I didn't go to The El Cantina Superior (let's just call it "The El" for short) when it initially opened at 602 Studewood. The feedback from others who had was consistently lackluster. The only visit I made was during the Houston Press Tequila & Tamales event.
Since then, the F.E.E.D. TX group has taken over operations. The group is known for Liberty Kitchen, Liberty Kitchen & Oysterette and BRC Gastropub, so it sounded like a fair bet that the menu would have something good to offer.
What I found was a fun and funky menu that was inventive and tasty. It's the kind of food that will easily find fans among concertgoers at Fitzgerald's right across the street. The El isn't trying to serve "serious" Tex-Mex and have itself measured against someone's standards of authenticity. It's just trying to have a good time and make sure that its guests do, as well.
Take, for example, the Nachos Solamente, with black beans, asadero cheese, jalapeño, pico de gallo and cilantro ranch dressing. You can top them with traditional meat, like steak or chicken, but why would you when you can choose smoky brisket or fried chicken instead?
Brisket is a meat choice or the meat of choice on several other menu items, including Norteño Tacos (northern Mexico-style tacos) and even in the chile con queso. That's not a complaint.
Pretty much all of The El's original menu has been thrown out the window, but F.E.E.D TX wisely hung onto the same margarita recipe, which didn't need improvement. It has the tangy-tart balance one might expect and it's made with fresh lime juice as is right and proper.
My favorite dish is the deep fried tacos because there's so much humor and fun, but they're also crunchy and worthwhile. Basically, The El took a cheap, late night, fast food classic, made it good and served it with a hot sauce that's a nod to a different fast food place. They wisely didn't try and fancy up what are basically homages to junky tacos, either. They're topped with iceberg lettuce, tomato and good ol' American cheese shreds.
It's easy to kill the calorie count for the day here (as I did), but it's also possible to stay on the side of the angels. There are a surprising number of virtuous choices on the menu, like street jicama, campechana, a romaine wedge salad, seafood escabeche, grilled redfish, smashed guacamole and the tortilla soup.
On the other hand, you can be as bad as you want to be. There's a "big belly burrito" that includes both brisket and pork belly.
So, if you, like me, had been avoiding going because you didn't think you'd like what you'd find, it's time to give The El another whirl.
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