In a city flush with outstanding Tex-Mex options, Caliente Tex-Mex Restaurant and Wine Bar in Town & Country Village sets itself apart with its commitment to providing fresh food while pushing the culinary envelope and delivering “to-go” that presents like “dine-in”.
Caliente started with simple counter service of a carefully selected menu made with fresh, locally-sourced ingredients. Chris Smith, Caliente's owner and the force behind the menu, says, “We make everything fresh in the house. We don’t have a freezer.” Smith’s goal is to provide farm-to-floor, quality products,sourced in Texas.
Smith got his start working for Pappas Restaurants in college, driving back from A&M on the weekends to wait tables in Houston. After graduating, the history major had his sights on teaching, but his Pappasito’s general manager had different ideas and encouraged him to change his trajectory. Smith gave it a shot and never looked back, working as a manager for five years and a general manager for 17 years.
In 2014, Smith amicably parted ways with his Pappas family to open Caliente. He notes that he’s a culinary guy who’s opened a business not a business guy who’s opened a restaurant. He recalls, “I had about 10 items (on the menu), and these 10 items we were going to do real well.”
In December 2014, Caliente expanded to add a dine-in experience, extensive take-out and catering, and great wholesale wine offerings. Smith says, “The first year you kind of figure out what you want to do. We changed the concept two or three times the first year. The second year you work on that concept. The third year you can focus on the culinary aspect. 'How can I narrow in on getting the food better'”
In its third year, it’s hard to imagine what 'better' looks like on Caliente’s menu. Some of Smith’s favorites include the fajitas served with grilled veggies and serrano peppers and the ribs. A hands-down customer favorite is the sour cream enchiladas. On the menu from day-one, they have had such popularity Smith created a complimentary sour cream fajitas dish. With fresh takes on Tex-Mex classics and fun options like a Salsa Flight, the menu has something for all cravings.
Caliente’s location, in Town & Country Village, fronting onto the Beltway feeder just south of Queensbury, makes it convenient for carry-out and delivery service. Whether dining in or taking away, Caliente focuses on quality presentation. “For our to-go experience, we want the same dining-in experience with...We focus on great plate presentation with quality, microwaveable to-go containers. We try to the be the best at to-go and make it easy for the consumer.” Looking for an easy Tuesday night take-away? Try Caliente’s Tuesday Night Fajitas special.
The wine is something Caliente does a bit differently. They sell high-end wine at cost, offering a variety and selection beyond what can be found in local stores. Smith samples and carefully selects them all and strives to offer wines of value and taste to customers.
What wines is Smith currently drinking? For a white wine, he picks Heritance Sauvignon Blanc out of Napa Valley. He says it’s value all the way: nice, light and crisp, perfect for sipping on hot Houston nights. For a red, the Halter Ranch red Grenache blend is what Smith has on-hand as his own house.
Three years in, Caliente is a mainstay in the community and not just for the fantastic eats and outstanding selections of wines. Caliente frequently sponsors swim teams and neighborhood events, provides concessions for shows at the Queensbury Theatre and hosts fundraisers for SBISD schools like Thornwood, Rummel Creek, Meadowood and Bunker Hill.
As Caliente’s popularity continues to grow, Smith will expand as well. This spring, Smith and a partner will open Pablo’s in Richmond. Pablo’s will offer the same food in a larger setting, with 10,000 square feet of space, two private rooms and a bar.