For 10 years, native Houstonian Lisa Fain has been spreading the gospel of Texas cooking via her Homesick Texan blog and two best-selling cookbooks. Fain's ability to translate Texas comfort food has been so well-regarded that she won a James Beard Award for her blog in 2014.
Still, in order to sample Fain's recipes, a would-be diner had to prepare the meal him or herself. For New Yorkers, that's no longer the case, as Fain has partnered with two other Texans to open a Tex-Mex restaurant called El Original in Hell's Kitchen. After a couple of weeks of soft-opening, El Original made its official debut on April 10.
Fain tells CultureMap that she had been approached by people about opening a restaurant before, but she never took the idea seriously until she met Fort Worth native Michael Ginsberg.
"He’s a big fan of my blog and my work," Fain tells CultureMap in a phone interview from New York. "We totally hit it off. He told me about his plans to open a restaurant with Paul Oveisi from Austin . . . They asked me if I wanted to be involved in any way. It took me a couple months to come around, but it’s been a lot of fun."
"I went in there and worked with him and developed the menu. Basically, I taught all the non-Texans about Texas food."
Fain is a limited partner in El Original and serves as executive consulting chef. "I went in there and taught our executive chef how to make everything," Fain says. "I went in there and worked with him and developed the menu. Basically, I taught all the non-Texans about Texas food."
In addition to El Original, another Tex-Mex restaurant called Javelina has also recently opened in New York. Both restaurants are having a bit of a moment, garnering attention from both Grubstreet and Eater. Fain cites the global rise of interest in Texas barbecue and an interest in the culinary treasures of the Lone Star State that began with Top Chef: Texas in 2011 as two contributing factors to spurring New Yorkers want to sample the cuisine.
"A lot of New Yorkers go to Texas. They go to Texas and they come back to New York and they miss breakfast tacos, they miss cheese enchiladas, they miss queso," Fain says.
For Fain, part of the appeal of El Original is that it gives her a break from sitting at a keyboard all day.
"I was an editor until I started food writing full time. I left my magazine job five years ago. I’ve written two cookbooks," Fain says. "For me, the restaurant is a nice sabbatical from writing . . . It’s nice to get out and interact with people."
Still, Fain expects to be back at her desk soon. She has a proposal out for her third book.
In the meantime, it's good to know that homesick Texans in the city that never sleeps can find a taste of home at El Original.