La Rosa margarita with Tex of the Mexified BBQ Trays & Pounds
Chef Lance Fegen and concepteur Lee Ellis — two of the forces behind F.E.E.D. TX, the modern hospitality group responsible for hot spots Liberty Kitchen, BRC and Petite Sweets — are taking on Tex-Mex with a curve. While their company is known to craft eateries from the ground up, you might call El Cantina Superior a retrofit, as it was originally launched by Heights restaurateur/chef Ken Bridge (Pink’s Pizza, Shepherd Park Draught House) last summer. We’re told Bridge hired the F.E.E.D. team to overhaul and manage the “El” late last year. They cleared the back of the house and revamped the menu, leaving intact — for the time being, anyway — the kitsch decor with painted furniture, elevated booths and cool murals by artist Carlos Hernandez. Like most Tex-Mex joints, the new menu is lengthy, encompassing oldschool cheese enchiladas with red chile gravy that taste anything but ordinary ($12) to Fancy Pig tacos, wherein a soft homemade corn tortilla wraps around a crisp piece of pork belly with fried avocado and a smoky chipotle barbecue sauce ($13) and the mighty El Jefe’s tortilla-crusted chicken-fried steak with guacamole, queso and a fried egg ($9.50). Fegen, Ellis and team have brought both playfulness and an incredible complexity to the fare, tinkering with a smoker to give an edge to dishes such as Tejas Tablitas, beef shortribs smoked and grilled ($15) and the Big Belly burrito stuffed with smoked brisket and pork belly and caramelized onions ($13). The El 2.0 isn’t trying to be a serious, authentic Mexican restaurant — although the able barkeeps sure aren’t taking their margarita and small-batch mescal-based drinks lying down. The gang here aims to put forth dishes such as J n’ B Dorado tacos, a rift on a certain fast-food joint’s seasoned ground-beef tacos, served in deep-fried crispy shells with hot sauce inspired by tear-open packets ($14 to $19), as well as the beloved combination plates we’ve come to expect, all with a sense of fun that makes dining out Tex-Mex style everything it’s supposed to be. But here, it’s a whole lot more.