Swanky New Houston Steakhouse Toca Madera Delivers on the Drama

The garden-like patio at Toca Madera in Houston
The Upshot: New, upscale, Mexican-inspired steakhouse Toca Madera had a strong start at a preview dinner. While the steaks were solid, the seafood, desserts and cocktails are what really impressed. The prices are high, but you will get a lot of bang for your buck if you value posh restaurant environments.

The Lifestyle Pavillion at the Allen continues to fill in the empty spaces, and its newest addition is also the fanciest. Upscale, Mexican-influenced steakhouse Toca Madera has opened at 1755 Allen Parkway. It joins Eos Fitness and Hyatt’s Thompson Houston hotel, which is home to Maven Coffee & Cocktails and Sol 7. This is the brand’s fourth location and the Noble 33 restaurant group’s first venture into Texas. Houston Food Finder was invited to a preview dinner at the glamorous new restaurant.

The design and build-out is the most impressive part of Toca Madera. The 14,000-square-foot steakhouse has immersive decor and an energetic atmosphere, but the design is even more thought-out than that. The sheer size of the space allows the restaurant to create multiple, distinct experiences. The first area after entering the restaurant,  is by far the liveliest, giving you a peek at how eclectic the decor of the restaurant will be. The massive marble bartop and skull-adorned DJ booth (which the press release states will be utilized nightly) are the focal points of the room. This space is louder and more brightly lit than the rest of the restaurant. 

The moody, intimate dining room of Toca Madera in Houston
The moody, intimate dining room of Toca Madera in Houston. Photo by Ryan Baker.

The main dining area is dimmer and the music is at a much-lower volume, but it still manages to carry a high-energy vibe. The patio is possibly the most interesting area of the restaurant, taking the running theme of greenery and wood to an extreme.  An intricate wood trellis and greenery fully encases the tables and creates Toca Madera’s most-intimate setting. In addition to the DJ, fire dancers and live musicians are also regular fixtures at the restaurant.

Arachera Tacos at Toca Madera.
Arachera Tacos at Toca Madera. Photo by Ryan Baker.

For appetizers, there are chips and salsa, as well as a few classics such as queso fundido (considering the number of things set on fire, surprisingly, they didn’t go with flameado) and guacamole, as well as a few upscale versions of dishes like truffle quesadillas and tostaditas. There are also choices that seem unusual for a Mexican steakhouse, like fried calamari and shishito peppers.

Steak takes center stage on the menu. The cuts of meat are divided into categories based on the beef marbling scale, going from leaner cuts like filets and New York Strips to the fattier Ribeyes and famously rich Wagyu. Toca Madera offers three types of Wagyu, which customers can order in a flight of two-ounce cuts. If you want to go all-out, you can go for the tomahawk, which is brought flaming to the table. With indulgence being the name of the game, accouterments include fresh truffles, prawns, lobster, caviar or one of the housemade specialty butters. I tried the New York Strip, and despite my visit being on the first day amid heavy crowds, it was properly cooked and well-seasoned. It came served with herbal butter and a bulb of roasted garlic.

Ceviche Blanco at Toca Madera
Ceviche Blanco at Toca Madera. Photo by Ryan Baker.

Steak may be the main character, but the seafood was the breakout star. The raw seafood offerings include oysters, hamachi, sashimi and the Mariscos, a tower that comes in two sizes. The ceviche blanco, made with Chilean Sea Bass, avocado, lime, jalapeño and aji amarillo (a type of mild yellow pepper perhaps best known in Peruvian cuisine), was the most memorable dish of the night. The dish was fresh and flavorful, more citric than spicy, but the construction set it apart, making it one of the most visually appealing plates in the restaurant. Like the ceviche, the tender diver scallops are fresh; they come topped with roasted pepitas, chimichurri and a sauce made from aji amarillo peppers.

Diver scallops with roasted pepitas, chimichurri and aji amarillo pepper sauce at Toca Madera
Diver scallops with roasted pepitas, chimichurri and aji amarillo pepper sauce at Toca Madera. Photo by TJ Perez.

The menu also has a few salads, such as the Toca Caesar, chop and wedge each with Mexican ingredients added. If you aren’t feeling steak, there are also a few composted dishes, like chicken al pastor and enchiladas. Rounding out the savory entrées are four taco options, available on a separate taqueria menu: Beer-Battered Sea Bass, arrachera (Mexican skirt steak; another personal favorite of the night), Truffle-Mushroom (seasonal mushrooms with truffle crema) and chicken al pastor. (While it is not stated anywhere, many of the restaurant’s dishes, such as the quesadilla, enchiladas, and tostaditas can be made vegan.

Damas De Los Muertos dessert at Toca Madera
Damas De Los Muertos dessert at Toca Madera. Photo by Ryan Baker.

Even if you aren’t going for the full dinner experience, Toca Madera is a great stop just for dessert and drinks. The Dama De Los Muertos is a hollow milk chocolate skull filled with peanut butter mousse and served in a “moat” of raspberry coulis, cocoa nibs and fresh raspberries. The dessert is delicious, but also unique and aesthetically pleasing. Another great option is the Strawberry Tres Leches. The cake was not too sweet, never became soggy — and the anglaise was addictive. I found myself eating spoonfuls once the cake ran out.

The house cocktail list, which mostly showcased agave spirits and tiki inspirations, were all meticulously made. From the glassware to the garnishes and even props such as miniature honey dippers and fire, the drinks were elaborate. Our table’s favorite drink of the night, No Mames! which took a mai tai base (the overly sweet, fruit-juice-laden Hawaiian boat drink version, not the classic tiki rendition) and added savoriness with mezcal, ginger and red bell pepper, creating an unexpectedly balanced treat.

Winnie De Pooh cocktail at Toca Madera
Winnie De Pooh cocktail at Toca Madera. Photo by TJ Perez.

The chartreuse, tequila, ginger, mint, lemon and wildflower honey of the Winnie De Pooh , makes it sound like an over-the-top Mexican Mule. However, the mint and chartreuse added enough flavor to make it a unique drink (not to mention the miniature honey dipper was fun to play with). Como La Flor reminded me of an Indian rose milk drink, and wasn’t my favorite drink, but led to one of the funnier moments when the very personable server delivered the cocktail while belting out the Selena classic. Toca Madera also has a list of over half a dozen margarita riffs. In addition, there are a few Mexican beers available and an impressive by-the-glass wine selection.

The main bar at Toca Madera.
The main bar at Toca Madera. Photo by Ryan Baker.

Dinner at Noble 33’s Toca Madera will come with a hefty price tag. Dinner for two, with two entrées, two cocktails, an appetizer, and dessert can easily break the $200 mark. That being said, the restaurant’s eye-catching designs, atmosphere, service and overall fun factor should make for a fun dining adventure. At the very least, it has me looking forward to checking out Noble 33’s next Houston restaurant, Meduza Mediterrania

Toca Madera is open Tuesday through Sunday from 5 p.m. to midnight, and reservations are available online.

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