El Original (735 Tenth Avenue) just joined this city’s quickly swelling lineup of Mexican restaurants, making its debut with a limited-menu soft opening in a massive, twinkling light-hung address in Hell’s Kitchen. The place promises authentic Tex-Mex food, a claim that’s underwritten by owner Lisa Fain, who pens the blog and cookbook series The Homesick Texan and has garnered a James Beard Award for her efforts. We are not Texans. But still, we ask: Is this really what homesick expats of the Lone Star State are missing?
The top item in the above picture is what the restaurant is billing a tostada. And no, that molten cheese is not covering up any additional ingredients. The tostada is sort of a rejiggering of the eatery’s take on queso (see that below), which comes with chips and tastes suspiciously like Velveeta. Strange, since Fain’s blogged recipes for queso are, well, quite different.
In fact, much of what we tried seemed vastly different from the dishes Fain blogs about. But then, Fain is not cooking — she and partners Michael Ginsberg and Paul Oveisi (also natives of Texas) installed John Cordova as executive chef. She is billed as the top consultant in the kitchen.
Note again that El Original is in soft opening mode, so recipes might change significantly as the place ramps up to its official debut on April 10. In the meantime, service is well-meaning if unprofessional (one server spent the entire evening texting in the corner across from our table), and the solid margaritas (crafted by the people behind the excellent Tippling Brothers bar) are generously poured.
Our bill for four, though? $219.93 before tip (but including $56 worth of cocktails and beers).
Click through to see more photos of the food, and please, Texans, tell us if this is what you’ve been missing.