Rene Hidalgo has a lifelong passion for cooking. He would cook his own meals even as a child in Mexico City, and when he was 14 years old, he operated a hamburger stand all by himself. When Hidalgo was 20, he traveled to California to study English and tourism and had gotten a job as a dishwasher for Hyatt Hotels.
“My idea was just to learn English and then come back, but when I started to work in the kitchen, I liked it a lot, so I just decided to stay and work full time,” Hidalgo said.
By 1991, Hidalgo had been promoted to a cook and transferred to the downtown Hyatt Hotel in Houston before opening his own restaurants: Maria Selma, Tortas El Angel and, on Cinco De Mayo of 2018, Tamales Don Pepe.
“My wife and I decided to start this new business because it’s close to home, and we wanted something more personal. Something small with, like, three customers. The way it’s supposed to be,” Hidalgo said. “So far people have been happy here. They like the service; they like the food.”
Tamales Don Pepe serves authentic Mexican food for both breakfast and lunch, with familiar options such as quesadillas and enchiladas to a wide variety of tamales, all with an emphasis on affordability.
“There’s a need for more authentic and affordable Mexican food,” Hidalgo said. “There are a couple of restaurants in the city that are authentic but more expensive. There’s no other place I know that cooks like we do at our prices.”
Hidalgo said many of the customers who come into Tamales Don Pepe are returning customers of different nationalities, which he attributes to the authentic quality of his cooking and the friendly atmosphere for which Tamales Don Pepe is known.
“We are doing so much better in our first year than we’ve done in two or three years in the previous restaurants,” Hidalgo said. “I’m happy to be here, and I love this place.”
Tamales Don Pepe
3816 Link Valley Drive, Houston
Hours: Tue.-Sat. 7 a.m.-3 p.m., Sun. 8 a.m.-3 p.m., closed Mon.