Openings & Closings

Categories: Restaurant News

elreal.jpg
The rendering is now real.
Two long-awaited Houston restaurants are finally ready for their close-ups. El Real Tex-Mex Cafe, which will open for dinner service tonight, and Mai's, which will open next month after a 14-month closure due to a devastating fire.

All week long, the parking lot has been undergoing final renovations and the waiters have been working training shifts at El Real (1201 Westheimer). Chef and co-owner Bryan Caswell was overheard joking at last night's Star Chefs gala that it would have been open last night if he weren't at the gala itself. I chatted with Culture Map's food writer Sarah Rufca about her experience at one of the training services, and her response was overwhelmingly positive. She also couldn't believe how many seats they'd fit into the space. Anticipating some hefty crowds, boys?

Mai's (3403 Milam), too, is expecting the crowds to hit once it reopens in mid-April. It's one of the reasons they've expanded the restaurant to include the building's second story: The restaurant will now have twice its old capacity, with 211 total seats. And, as promised, there has been very little change to the menu prices even though the menu itself has been updated. You can check out the entire menu here.

Out in Sugar Land, there's a new kind of Chinese food in town: Hakka food, which melds Indian and Chinese together. And it's available at Aling's Hakka Chinese Cuisine (15425 Southwest Freeway). Swamplot has a great little interview with owner Irfan Motiwala; read on if you're interested in finding out more about this fascinating and historical fusion cuisine.

And in important closures, say good-bye to the 6th Street Bar & Grill (2701 White Oak). In addition to its own Tacos a Go-Go, Hubcap Grill, D'Amico's, Revival Market and many other restaurants that are coming soon, the Heights is also getting its own BB's Cajun Café in the old 6th Street spot.

What's all this talk about restaurant row on Westheimer, again?



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39 comments
Server Repair Houston
Server Repair Houston

Your office uses technology for the majority of its day to day running’s; you need your computers to communicate with clients, customers, and other businesses.

Server Repair Houston
Server Repair Houston

Your office uses technology for the majority of its day to day running’s; you need your computers to communicate with clients, customers, and other businesses.

Lee
Lee

Just got back from El Real and was disappointed. I ordered the puffy tacos and a cheese enchilada on the side.

The waiter brought out some salsa which was very bland. I think the most obvious flavor was black pepper. Basically no kick.

When the food came out, it looked promising however after touching the shell of the taco I knew I was going to be disappointed. The shell was undercooked (soft) and was soaked with grease. After two attempted bites, the bottom of the tortilla split. The inside had a little bit of refried beans, something as I would describe as chili (it was supposed to be picadillo), lettuce and tomato. The chili (picadillo) was overly salted for my tastes. The plate was served with rice which had no taste.

I ordered a cheese enchilada on the side and wasn't impressed. While this was better than the puffy tacos, it was average at best. The chili that was placed on the enchilada seemed as if it was the picadillo that was in the tacos. Again the enchilada was overly salty.

El Real had much of the parking lot coned off when I went this afternoon. This will end up being a valet nightmare.

In the end, I will say that Houston has much better Tex Mex elsewhere.

Eric Henao
Eric Henao

I do wish someone would replace the 11st Cafe in the heights. Yeesh...At least we get one less douchebaggery place at that studewood/white oak intersection. BB's will hopefully be a more proper restaurant…

dan
dan

Isn't douchebaggery is what the Heights is all about?

Eric Henao
Eric Henao

Ah no. go a little bit more south to the Washington Ave. evening crowds.

dan
dan

Last time I went to Shiloh, douchebaggery was in abundance.

Tosshi
Tosshi

Anyone know where El Ultimo taco truck moved to? They've been missing from the Long Point/Antoine location for at least three weeks.

Erehwonmai13
Erehwonmai13

I was just at El Real tonight & I was like many was very, very eager. I was VERY disappointed and appalled. I understand they are trying to recreate Felix after some fashion, a noble goal perhaps. I'm going to cut them some slack since this is their first week & they are trying to get their systems all worked out. I work for a restaurant company & I understand the first week in opening any restaurant is always chaotic.

