Here’s what you need to know about the two-year-old Candente restaurant in Montrose. It can get a little noisy at night, and the prices are not what you’d expect from your neighborhood Tex-Mex joint. But your motivation to eat here will be summed up in two words: brisket queso.
You read that right: Candente is where Tex-Mex meets barbeque, and in the most delicious way you’ll ever taste.
Yes, it might look like your average Tex-Mex eatery with a cavernous dining room, brightly colored walls, and a Día de los Muertos mural on the back wall. But the first indication you’re in for something special is the stacked mesquite beside the front door, and the whiff of that smoke from the wood-burning grill in the kitchen as you enter.
Candente means hot or burning, and that applies both to the menu and the buzz about this spot. Michael Sambrooks’ Sambrooks Management Company—the group behind several popular restaurants in Houston, including The Pit Room next door—opened Candente in November 2019 to rave reviews. The Pit Room was already one of the hottest barbeque spots in a city full of great barbeque, but when Sambrooks announced he was opening a Tex-Mex eatery around the corner, no one really expected it to be a notch above regular Tex-Mex, with a creative melding of the two famous flavors.
And its Montrose location is a perfect fit. “We love the Montrose neighborhood and celebrate its diversity,” says Sambrooks. “We are honored to be featured in OutSmart magazine, and appreciate the support of the LGBTQ+ community as our neighbors and friends of Candente and The Pit Room.”
Choose a table in the main dining room or on the covered patio, a great option this time of year, and start with a top-shelf margarita rimmed in sea salt. Other good choices on the bar menu: the Ranch Water (Topo Chico, lime, and tequila) or the house-made Sangria. A must-try is the aforementioned chili con queso topped with mesquite-grilled brisket. Seriously, it’s one of the best in town and a must-try for any die-hard queso fan (aren’t we all?). The $10.50 small size is enough for three people. You can make a meal just off the appetizer menu: the brisket nachos ($22) boast a half pound of smokey brisket, and the smoked chicken flautas ($12) come with a creamy avocado salsa, crema, queso fresco, pico de gallo, and guacamole. The botanas (Mexican sampler plates) are a feast unto themselves and range in price from $45 to $80—but they’ll feed your whole table and give you a taste of everything.
Need something lighter and less expensive? The ceviches are fresh and delicious, and the smoked campechana comes with mussels, shrimp, and octopus.
Entrées are probably best shared, as the portions are impressive in either the medium or large sizes. Fajitas come with Niman Ranch skirt steak, ribeye, chicken, or shrimp. The pork carnitas melt in your mouth, and it’s definitely worth adding the à la carte jalapeño cheddar link or the quail. There are several grilled combo platters—giant feasts of ribs, fajitas, shrimp, and quail with all the fixings—and even a grilled redfish plate and a 9-ounce ribeye with cheese enchiladas.
On the more traditional and less gluttonous side, you can get simple but yummy enchiladas—two or three on a plate with rice and refried beans—or the tacos and burritos. The crispy beef tacos are typical, but the Frito Burrito ($14) is a divine, soft, house-made tortilla filled with Texas red chili, cheddar cheese, queso and—in a nod to old-school Tex Mex—chopped white onion. It’s a surprising item, and actually one of the best things on the menu. Except for the brisket queso. We’re not kidding about that queso.
For more info, visit candentehtx.com.
This article appears in the December 2021 edition of OutSmart magazine.