Chef Power Downtown

New downtown Houston restaurant brings big chef power: Randy Rucker is back — and doing Tex-Mex

New Houston restaurant brings big chef power: Randy Rucker is back

El Gran Malo downtown signs on door El Big Bad August 2013
The first signs of El Big Bad's takeover of the former Cabo space are up. Photo by Eric Sandler
randy rucker kiss my grits
Randy Rucker knows his way around a kitchen. Photo by Sarah Rufca
El Gran Malo downtown signs on door El Big Bad August 2013
randy rucker kiss my grits

El Gran Malo is moving full speed ahead on its second location off downtown's Market Square, bringing major chef clout. The new restaurant at 419 Travis will be called El Big Bad and feature a prominent chef in a new role.

When it opens in early October, El Big Bad will offer the same gastro-cantina fare as its older sibling in a much larger, 10,000 square-feet space. As with the original location, El Big Bad will have 50 infused tequilas in flavors ranging from roasted red beet to peanut butter, all of which can be turned into fresh-juice margaritas or other innovative cocktails. 

The biggest benefit to the new space is its substantially larger kitchen, which will yield a dramatically expanded menu, that will, as promised, include fajitas. Former Bootsie's Heritage Cafe/Rainbow Lodge chef Randy Rucker is developing the restaurant's menu.

 Having Rucker back in a kitchen, even as a consultant, is pretty exciting. 

Although Rucker isn't known for his expertise with either Tex-Mex or Mexican cuisine, El Big Bad co-owner Steve Sharma tells CultureMap that El Gran Malo has never been a traditional Tex-Mex spots and that Rucker has always been a fan of the food served there. Sharma adds that the food Rucker has tested so far "tastes great," and that his previous experience at Americas in The Woodlands has yielded new ceviche recipes.  

In keeping with the goal of offering more substantial main courses, Rucker is also developing duck empanadas, whole grilled market fish and a roasted chicken with smoky tomato sofrito. A new menu of tortas will anchor both the lunch and late-night menus. 

Taken together, it's the most significant project Rucker's undertaken since leaving Bootsie's in 2011. Although he's mostly turned into a controversial Twitter antagonist, there's no denying that the man can cook. Having Rucker back in a kitchen, even as a consultant, is pretty exciting. Hopefully, it yields good results. 

Inside, cookbook author and designer Erin Hicks, whose previous work includes Brooklyn Athletic Club, will design the restaurant's look. Artist Kevin Hernandez will add a mural to the restaurant's walls, as he did at the original El Gran Malo.