Downtown Houston is now home to Ixim, one of the city’s most exciting new destinations for regional Mexican cuisine.
The new restaurant takes over the space formerly occupied by Cherry Block Craft Butcher and Kitchen inside Bravery Chef Hall at 409 Travis Street. The restaurant is a project of Jonathan Gallardo, of cocktail bar Secret Garden HTX, and Tim Reading, the former executive chef at Caracol. The restaurant’s name, Ixim, translates to “maize” in the ancient Mayan language, and was chosen by Gallardo for its prominence and symbolism within Mexican culture.
“Jonathan chose the name with the idea that doesn’t matter where you come from or what language you speak — you are welcome here,” Reading told Eater.
The restaurant’s menu focuses on regional Mexican cuisine and represents a collaboration of ideas between Gallardo, Reading and sous chef Rebecca Aguirre.
“Mexico has a lot of dishes,” says the 35-year-old Gallardo, who had been working on a Mexican restaurant since well before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. “My idea was to bring something different that people don’t see at your average Mexican restaurant. My mom is from Veracruz on the Southern coast of Mexico. My dad is from Tamaulipas in Northern Mexico. I was born and raised in Monterrey, and grew up traveling throughout Mexico with my grandparents, so I experienced a lot of different foods that you don’t really see in Houston.”
Reading, who had parted ways amicably with Caracol, was working as a private chef during the height of the pandemic until he connected with Gallardo at one of those private dinners. “He’s awesome at what he does,” Gallardo says. “I was really impressed in the way he executed Mexican dishes, like mole.”
A native of Boston, and graduate of the Culinary Institute of America with experience in award-winning kitchens in Germany and Boston, Reading had never experienced Mexican cuisine until he staged at Caracol under Hugo Ortega. Hired as a sous chef, he quickly rose through the ranks to become executive chef of the coastal Mexican kitchen, often accompanying Ortega on exploratory trips back to Mexico.
Ixím’s opening menu is tight but ambitious. When possible, everything is made fresh or from scratch. “We’re butchering whole fish, butchering whole chickens, and making our salsas made from scratch,” says Reading, who prepares each dish from scratch as it is ordered.
Opening dinner menu highlights include appetizers such as aguachile de camarones (shrimp aguachile), ceviche de temporada, which boasts fresh seasonal fruits and a ever-rotating daily catch. Albondigas fritas, or fried lamb and pork meatballs with chipotle, avocado, queso fresco, and cumin are also on the menu, along with pancita de cerdo, or fried pork belly with achiote, corn puree, and confit pineapple. Entree options include crispy roasted chicken with pipian rojo, parillada de carne with New York strip, housemade chorizo, and grilled lamb belly, and an excellent fideo de mariscos, or vermicelli with fresh seafood.
“I’m super proud of the fideo de mariscos,” says Reading, who takes fideo pasta, toasts it in butter, salt and pepper, and then finishes it off with seafood stock and lobster, octopus and fish. “Every bite is intense, spicy, and lemony. This is where my classical training comes into play. I use all of the lobster shells, shrimp shells, and fish bones to prepare some a really good stock.”
Ixím is currently in its “soft opening” phase, with a limited menu on offer for lunch Monday through Friday, and dinner seven days a week. Reading says he has at least 10 more dishes that he plans to roll out on a weekly basis. In future, a weekend brunch buffet is planned, with the hopes of offering whole roasted pig and cabrito dishes. A chef’s table experience will also be added in the near future, available by reservation only. Gallardo is also creating cocktails at Secret Garden HTX will food pairings in mind.
The restaurant is currently open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. for lunch Monday through Friday, and for dinner service from 4 p.m. to close seven days a week.