When your next store neighbor supposedly offers the best lobster rolls in town, it might be easy to get intimated. Gusto Gourmet, however, remains self-assured in its mission to deliver Latin-Mediterranean fusion delicacies to the Houston dining community. And, fortunately (for us and for them), their confidence is not misplaced. I’ll admit, however, I initially found the idea of a restaurant that combines “Latin” and “Mediterranean” cuisines appealing albeit a bit confusing. Both descriptors can be applied to a wide range of dishes and cooking styles; what exactly then is Gusto Gourmet fusing in its bright South Shepherd café and catering kitchen?
To begin with, the rustic ingredients of Italian cooking with the comforting architecture of South American sandwiches in the form of arepas stuffed with mozzarella cheese, sautéed eggplant, and tomato. The slightly sweet corn dough of the bread combined with the interior filling of earthy antipasti is decadent and most delicious if eaten slightly warm (that is to say, right out of the white paper wrapper). Pita sandwiches, such as the pabellon with shredded beef, black beans, plantains, and tahini, similarly meld straightforward savory proteins and lighter aromatic sauces and vegetables.
These lunch items are more than sufficient for a midday repast; however, ordering “just a sandwich” at Gusto Gourmet means you miss out on the more delicate smaller confections, many of which are rarities on Houston menus even at establishments that proffer Latin cuisine. Tequeños, for example, crispy long, hollow spears of white dough traditionally filled with cheese, come in an astounding eight varieties (the most, I think, offered by any restaurant in town), including the smoked turkey and cream cheese, guava and cheese, and the dessert-meets-dinner, dulce de leche and cheese. Neophytes to Venezuelan cuisine (like me) should also try the mendocas, crunchy deep-fried rings of dough made from a mash of cornmeal, sugar, overripe plantains, and cheese. With a supple texture and greasy sheen, mendocas are the glorious love child between a cake donut and cheese bagel.
Such Latin-inspired appetizers are balanced with familiar Middle Eastern spreads such as hummus, tabouleh, and babaganush as well as the more off-the-beaten path muhamara, a fiery deep red dip composed of red peppers, ground walnuts, pomegranate juice, and wheat crumbs that should be consumed in large scoopfuls via Gusto Gourmet’s house-baked pita chips.
Although Gusto Gourmet seems to hit its stride most during lunch and the early afternoon hours, its 7 p.m. closing time as well as its heartier offerings like the beef eggplant lasagna and the falafel tostada plate (whose substantial chickpea patties are accompanied by hummus, tabouleh salad, tahini, and muhamara) make it good for a healthful takeaway dinner. Can’t face the rush hour traffic on South Shepherd? I get you. Make Grub Squad brave the congestion and have those tequeños delivered.
3306 S Shepherd Dr., Houston, TX 77098