Downtown has had some major upgrades thanks in part to the Super Bowl. This means that the area by George R. Brown Convention Center, Discovery Green and the Toyota Center now includes upscale restaurants in sparkling new buildings. One such restaurant, Xochi, serves fantastic Mexican food on the first floor of the Marriott Marquis.

Xochi is in the same restaurant group as Hugo’s and Caracol, but focuses on Oaxacan flavors. The menu is split into the usual antojitos (appetizers), sopas y ensaladas (soups and salads), platos fuertes (entrees) and postres (desserts), but the two unique aspects are crudos (raw fish) and mole sauce that you won’t find at your average Tex-Mex joint. We decided to sample some unique dishes from the crudos, antojitos, mole and postres sections. Fortunately, our server sequenced the dishes to come in a light to heavy order, instead of whatever just happened to be ready first, as seems to be the norm with new trendy restaurants.

We started with the callo de hacha, raw scallops cured with lime and served with xoconostle (prickly pear cactus), avocado and chile de arbol verde. The plating was absolutely beautiful, the scallops were tender instead of chewy, and the flavors were light and refreshing. So far, off to a great start.

We then moved on to the molotes de xoxocotlan, or masa cakes stuffed with potato and chorizo that are served with chile de onza, queso fresco and a chapulin garnish. The sauce was rich and tasty, pairing very well with the masa cakes. When we ordered the dish we didn’t know what the chapulin was, but after some research I learned it was grasshopper. I’ve never tried grasshopper before, but given that I couldn’t tell when I was eating it, I would recommend this dish as a good opportunity to try it if you haven’t already.

Our next dish was one that you could find at many Mexican restaurants in Houston or even in the servery: chicken taquitos. While Xochi’s rendition wasn’t particularly unique, I appreciated the mole coloradito sauce that we could dip the taquitos into and the garnishes of queso fresco, parsley and radish.

Our last plate before dessert was the mole tasting, or bowls of four different mole sauces served with homemade tortillas. There are a lot of varieties of mole, so the four that we tried were by no means an exhaustive list. Making mole is a very labor-intensive process that involves a mixture of chile, chocolate and various spices so it can be hard to find it housemade on restaurant menus. The four moles we tried were very different. Two sauces had very strong flavors: One had a very bitter chocolate aftertaste and one had strong cinnamon notes. The other two moles were more mild and a bit tart, which we liked better. The homemade tortillas that we dipped into the sauces were delicious and obviously cooked to order. However, only four tortillas were served initially so we had to ask for more. Upon getting the check, we saw that this request cost $1, which was totally worth it, but would have been nice to know at the time of the request.

The finale was another beautifully plated dish, the cremoso de chocolate. It was a rich chocolate mousse with a light chocolate sponge cake on top, garnished with an artistic branch made of solid chocolate and flower petals. Underneath the mousse were small strawberry slices and a strawberry sauce that paired very nicely with the chocolate.

Overall, this meal was expensive and would never qualify for the usual Saturday night dinner, coming out to $39 per person after tax and tip. That said, graduation is coming up, which is a special occasion that could justify the cost. A dinner at Xochi could be a great opportunity to leave the hedges and show your family a newly renovated part of downtown. Just note that the small plate strategy was more cost-effective than ordering an appetizer, two entrees and a dessert.