Cigars or flautas. These are perfectly prepared morsels of duck confit and goat cheese coaxed into a flour tortilla and drizzled with a honey habanero sauce. The Cigars are flat-out tasty and would be my default choice on any visit. The Quesodillas are also a fun choice. They’re stuffed with the less conventional mozzarella and brie cheeses along with the regular queso, and the beef version of these is my favorite thus far. Really nice flavors here. And do try the Crab Cakes So Mar. Lots of Austin restaurants do this dish, but I like the Hugos version with a cherry red bell pepper coulis and a cilantro pesto adorned with capers. There’s a zesty vibe to this dish along with the requisite smoothness of the crab that makes it work on several levels.
There’s another category of choices at Hugos called the “Hand-Helds.” As the name implies this is finger food, designed to allow you to use the other hand to hold one of their many variations of margaritas.
I really like the Fish Tacos. The fillets are done tempura style and wrapped in fresh tortillas and served with a jalapeno tartar sauce. The field greens nicely complement this tasty snack. I had an ice-cold cervesa in my free hand when i tried this dish and everything worked well. Another good one is the Tequila Chicken Tacos served with “mojo” mayo. This is a crunchy and very satisfying taco. Nice back of palate finish.
But it’s the entrees that really put the signature on the subtle differences that set Hugo’s apart from many other similar restaurants. The Petite Tender Steak is basted in a toma-vinaigrette sauce and served with that old Sampaio’s favorite, the chimichurri sauce. This is very reminiscent of the old Sampaio’s Churrasco Platter. That was a stunning dish with broad flavor components and killer texture. Ditto for this one. Another knockout dish is the Coffee Coated Pork Chop. This is not the easiest dish to do, but Hugos nails it. The key is the spicy cherry sauce that really ratchets up the flavor profile. The goat cheese mashers simply take this one over the top. The Tamale a la Hugo is another very interesting dish that just screams out “vive la difference.” This begins with twice-cooked yucca that’s mashed and infused with pulled pork and wrapped in banana leaves. When the proportion of pulled pork is right, this dish absolutely rocks with compelling taste along with the expected texture. The coconut curry sauce finishes things off. The Shrimp n’ Grits resurgence around town is duly noted at Hugos where they produce a fine version of this local favorite. The grits are covered with a smoked Gouda that produces a very unusual but rewarding rich flavor. And the bacon and shitake mushroom cream sauce is an excellent choice to add a nice palate pleasing finish to the dish.
The drinks at Hugos cover a wide range of potables from killer margaritas to the Brazilian classic the Caipirinha, made from sugar cane. Teresa is a great bartender and brings the right touch to this fun little restaurant.
So before or after the theater, or any time for that matter, stop by one of my new favs. And say hello to Magna Sampaio. She’s the 5′-1″ bundle of gracious energy that keep this place humming.