El Gran Malo: Infused Tequilas, Margaritas and Tacos

This past Friday night, the latest venture from the owners of Houston-staple dive bar The Dirt opened their doors to friends and family, offering a sneak peek of their new space, El Gran Malo. Guests were able to sample unique tequila infusions, cocktails, margaritas and south-of-the-border-inspired bar bites.

Spanish for "The Big Bad", El Gran Malo emits a Latin vibe while keeping a touch of Dirt's well-known rock n' roll aesthetic. The interior is festive, colorful and softly lit by chandeliers, with a Dia de los Muertos-type shrine tucked into an alcove along one wall. Along another wall is a six-by-28-foot mural by artist Kevin Hernandez depicting a collage of iconic Mexican images like La Sirena, sugar skulls, a mariachi band, La Virgen de Guadalupe and a Lucha Libre named El Gran Malo Lobo.

The outdoor patio has ample seating at large umbrella-covered tables with strings of white lights dangling above. Blue agave plants and other indigenous greenery by 3 Little Birds Landscaping accent the exterior.

Folks mingled inside and out while sipping infused tequila margaritas and snacking on shrimp tacos and ceviche. The "gastro-cantina" menu offers authentic Mexican tacos, empanadas and a variety of salsas, along with salads and soups.

"What we're really focusing on is the tequila infusions," says co-owner Steve Sharma. "Some are single-ingredient like watermelon, cantaloupe or roasted jalapeno, and some are more complex like cucumber mint and my personal favorite, roasted Texas pecan with sea salt, black pepper and cayenne. It feels like a spicy bourbon but it actually works really well in a margarita."

"All lemons and limes are squeezed by hand," says co-owner Lea McKinney. "It's important to use fresh juice, and we use 100 percent agave nectar so all the margaritas are 'skinny.'"

Other infusions include habanero-ginger, cinnamon-vanilla, and blueberry-jalapeno. If tequila isn't your poison, there's also a large selection of craft beers, a full bar and specialty cocktails like The Painkiller, a rum cocktail with pineapple, coconut and nutmeg, the Paloma and the Spanish 75.

El Gran Malo, located at 2307 Ella, will be open to the public this Friday, August 26. If you're an adventurous tequila drinker or a lover of Latin fare, be sure to check it out.

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