Kick Up Your Boots: The Rio Saloon is a full-service bar complete with hickory and rawhide barstools, a 22 foot long solid mesquite wood bar and a wood ceiling made from a Civil War-era barn.
Don’t call it a comeback: Rio Ranch Steakhouse, located at 9999 Westheimer Road, has been here for years. But Judy Orlando, the new general manager of the Hilton Houston Westchase, wants customers to know that as the restaurant approaches a quarter century of serving cowboy cuisine, management is upping the ante on its rustic roots, emphasizing its campfire ambiance and signature mesquite grill.
“We’ve always been here, but now we’re highlighting the original concept of our unique southwestern Hill Country menu,” Orlando said. “We’re tweaking the décor and the menu slightly to play up the eating-around-the-campfire feel.”
Together yet separate
While technically attached to the Hilton, Rio Ranch is more of a freestanding location with its own prominent entrance and parking. “We don’t want to be thought of merely as a ‘hotel restaurant’ because we’re more unique than that,” said Orlando. “We conform to the high standard of the Hilton brand while at the same time we’re like nothing else Hilton offers.”
Orlando added that Rio Ranch has always been positioned as a big networking restaurant, a place where people can have a casual gathering to discuss business or meet friends. “Most of our customers aren’t guests at the hotel – and that’s fine with us,” she said. “We’re a neighborhood restaurant that’s a destination unto itself.”
Wood-fired, not fou fou
Since 1993, self-taught executive chef San Hemwattikit has presided over the menu at Rio Ranch. A native of Thailand but Texan by taste, he features unique lunch specials such as smoked Chile wings and pulled pork sliders, as well as dinner offerings like chuck wagon chili and a 16 oz. ribeye steak grilled over mesquite wood. “I use certified black angus beef, I don’t use gas grills and, of course, I have my secret seasonings,” he said. “You can really taste the difference in our steaks and in our campfire mesquite savory chicken.”
Weekday lunches feature the daily “Meat & Three” specials with a specially picked protein and a trio of side dishes. Hemattikit’s expansive Sunday hot brunch is arguably the best in Westchase District. From made-to-order omelets and a flapjack griddle with lots of “country fixin’s” to smoked salmon and sun-dried tomato pasta salad, Sundays at Rio Ranch offer something for everyone.
“Over the years, I’ve simplified the menu and gone back to the basics,” Hemwattikit said. “Our market out here is different from inside the loop. We don’t go for anything too fou fou at Rio Ranch. I’ve been here since for 23 years, so we must be doing something right.”