Local Spotlight

First Look: The El Cantina Superior Is Not So Super

Screaming children, smoky fajitas and weak margaritas basically sums up The El Cantina Superior. This new Tex-Mex spot opened just a few weeks ago in the Heights at the corner of White Oak and Studewood. Based on the hype, it seemed to be the new place to be. Unfortunately, it has got some serious work to do if it wants returning customers.

Dining during happy hour on a weekday (4 p.m. until 7 p.m.) seemed like the opportune time to visit, as certain margaritas, domestic and draft beers are $3, and premium beer bottles are $3.75.

This could be a much better deal if discounted appetizers were included, but as of now, happy hour only applies to drinks. There might be a nacho bar happy hour special on the way, though.

Props to the bar for whipping out the half-price (normally $6.50) skinny margaritas quickly, but the bartender should work on the ratio of tequila to lime juice and triple sec. A skinny margarita should be less sugary and have more emphasis on the lime and tequila, but this libation just tasted like orange juice with a squeeze of lime and hint of tequila.

Author's note: I'm a lightweight and couldn't feel anything from this drink.

Salt should also go all the way around the rim of the glass; it shouldn't be in a small clump.

Chips and salsa arrived the second we were seated. Each tortilla chip was drenched in oil and you could practically see through to the other side. The salsa lacked any sort of heat component, as well. It tasted like tomatoes and water. If only there were diced Serrano peppers or jalapenos to give it a kick. Guacamole is not listed on the menu, but you can order it to go with your chips. Even though someone went a little heavy on the lime juice, a simple shake of salt and you're good to go.

Unlike other Tex-Mex restaurants where the menus are five pages long, The El Cantina Superior's meals fit on just one page with drinks listed on the back. Choices include beef or chicken fajitas; enchiladas with red, green or creamy green sauce; ground beef burritos; fish, chicken, beef or pork tacos; and four combination plates. This story continues on the next page.

Everyone knew someone ordered fajitas when the kitchen became engulfed in smoke that poured out of the pass window into the dining room, leading several folks to flap their hands in an effort to move the grey cloud away from their faces -- this also came with lots of coughing. Fortunately the staff decided to open the large patio window so we all didn't suffocate.

According to the waiter, a half-pound order of chicken fajitas would not be enough to feed two people, but when the plate of sizzling fajitas arrived, it was clear there would be plenty of food for more than two people. There's no way that plate held a pound of meat because after four fajitas, roughly a pound of meat was left on the platter. We should have gone with the half-pound portion to save $15.

Similar to the salsa, the rice desperately needed an addition of heat, or something to elevate it from its bland existence. The corn tortillas were also too thick, causing them to be under cooked; each bite of dough was gummy, and didn't create a solid fajita.

The only saving grace for the meal was the chicken. Each slice was tender, juicy and perfectly charred; soft, caramelized onions added the right amount of sweetness to make the pair perfect together. In fact, a little shredded cheddar cheese melted on top of the chicken and a scoop of guacamole was a much better combo than wrapped in an under-cooked corn tortilla.

The El Cantina Superior is like a cross between Chuy's, El Tiempo and Lupe Tortilla. The decor and style resembles that of Chuys, while the drinks offerings are similar to El Tiempo, and the kid-friendly policy, evident from multiple families seated in the dining area with screaming children, makes it seem like Lupe Tortilla. Being across the street from Little Woodrow's, Fitzgerald's and BB's Cafe, you would think The El wants to attract customers like these other establishments receive. But, if the food isn't up to par, the drinks are weak and the dining room fills up with smoke every five minutes, The El Cantina Superior won't be seeing many repeat diners.

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Molly Dunn
Contact: Molly Dunn