El Tiempo's second Montrose location opened to the public Friday. Known as the 1308 Annex, the building that's been home to La Strada, Caffe Bello, Don Julio and La Casa del Caballo is a massive, two-story affair that seats almost 300 people.
The menu is the same as the other six El Tiempo locations around Houston, which is good news for the restaurant's legions of fans. For opening weekend, the new location will only serve about 80 percent of the full menu, but, since that includes fajitas and queso, most people should be fine.
While the food may be the same, significant changes make the building look like an El Tiempo inside and out.
While the food may be the same, significant changes make the building look like an El Tiempo inside and out. For example, the Laurenzo family has added a patio along Westheimer and built thatched roof palapas at both the main entrance and above each of the small, second story patios. A giant, bronze-colored horse stands at the corner of Taft and Westheimer, and a cow with a map of the world painted on its flanks stands near the entrance to the parking lot.
Other exterior changes consist of palm streets that run the entire block — even in front of next door neighbor Numbers. In addition, El Tiempo has leased Numbers parking lot and upgraded it by paving its famously rutted surface. Those lots will likely be valet-only on the weekends, but at least they'll hold plenty of cars.
All new kitchen equipment includes a wood-burning grill for the restaurant's signature fajitas, as well as a small smoker for those brisket tacos that are one of El Tiempo's underrated gems. Most importantly, executive chef Dominic Lorenzo shows off a massive new dumbwaiter that's capable of hauling up to 900 pounds of food from the first floor kitchen to the second floor dining room in 18 seconds.
What will the relationship be between the 1308 Annex and the original 1308 that's only a mile away?
Wrought iron chandeliers are the most noticeable change to the interior; Laurenzo notes that they're handmade in Mexico by the same craftsman for every location. La Casa del Caballo's red leather bar top has been replaced with tile, but the flame motif tile along the staircase remains.
The upstairs also gets its own bar, which is conveniently located near the elevator at the top of the stairs. It also seats more people than the downstairs and features windows that will be open in pleasant weather.
What will the relationship be between the 1308 Annex and the original 1308 that's only a mile away? Laurenzo thinks they'll coexist just fine. He notes that waits at the original can run up to two hours on weekends. Additionally, 1308's future is still uncertain. Lorenzo says the restaurant will remain in the space through January 2016 but isn't certain what happens after that.
In the meantime, Montrose residents can enjoy decreased waits for enchiladas and sizzling parrillada platters.