He's back! Hot chef opens a new Houston restaurant with South American sizzle

Former Samba Grille/Alma Cebiche chef David Guerrero will make his return to the Houston dining scene next week when he opensAndes Cafe. The 40(ish) seat space in an office building on Canal Street just east of downtown represents a new, more casual direction for the chef, but Guerrero tells CultureMap that he’s looking forward to bringing “very authentic, casual South American food” to the area.

Guerrero says he’s learned two lessons from Alma’s failure. First, the restaurant didn’t have enough staff to handle the crush of diners who came by after a three-star review from Chronicle critic Alison Cook. Second, “My mistake is having a naive personality. I believed the person who was supposed to be my partner, (but) he never believed in my concept.”

Now, with a new investor and new focus, Guerrero is confident Andes Cafe can find an audience.

He jumped at the “very affordable” space, but the landlord gave him two requirements. First, “he doesn’t want Mexican,” because, with Ninfa’s, El Tiempo and more nearby, “it’s all about Mexican around here,” Guerrero says. Second, Guerrero was told that he couldn’t open EVO, his South American-inspired tasting menu concept, in the space. EVO style meals may appear at Andes eventually, but that’s a couple months away.

For now, Andes Cafe will serve breakfast and lunch Monday through Thursday from 7 a.m. until 3:30 p.m., with dinner service until 9 p.m. added on Friday and Saturday.

The restaurant’s name provides insight into what’s on the menu. Guerrero will serve classic dishes from countries along the Andes Mountains (Peru, Argentina, Ecuador, Venezuela, etc) such as the Venezuela sandwich Pepito and a variety of tamales with unusual fillings.

“People around here are used to tamales,” Guerrero notes. “They’ll (see them on the menu) and say ‘Ok, let me try this out.’ ” Of course, four of Guerrero’s signature ceviches are also on the menu; he’s particularly excited about a version that uses difficult to source black clams.

At breakfast, Andes will showcase a variety of egg dishes, Ecuadoran steamed corn cakes and quinoa oatmeal. Saturday’s brunch menu will feature a weekly special such as suckling pig or other specialities that don’t fit the lunch concept.

In addition to food, Andes Cafe serves a variety of South American sodas and locally roasted Katz coffee that’s been sourced from South America. There are American sodas, too, but Guerrero hopes to encourage diners to explore new flavors.

Inside, Guerrero worked with designer John Garrison to renovate the space. They pulled up the linoleum floor, took out the drop ceiling and removed sheetrock to expose brick. Decorations include lighting fixtures made from coffee bags and two murals by local artist Wiley Robertson. It’s clean and comfortable, which should suit the 350 people who work in the office building. Even though Andes won’t start serving food until training begins on Monday, the office workers have already been by to try the coffee and see the space.

Along with its ability to provide catered lunches to other downtown offices, this in-the-building business should provide Andes Cafe with a good basis of support.

Now it’s time to execute.

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