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Restaurants / Openings

New Taco and Tequila Hotspot Underneath Nobu Tackles Tex-Mex With a Fresh Approach

This Import Aims to be a Popping Scene Where Fun and Food Rule

BY // 01.03.19
photography Rachel Ayotte

Even before you walk in the door, you know what Blanco Tacos + Tequila is all about: Te Amo Tequila. The neon sign shines from a mural of live succulents against the back wall — and is visible from the outside in the modern Tex-Mex restaurant’s prime real estate just beneath Nobu in the new Houston Galleria wing.

The devil’s in the details at Blanco, at least in how they’re trying to tempt diners. The Arizona import tackles Texas’ greatest culinary genre contribution with its decor and dedication to in-house, hand-pressed ingredients and artisanal tableware.

The Fox Restaurant Concepts spot — cousin to North Italia and Flower Child — aims to please with a menu that goes beyond its namesake tacos and tequila.

Dubbed “high-end casual,” dishes range from Snake River Wagyu carne asada tacos with charred scallion relish and crushed avocado with spicy garlic butter and short rib machaca with caramelized peppers and ancho chile sauce to starters that’ll have you doing a double-take — like the signature cheese crisps.

Imagine a crispy, flat nacho-pizza hybrid topped off with ingredients of your choice, from roasted poblanos to smoked bacon and even eggs and French fries.

“It’s a fresh kitchen. Everything is fresh. We get our produce six days a week from farm-to-table concepts,” executive chef Lee Spencer tells PaperCity. “There’s Tex-Mex — we set ourselves apart with the highest quality product available.

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“All of our food is braised in-house three to four hours. There’s a lot of love in those vegetables we make into a marinade that makes our proteins so good.”

This is about trying to elevate Tex-Mex with a foodie haven’s attention to detail.

“What we do is try to do everything in house, and if we can’t produce it in house, we go to the local community, just like we do our homemade corn tortillas,” Blanco’s regional manager Jason Dannewitz says.

There’s a story behind it all. Blanco’s corn tortillas are pressed twice a day, and come courtesy of fifth-generation company El Milagro.

“The gentleman was an 11 year old from Mexico who immigrated and came to the railroad, and he sold his tortillas. Many years down the road, he’s got a family of 12 and he and his wife started El Milagro,” Dannewitz says.

Those tortillas set the stage for Spencer’s favorite dish: the Wagyu carne asada and crispy fried shrimp tacos. There’s another dish he keeps coming back to, too — Dannewitz’s own favorite.

“It’s the watermelon Hamachi ceviche. Pineapple, guajillo, pomegranate seeds, pistachios — it’s a texture amusement park in your mouth,” he laughs. “Topped and garnished with a bit of jalapeno slices to give it the heat.”

Spencer’s proud of the open kitchen at Houston’s new Blanco’s and how it’s been given the spotlight.

Blanco took that same care for its menu to its tableware and other accents. “Our China comes from Wheel Stone, out of California. It’s made by a small community of surfers there. It’s always nice to know that they hand-make each piece,” Dannewitz says.

“At about four o’clock, they head out to surf, the owner comes back to the company and actually glazes them and puts them in the fire.”

It all adds up to create the vibe, energetic but cozy. “We call it Blanco Bliss. You walk in here and have that fiesta vibe, take yourself on a little mini vacation,” Dannewitz says.

“We’ve gotten a lot of reviews like ‘Oh my god, this place is popping.’ It’s going to be popping,” Spencer says. That’s no surprise, considering the extensive drink menu, with seven margaritas, eight signature cocktails and even tequila flights for the daring.

This taco and tequila joint is setting extremely high standards for itself from the beginning. “It’s consistency great. We’re proud of what we do,” Dannewitz says.

Now, Houston — a city of Tex-Mex experts — will be the true judge.

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