Underbelly Hospitality is no stranger to shifts. The Houston-based restaurant group, originally launched by James Beard Award-winning chef Chris Shepherd, moved its steakhouse Georgia James from Westheimer Road to the Regent Square development in July 2021, and in June, closed GJ Tavern, the more casual offshoot of Georgia James, after finding that it was “financially unsustainable.” This month, it announced it’s making another major change.
The restaurant group announced on August 3 that it would relocate Wild Oats, its Texas cuisine-focused restaurant located in the Houston Farmers Market, to Spring Branch in hopes of further catering to families. In its place will be a new taqueria that will channel Mexico City.
In partnership with Mexico City-based restaurant group Nixt, which is led by international chef and trained French pastry chef Luis Robledo Richards, Underbelly will open taqueria Comalito at the Houston Farmers Market, paying homage to Mexico City’s best taquerias, says Underbelly president Nina Quincy. Dishes will include tacos al pastor and tacos de parrilla, or grilled tacos, plus plenty of vegan and vegetarian options, including mushroom al pastor tacos, zucchini flower quesadillas, and cactus and purslane salads, all complemented by fresh salsas.
Quincy says Comalito closely will echo traditional Mexico taquerias, with a casual ambiance and street tacos made with high-quality ingredients. Head chef Robledo Richards “wants it to stay true to what Mexico taquerias are and to feel as authentic as possible,” Quincy says. Tortillas will be made in-house, with Comalito importing organic heirloom corn from Central Mexico and offering market-goers a front-row seat of the tortilla-making process through a window, taking them on a journey from dried corn to masa to tortilla. Eventually, the plan is to create a tortilla manufacturing company at the market, Quincy adds.
The restaurant, which is slated to open as early as October, will also take notes from its home base, using peppers and produce from the Houston Farmers Market and meats from R-C Ranch, the Texas-based wagyu rancher that is also located in the market, and will start with lunch and dinner, with a drinks menu including plenty of mezcal and tequila, before expanding to include brunch, breakfast, and as assortment of pastries.
Quincy says the restaurant has been in the works for a while, with Todd Mason, one of the owners of MLB Capital Partners — the company that owns Underbelly Hospitality — discussing the idea with Robledo Richards for years. As the conversation progressed, Quincy says it made a lot more sense to move Wild Oats, which opened in Houston Farmers Market in February 2021. “It wasn’t a right fit,” she says, but Spring Branch, a more family-friendly neighborhood where Underbelly Burger’s second location will also open, seemed to be a better option for Wild Oats, which allows kids dining with adults to eat for free during the week.
Though the restaurant will officially close on Sunday, September 3 to make way for Comalito, Wild Oats will continue serving lunch and dinner through August, with specials in celebration of Houston Restaurant Week. Its new location will open in Spring Branch in October.
As for Underbelly’s plans, Quincy says the restaurant group is set on taking a year-long break to focus on its existing properties. Delays caused by the pandemic have meant many of its more recent restaurants opened close together, making it difficult for the restaurant group to stabilize and focus on individual properties, she says. Following Comalito, though, the restaurant group will have a chance to take a step back to reflect before jumping into new planned concepts. “We know we want to open more [restaurants], and we are absolutely going to open more. … That’s what we’re excited for. That’s what we live for — getting to be creative,” Quincy says.
In the meantime, “we’ll take a deep breath, and then start all over,” she says.