In a city with no shortage of Mexican restaurants, Maria Selma’s strives to be something a little different. It’s more ambitious, and more authentic than most area Mexican restaurants. Though it might not succeed for all it strives, and the kitchen has been somewhat inconsistent in the past, it’s still an interesting and worthwhile place to visit. And, importantly, the meals are a fine value.
With the exception of the complimentary and necessary chips and salsa and the fajitas, Maria Selma’s tries to avoid Tex-Mex and sticks to Mexico City-style cooking, even as the menu has evolved to align more closely with local tastes. It’s divided among appetizers, soups, salads, quesos, seafood, meat and poultry, tacos, tortas, enchiladas, and several house specials. Though many items might be unfamiliar to many whom usually frequent the large suburban Mexican restaurants, there should be enough familiar and certainly appealing dishes from which to choose.
The appetizers include flautas filled with shredded duck, empanadas, and an avocado stuffed with crab meat in addition to artful nachos and chile con queso. There are several soups including a tortilla soup, a hearty chicken soup and an enticing Cream of Poblano Pepper.
Melted cheese dishes listed under “Quesos” get more attention at Maria Selma than most other local Mexican restaurants. There is the popular dish of cheese melted with chorizo, Queso a la Plancha, which here is a thin layer of crispy panela cheese with jalapetios cheese that has been cooked on the grill.
The meat dishes listed under the headers Meat and Poultry and Specialties seem to include most of the best of the entrées. There milanesas with beef and chicken, pork loin served in either a rich adobo or an earthy green mole sauce, pork chops, Papas con Rajas (potatoes with strips of poblano pepper), a potato cake, and a marinated, grilled steak with nopalito cactus. Their specialty dishes are platters of meat such as carne asada, puerco al pastor, chorizo, and pork loin sometimes mixed with chopped onions and pepper, and topped with melted cheese. Served with fresh tortillas, each of these five choices is usually quite satisfying: cillalitY meat prepared in zesty and interesting combinations. Similar mixed gilts (el comal) can be cooked for two or four.
Maria Selma’s does a very good job with the variety of enchiladas, which the menu states are made as in Mexico City. These will be quite recognizable, in addition to being quite enjoyable. The seafood dishes are both familiar and unique. There is poblano pepper stuffed with seafood, fried shrimp served with a chipotle-studded mayonnaise plus snapper a la Verucruzana and snapper ceviche. Unfortunately, the quality of the seafood, especially the fish fillets dishes, is variable. The aforementioned meat items are much more reliable.
Though most of the dinner plates are not pricey, the casual finger foods are even a better value. The tortas, the Mexican versions of the sandwiches, are an especially good deal. These are served on telera bread, which is slightly different, maybe more dense here, than the bolillo bread that most local places employ for their tortas. The taco choices are the pork al pastor, served with a pineapple topping, came asada with grilled onions and cactus, chicken in a tomato sauce, marinated shrimp, and breaded and fried fish with the chipotle mayonnaise. Among the nice touches is that unlike most Mexican restaurants in town, the corn tortillas in addition to the flour tortillas are made on site. These are delivered to the table in a small cloth pouch to keep them warm. To help wash down the food are the aguas frescas in a half-dozen different flavors that are made in-house, Mexican sodas, and the other usual suspects. The margaritas could be better, but can get expensive near the higher end, which are pushed, of course. Maria Selma carries a huge range of tequilas. It might be a better idea to drink one of these top quality tequilas neat, rather than in a margarita.
The weekend breakfasts are worthy of a visit; some of the prettiest Mexican morning fare in town. There are even a couple dishes that would be difficult to find at most taquerias.
The setting is pleasant and comfortable, and there is a good-sized patio in front that is usually crowded on weather-amendable evenings. The pressed tin ceiling inside is a nice try, though the final result is a bit clumsy. But, this is another indication that the restaurant seems very keen in providing a better-than-usual dining experience, as is the often attentive and always friendly service.
1617 Richmond (between Mandell and Dunlavy)
Houston, Texas 77006
Copyright Mike Riccetti. Adapted from Houston Dining on the Cheap, and used with permission.
Get your copy of Mike Riccetti’s new Kindle edition of Houston Dining 2011 – A Guide for Visitors (and Most Locals, Too)