El Topo debuts

Inventive Houston taco truck rolls out flavorful new West University restaurant

Inventive Houston taco truck rolls out flavorful new West U restaurant

El Topo avocado toast
Avocado toast. Photo by Eric Sandler
El Topo interior
A look inside El Topo. Photo by Eric Sandler
El Topo biscuit cake
Biscuit layer cake. Photo by Eric Sandler
El Topo Mike Serva Tony Luhrman
Chefs Mike Serva and Tony Luhrman. Photo by Eric Sandler
El Topo patty melt
The Marfa: a prime brisket patty melt. Photo by Eric Sandler
El Topo avocado toast
El Topo interior
El Topo biscuit cake
El Topo Mike Serva Tony Luhrman
El Topo patty melt

West University Place’s new neighborhood cafe is ready to open its doors. El Topo, the brick and mortar restaurant that evolved out of the El Topo food truck, will begin breakfast and lunch service on Friday, January 10, chef-owner Tony Luhrman tells CultureMap.

Luhrman and his business partner, co-chef Mike Serva, spent three months transforming the former Pizza Motus (6119 Edloe St.) into their new restaurant. Changes to the space include new tables and chairs, new lighting, and giving diners a view into the kitchen.

The duo and their staff held a trial run over the weekend. They learned a few things about flow that Luhrman thinks will help improve the service experience going forward. Despite those challenges, he can barely contain his excitement.

“It’s mind blowing to see somebody in your space that’s a customer,” he says. “I’ve never opened my own restaurant before. It was crazy creating that space and seeing people move through it. We’ve spent three months trying to envision what that would look like. There’s no Sims reality that accurately reflected what the space would feel like.”

The menu starts with favorites from the truck, including the signature Houston taco (44 Farms beef barbacoa), Austin taco (roasted vegetables with pepitas and pickled red onion), and the San Antonio, a barbacoa grilled cheese. New additions include salads, grits, and pastries, such as a biscuit layer cake with honeycomb and butter frosting.

Even familiar dishes have a few twists that draw on the chefs’ background working in fine dining restaurants. Avocado toast comes deconstructed, with the topping of mashed avocado, pepitas, and other elements in a separate glass container from the house-baked bread, which allows each piece to stay crispy. A patty melt features an inhouse ground brisket patty and housemade Texas toast that’s based on a Japanese-style milk bread. Taken together, they demonstrate a level of refinement and precision that isn’t possible in a cramped food truck.

“We’ve tried to open with an ambitious breakfast and lunch menu, but we’re really pulling the stops out for dinner,” Luhrman says. “Mike and I will be cooking every dinner ourselves. Expect an actual restaurant menu with coursed out wine suggestions.”

When dinner service begins in two or three weeks, it will feature two seating a night Thursday through Sunday. The menu will include a number of different components: Gulf oysters, breads made with heirloom grains from Barton Springs Mill, vegetarian options, soups, salads, and shareable entrees such as a steak for two that’s carved tableside.

“The dish I’m most excited to serve — it takes us four days to make it but it’s totally worth it. We take St. Louis ribs and marinate them in satsuma juice and condensed milk. It’s dreamsicle marinade,” Luhrman says. “We smoke them until they’re under. Then we chicken fry them for service and serve them with an Alabama white sauce. It’s a chicken fried rib.”

For dessert, expect riffs on a Basque-style cheesecake, a Swiss roll with banana pudding filling, and churros.

Beer and wine license in hand, El Topo will serve a carefully chosen list of natural wines. Bottle prices start at $45 with the most expensive costing $75. Non-alcoholic options include aqua frescas and housemade kombucha. 

Hours will be in flux while Luhrman and Serva assess demand. For now, breakfast and lunch will be served Wednesday through Sunday from 8 am to 2 pm. Dinner will be served Thursday through Sunday 5 to 9 pm.