When Dallas-born Matt Post moved to New York ten years ago, he had heard there was no good Mexican food. Searching for a taste of home, he did his research, trekking across the city in an attempt to find some authentic Tex-Mex. He found places he enjoyed (he was a fan of Los Dos Molinos until it closed in 2009), but he found the complaints were valid: There was, in fact, a dearth of Mexican cuisine — or at least Tex-Mex — in NYC. So Post took it upon himself to fill the niche and opened Javelina (119 East 18th Street; 212-539-0202) in the old Molinos space yesterday.
Post traverses the Lone Star State for inspiration — expect to see dishes like puffy tacos ($15) from San Antonio, fried corn tortillas filled with spicy marinated pork shoulder, avocado, cotija cheese, pickled red onions, and lettuce; and West Texas Stacked Enchiladas ($20), which are layered like a casserole, with strata of slow-cooked pork or lamb with chile sauce, onions, cheese, and cilantro. Brisket tacos ($16), a staple in Dallas made famous at Mia’s Tex-Mex, feature slow-cooked beef brisket with cheese, onions, and poblano peppers in a soft flour tortilla; jalapeño gravy, made with the jus and other spices, comes on the side. Fajitas ($17 to $25), a Houston export now found all over the world, will also be available. Eventually, that Austin specialty that has spread throughout the state, breakfast tacos, will be added to the menu, too.
Other Texas-born delicacies, like chilli con carne and frozen margaritas, are present on the menu as well. “Most people grew up eating Tex-Mex, even if they didn’t realize it,” says Post. “Most often it was some bastardized version of a dish; people have traveled around the country eating versions of these dishes that haven’t been given the care we are going to [give] at Javelina.”
To see his vision through, Post hired Hill Country and Rosa Mexicano veteran Richard Caruso to oversee the culinary side of the business. After interviewing chefs through a Craigslist ad, Post hired a recruiter to help him find the ideal candidate. When he got a call from said recruiter claiming he found the perfect person, Post (who worked in recruiting for fifteen years) was skeptical. After meeting Caruso, though, he knew he’d met his restaurant match. “He [Caruso] is Italian from Brooklyn, but he always wanted to open a Tex-Mex restaurant,” says Post. “He understands Texas.”
To go along with the food, there’s an agave-centric beverage menu ($13 per drink). Look for modern drinks like a spicy negroni made with mezcal, Campari, sweet vermouth, mole bitters, and orange peel. Classics are present, too, with options like the paloma, built with blanco tequila, fresh grapefruit and lime juices, and pure cane sugar. And about a half-dozen margaritas are offered frozen and on the rocks. There’s an avocado-and-cilantro variation inspired by a place in Austin; a rendition of Dallas eatery Mi Cocina’s Sangria Swirl is on the list as well.
Post has been toying with the idea of bringing an elevated Tex-Mex concept to New York almost as long as he’s lived here. In 2007, he started seriously working toward making his dream a reality; he wrote up business plans and started looking for spaces. But after a trip to a National Restaurant Association conference in Las Vegas that October, he decided it was best to put his idea on hold. During one of the many talks, an economist was brought on stage to give a forecast of the coming years — and the prognosis was terrible. Many of the restaurateurs and industry insiders in the crowd were incensed. It was so bad the president of the association took to the stage to apologize afterward. Post, an economics major at Vanderbilt University, however, completely understood what he was saying. Post stayed in recruiting and consulting to weather the impending financial storm.
A few years later, he started getting the itch again. Over a six-month period, Post started phasing out of his career in the financial world; a year and a half ago, he began scouting locations once more. It was a disheartening process. Then he got a call from his broker; a restaurant called Tommy Lasagna was going out of business. He knew it immediately — that had been the replacement for his old stomping ground, Los Dos Molinos. “We walked in and I got a really good feeling,” says Post. “It feels like it has good karma.”
Once he found the location, he wanted to ensure it felt as Texas as possible. He met with several architecture and design firms in NYC, but he thought they didn’t fully understand the aesthetic he was seeking. That led him to Texas-based designer Joel Mozersky, known for Austin hotspots Uchi, Uchiko, and La Condesa. Post and Mozersky clicked immediately. Together, they decided on a space inspired by the isolated art mecca near the Mexican border, Marfa. To bring it to life, the designer, who collaborated with New York City’s Elemental Architecture, melded warm oak, desert succulents, turquoise light fixtures, and custom works by Texas artists to create a unique urban-Texas feel. “When I told him what I wanted to do, he was just as excited about it as I was,” says Post. “He got those little things that would make a difference.”
Javelina is open nightly for dinner starting at 5 p.m. Brunch and lunch service will begin in the near future.
Follow Sara Ventiera on Twitter, @saraventiera.