Whether Mexican or Tex-Mex, Houstonians don’t lack for choices when it comes to restaurants that serve food inspired by our neighbor to the south. And yet, for all the exciting new establishments that have opened in The Heights over the past few years, the neighborhood’s traditional Mexican restaurants, Tex-Mex joints, and taquerias have mostly gone unchallenged by newcomers.
That status quo is changing rapidly. Sometime in the next month or two, State of Grace owner Ford Fry will open his Tex-Mex restaurant Superica in the former Bernadine’s space at Shepherd and 18th Street, but that isn’t the area’s only new option for fajitas and margaritas.
Before Fry can unleash Superica, the owners of popular northside bar Edison & Patton have quietly opened their Mexican restaurant, Calle Onze. Located on 11th Street next to Eight Row Flint, Calle Onze aims to offer a mix of Mexican and Tex-Mex dishes in an atmosphere that’s a step up in fit and finish from Edison & Patton.
“We wondered if there was an area [in the market] that’s not a taqueria but not as fancy as a place like Xochi or Caracol. Casual enough where the price point is right and it feels good, but it’s a nice place where you can go out and eat dinner in a nice environment,” co-owner Christopher Manriquez tells CultureMap.
That environment starts with the dining room, which the group built from the ground up in just over six months. With high ceilings, exposed beams and duct work, and an open kitchen, the room has a stylish look that still aims to feel welcoming to a diverse set of diners.
“We may have a little more glitz, but we still have tables with concrete tops, we left the beams and rafters exposed, we have hardwood floors that will scuff over time,” Manriquez says. “We want to have a patina over time where it feels homey as it breaks in.”
Just as Calle Onze has a more polished look than Edison & Patton, its food offerings are more extensive; really, it’s the difference between a bar with food and a full-on restaurant. Executive chef Oliver Loeza blends his Mexican heritage (and some of his grandmother’s recipes) with French techniques and plating styles to craft dishes that range from expected options like fajitas and quesadillas to more adventurous fare like chorizo and nopales ravioli. Don’t worry: diners still get chips and salsa when they sit down.
“I refer to our head chef Oliver Loeza as a home run hitter,” director of operations Nick Barton says. “He’ll swing for the fences every single time. He either knocks it out of the park or spins himself into the ground striking out.”
Call Loeza the Evan Gattis of Houston chefs. To rein in some of those swing-and-miss tendencies, Manriquez, Barton, and even the line cooks have all contributed ideas to the menu. Barton says the restaurant wants to be flexible, especially in its current soft opening mode. If diners don’t like a dish, it’ll probably be changed pretty quickly.
In the coming weeks, the restaurant plans to roll out a Sunday brunch buffet and weekday lunch service. For now, the bar opens at 4 pm with dinner service beginning at 5 pm.
Whereas the food offerings have been a collaborative process, Barton gives beverage director Greg Perez full credit for the cocktail program. Built around fresh-squeezed juices and housemade syrups, Perez’s drinks are backed by 400 bottles of agave spirits (tequila, mezcal, etc).
“Our ultimate aim is to have the most bottles of agave-based spirits in the state,” Barton says. “We’re very close to that right now. It’s not that we want to hang our hat on that. We want people to come in and be impressed by the cocktails and the products that go into them. Just like they’ve never had chorizo-nopales ravioli, I want them to come in and see bottles they’ve never seen before.”
Taken together, the goal is to make Calle Onze a more refined version of what Edison & Patton is — a place where groups of friends can come for a casual happy hour and a couple of drinks or where a couple can come for date night or a special occasion. So far, the response has been favoriable.
“I think things are going better than I expected, probably better than Chris expected,” Barton says. “We want everyone to come out and check us out. It’s as simple as that.”