Spring Branch restaurants sharply reflect Houston’s diversity, so it’s no surprise that in a shopping strip on Hammerly near Gessner is a treasure that serves authentic Argentinian specialties. And if you have not tried it, you are missing out.

Pampa Grill and Market has been in operation for more than 12 years .Husband and wife team Javier Mendez and Vicky Suarez. along with their son, Oswaldo, are hands-on in the day-to-day operations.

Javier, a former pastry chef, works the kitchen, creating authentic Argentinian dishes and mouth watering desserts. Vicky maintains the sitting area, greeting each guest with her infectious smile and a warm welcome. But Vicky credits their special needs son with inspiring them. “He is a special soul that drives us,” she said proudly.

You almost feel as if you have stepped into a café in the heart of Argentina when you walk inside this eatery. The authentic cuisine includes grilled specialties like ribs, flank skirt, blood sausage with sides with flank skirt, chicken, small intestine, and sweetbreads.

Your palette is not feeling that adventurous? No worries, they have everything from a variety of sandwiches and  pastas to brick oven pizzas. There’s even a vegan sandwich on the list.

If you are a fan of Milanesa, a traditional breaded meat dish, you will have decisions to make. The selection includes Plain Milanesa, Napolitana Milanesa, Fugazetta Milanesa and Spinach Milanesa.

One of my favorites is Angel Chicken, a chef’s specialty. This rich, moist chicken breast is served topped with a light and rich cream, mushroom, and spinach sauce. Along the side I had rice and traditional fried plantains. But you can select from other sides including fried/boiled yuca, sweet potatoes, broccoli, and salad.

Save some room for desserts like the homemade alfajores, Argentinian shortbread dulce de leche cookies. Other dessert dishes include crepes, churros, and tiramisu.

Then there’s this:  I love, love , love the empanadas. My favorite is the beef empanada. Honestly, I could make a meal out of it. I recommend the spinach and cheese empanada as well. The flaky brick oven-baked crust is light and unlike some empanadas, which tend to be fried, these are not greasy but a perfect start to your meal. The lentil soup is perfect for a cold day but frankly, I could eat it in the heat of Houston’s hottest day.

Javier and Vicky usually arrange for live music on the weekends for patrons to enjoy along with their meal. They do not serve alcohol, but do allow you to bring your favorite bottle of wine to enjoy with your food, for a small corking fee.

To be honest, it took me sometime to eat at Pampa Grill and Market. On my initial try, I did not make a reservation and it was booked. I continually heard about it from area residents and friends who said I had to try it. I listened and now I am hooked.

While waiting for your table, check out the on-site Argentine market products such as cookies, spices, and empanada dough. Vicky explained, “Our most popular market items are the caramel spread and traditional herb leaves used to make the traditional South American caffeine-rich infused drink, mata. The leaves are soaked in hot water and served with a metal straw in a container typically made from a calabash gourd.”

So, about those sweetbreads, they are neither sweet nor breads. They are the culinary name for the thymus or pancreas, typically from calf and lamb. But doesn’t sweet bread just sound better?

Pampa Grill and Market
10111 Hammerly Blvd.
Houston 77080

Open Tuesday and Wednesday 11 a.m. — 3 p.m.
Thursday 11.a.m.-8:30 p.m.
Friday 11 a.m. – 9:30 p.m.
Saturday noon-9:30 p.m.
Sunday 2-5:30 p.m.

by Jessika Leal