Meet James Beard award winning Chef Hugo Ortega, Houston’s most reputable chef. Not only is Chef Hugo incredibly talented, serving unbeatable flavors under the hot Lone Star State sun, but he’s also beloved for his heart of gold. You might recognize Chef Hugo from one of the four top restaurants in Houston where he serves as executive chef: Hugo’s, Caracol, Backstreet Cafe, and Xochi. But that’s not all, Chef Hugo also has a fast-casual concept called Hugo’s Cocina in Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport (or IAH, in texting lingo), which Chef Hugo owns with his wife Tracy under the H Town Restaurant Group umbrella. And there’s still one more: Chef Hugo and Tracy are also partners in Origen restaurant in Oaxaca, Mexico.
Chef Hugo’s love for cooking began when he was a child. Starting from humble beginnings, Chef Hugo truly embodies the Mina spirit of consistent growth. Raised in Mexico City and Puebla, Mexico, Chef Hugo learned the art of cooking from his mother and grandmother, a revered maker of delicious, classical Mexican mole. At 17, Chef Hugo left Mexico for Houston, where he began his career in the restaurant industry as a dishwasher and busboy at Backstreet café. A few years later, he graduated from the Culinary Arts Program at Houston Community College and later became its executive chef.
Chef Michael Mina first met Chef Hugo as a fan. Scratch that, as a huge fan. Chef Mina loved coming to Chef Hugo’s Houston restaurants so much that Chef Mina invited Chef Hugo to the MINA Test Kitchen to collaborate on a concept. That concept, Mi Almita Cantina, became one of the most successful concepts within the MINA Test Kitchen. Chefs Michael and Hugo were so excited to bring the concept alive in San Francisco, but they knew that Mi Almita Cantina’s journey was far from over. That’s why they brought it to The Street in Hawaii in 2018 where it remains a delicious destination for tourists and locals alike.
Though Chef Hugo is wildly accomplished in the kitchen, he’s no stranger to bookshelves either. In fact, Chef Hugo is the author of two cookbooks – Hugo Ortega’s Street Food of Mexico and Backstreet Kitchen: Seasonal Recipes from Our Neighborhood Café.
As Houston’s most reputable chef, Chef Hugo is no stranger to prestigious awards. In fact, Chef Hugo was the 2017 recipient of the James Beard Foundation’s award for “Best Chef – Southwest.” But that enviable accomplishment is only half the story. Winning that prestigious award was a well-deserved honor won through hard work and grit. Before he won, Chef Hugo had been a six-time consecutive finalist for the award from 2012-2017; when he won in 2017, he became the first Mexican-born chef to win the award. Talk about a well-deserved, amazing honor! See his other awards below.
- June 20, 2017, was declared “Chef Hugo Ortega Day” in Houston, Texas by The Honorable Mayor Sylvester Turner to honor Ortega’s inspirational journey from dishwasher to James Beard Award winner, but in the world of MINA, every day lends itself to being Chef Hugo Ortega Day.
Hugo Ortega named Best Chef: Southwest, 2017 James Beard Foundation Awards
- (first Mexican-born chef to win)
- Hugo Ortega finalist for Best Chef: Southwest, 2012 to 2017, James Beard Foundation Awards
- Hugo Ortega Bestowed 2017 Craig Claiborne Lifetime Achievement Award from Southern Foodways Alliance
- June 20, 2017, declared Hugo Ortega Day in Houston by Mayor Sylvester Turner in honor of his James Beard Award
- Hugo Ortega, 2012 and 2002 Chef of the Year, Houston Culinary Award
- Hugo Ortega – Up-and-Coming-Chef-of-the-Year for 2000 Houston Culinary Awards