Wednesday, January 27, 2010

El Chile

The owners of El Chile are creating a empire, now with three locations of El Chile, a couple of baby El Chilito taco bars, and a pizza joint. An El Chilito had opened up (this past summer?) at the corner of Dawson (aka S. 5th St.) & Barton Springs Road (across from the Palmer Events Center), and about 10 days ago, the owners decided to shake things up by switching the locations of the El Chile downtown with the El Chilito. According to the press release on their website, they listened to their downtown customers, who preferred the idea of quick tacos for breakfast & lunch, and thereby relocating the more leisurely restaurant and it's liquor license to the Barton Springs locale.

And speaking of that liquor license, as all good things with the TABC take time, so they are currently offering free drinks (with the purchase of food, limit two per person, I believe) at the BS spot. Their sign board outside is advertising it too, and at a hair before 7 pm on a Wednesday night, I wonder how many people were there just for the freebies or what. We had to wait just a couple minutes before getting seated, but it gave me a moment to take the place in. In all the years I have lived in the neighborhood, I have never been to any of the restaurants (and there have been a number.... Gypsy, some sandwich place before it, and I can't remember what else!) that have inhabited that corner. While the lighting inside is dim, the walls are painted in bright colors -- avocado green, tangerine, bright yellow -- and contain nice bold & colorful paintings. The back wall is actually built into the existing cliff/rock wall, and there's an intriguing spiral staircase that must lead to storage, as I saw of of the staff go up and return with napkins.

Anyway, we were seated, and our waiter came by and told us about the free drinks; we each got a frozen margarita with a sangria floater. I think they taste better when they're free! They do half price appetizers until 7 pm, and unfortunately, by the time we got seated, we just missed that mark. I ordered the Enchiladas de Mole Rojo, and my friend the veggie puffy tacos. We devoured our initial bowl of chips and really tasty, very dark, very smooth salsa (no clue what's in it!), and the next round of chips had just arrived when the food did. (Also judging by the diners around us, all the food was coming out of the kitchen fast.)

I am pretty much always a sucker for mole. It's that savory-sweet, spicy, chocolately thing that it's got going on that I just love. These was corn tortillas stuffed with tender & moist pulled pork, covered in the mole, with rice & black beans. While I'd say the beans were rather underseasoned, the mole was great. It hit the aforementioned notes, with enough depth to the sauce, and just enough spice to leave your lips just a touch warm. The white rice had finely chopped carrots, corn, and I think cilantro in it (it was something green & leafy), not overly exciting, but a good foil to the sauce. I almost licked the plate clean. While I didn't try any of them, the puffy tacos looked good, though not terribly puffy. Still a bit hungry from my lack of a discernible lunch today, I asked for a dessert menu. The waiter said they didn't have a menu, but told us they had tres leches, flan, and a margarita key lime pie. I asked his opinion, and he suggested the tres leches. Upon tasting it, pretty certain that one of the milks is coconut. Gave it a nice flavor, but otherwise, not the most memorable ... I think they use shortening in the frosting, as I had a bit of a greasy feel to my lips.The only drawback of El Chile was the noise level. The place was packed, and it was LOUD. And the speakers were playing music. I noticed there was foam under the tables, assumably to help with the noise, but..... It was a varied crowed, mostly people in their 20s & 30s it appeared; one older (50s?) couple was leaving as we walked in, there were a couple of families with kids, a couple rocker-looking musicians. But it pretty much stayed at capacity while we were there, and the food was frankly better than I remember it at the Manor Road location. The neighborhood can always use some decently priced and well-executed eateries, and hopefully this one, with it's known success, will keep the southeast corner of Dawson & BS Road occupied for years to come. And I would happily return.