The in-transition neighborhood and dicey curb appeal at Andes Cafe might make you question your lunch destination, but once you step inside the thoughtfully designed interior and begin to explore the menu, you will be glad you decided to stick around.
Chef/owner David Guerrero opened Andes Cafe a few weeks ago, just a couple blocks away from The Original Ninfa’s on Navigation. The goal was to assemble a casual concept that offered a taste of South American home cooking and street foods.
The atmosphere inside is something of an industrial chic neighborhood cafe. The restaurant boasts an exposed ceiling, multiple uses of reclaimed wood and a colorful graffiti mural that captures both South America and Houston’s vibrancy.
There are other attention-grabbing details, too, such as the geometric art installation covering an entire wall and a modern mosaic below the bar.
Guerrero’s cooking — maybe you caught him at the short-lived Alma Cebiche & Bar out on Eldridge Parkway — is as lively as the décor and expands beyond his native Ecuadorian cuisine, including dishes inspired by Peruvian, Venezuelan, Argentinian, Colombian and Chilean cooking.
The menu is categorized into soups, salads, sandwiches, small plates, signature plates, ceviche and desserts as well as breakfast, coffee and smoothies. Following each dish on the menu is the country of origin, and Guerrero lets diners know that each plate also has a little story behind it.
For example, the Ecuadorian empanadas de morocho (photo below) are served as snacks at the local soccer stadiums, one of the most culturally important events in Ecuador.
Corn-based dough — morocho is a kind of corn — surrounds the filling of pork, rice, green onions, carrot and green peas. Served with a spicy aji criollo sauce, the empanadas were crisp and flavorful enough, but some of the filling had not been heated thoroughly. There were multiple bites of cold peas, and the chilled sauce also added some temperature confusion.
We love almost anything served on a stick, and Andes Cafe’s Peruvian chicken anticuchos, which are kebabs, were a good choice for a light flavor-packed lunch. Choclo (sweet large-kerneled corn), boiled potatoes and crema de huacatay (a chili sauce powered by Peruvian black peppermint) accompanied the kebabs.
The favorite dish of our quick First Look lunch was the Venezuelan pepito sandwich (photo below). A hoagie-style roll cradled beef, tomatoes, lettuce, cheese, avocado relish and corn sauce, making for a sandwich that oozed drippings. It’s something like a Mexican cemita or roast beef po’boy.
Before leaving (and after that weighty sandwich), a mid-afternoon pick-me-up was in order. Andes receives its coffee from Katz, but they incorporate their own South American-flavored syrups, such as chirimoya (a fruit native to the Andes sometimes also called “custard apple” due to its sweet creaminess) and algarrobina (a syrup made from the black carob tree). We recommend the Andes laté with the lucuma syrup, which adds a spicy note that is similar to chai.
The service was a little slow, but we won’t hold it against Andes — we are looking forward to a return visit. Next order up: A juice from Andes’ juice bar and something off of the breakfast menu (Yes, we would like to upgrade with two fried eggs, please.)
Andes Cafe, 2311 Canal near Navigation, 832-659-0063, andescafe.com