My friend and I stopped in to El Real for dinner tonight. We were seated close to the front of the old theater right in front of a waiter's station near the bathrooms. Our table had old colorful wooden chairs that looked like they may have been used at Felix. The table were crowded way too close together and we felt a bit cramped & with the waiter's station behind us were being bumped around occasionally (something we mentioned to the waitress later on). We had a really good waitress. I'll say this El Real's food may be shoddy for the moment, but if this waitress works anywhere I'll follow her for sure. Her service saved the meal for me...she went out her way to make things right no matter what happened & said she wanted feedback from us.

The chips that came with the salsa were a bit, well … chewy. This means they were undercooked … We ordered a small chile con queso with beef fajitas as an appetizer, which was REALLY good (they gave us a large plain order at first, which was also good). For our meal we both ordered the puffy tacos, mine fajita beef, my friend's was fajita chicken. My puffy tacos were pretty good, but my pal's puffy chicken tacos were really greasy... too greasy for him to eat in fact. The rice that came with both of our orders were way over cooked & flavorless. While our waitress saved the day fixing my friend's order of overly greasy puffy chicken tacos, a person wearing a stained dark gray shirt came by the table and asked us about the food; (this is just before he reached into the bin where they were keeping the chips for the customers and got himself a handful). My pal proceeded to inform him of the greasiness of the chicken & the overcooked rice. From the attitude of this guy, I assumed he was an owner. I was more shocked at his response to my pal's complaint; he proceeded to inform us that “I realize that our food isn't for everyone”. What? You're kidding right? The last time I checked a restaurant wants anyone & everyone as a customer. Soon after, we were paying our bill, I mentioned this particular owner's arrogant attitude & thanked our wonderful waitress (she saved the whole experience for me, my pal says he's never going back).

On the way out near the door another guy said thanks for coming, from his attitude I KNEW this guy was an owner, too. We mentioned the whole experience & the other owner's attitude … as my pal mentioned the “I realize that our food isn't for everyone” statement, we watched this man cringe. He apologized for the bad meal & told me in so many words that this person was in fact Robb Walsh and he's an owner in name only. We talked for a minute or two about who I work for and about opening a new restaurant & its problems. This was a real restaurant owner, someone who will actually listen to a customer and wants to hear criticism. This guy gets that it is all about service & providing a quality product … I'll give them another chance some time soon.

If the two real owners, Bryan Caswell and Bill Floyd have any smarts, they will keep Robb Walsh away from paying customers. Or even better, get rid of him. The Good:Great service (Our server was terrific!! If this person waits anywhere I'll gladly follow her!)Good attitude by one of the owners (not Robb Walsh)Beef Fajita Meat (my puffy tacos)Chicken Fajita Meat (my friend's puffy tacos on their second try)

The Bad: Food quality, the rice on both of our orders was well overcooked & flavorlessMixups during service (they gave my friend the wrong kind of chicken meat in his tacos & it was VERY greasy).Arrogant attitude of Robb Walsh (The quip about how he says that the food isn't for everyone was bad enough). Also guy, if you are going to be in the restaurant business and you are going to present yourself to the public as an owner, here's a tip. Dude, wear a clean shirt. In the restaurant business presentation is EVERYTHING, that first impression will make or break you with the public and a little bit so goes a long way. Being an arrogant food writer/restaurant reviewer with silly romantic ideals of another Felix does not excuse anything.

Kyle
Kyle

There is a lot I like at El Real (salsa, chips, Burundi and #7 [cheese] enchiladas, queso, the refried beans, the patio, awesome tortillas, the historic photo panels, the Westerns playing on the projector...) but I have to agree with Erehwonmai13 that the rice is not good. I didn't like the guacamole either (it seemed way underseasoned). Am I alone in not liking the margarita? Espolon, agava nectar and Cointreau should be a winner, but I found it really mediocre.

I'm not holding any of this against them because they've only been open a few days, and they go out of their way to set that expectation with the verbiage on the menu.

Erehwonmai13
Erehwonmai13

Kyle:The technical errors in El Real I can easily forgive. In a couple of weeks I really do think they will get everything hammered out in the kitchen (I've never written a review of a restaurant before, I honestly felt i should include everything good & bad). There's some good ideas there. Heck, I even have a sort of soft spot for Felix & I am always glad to see a new place in my neighborhood.

Sadly Walsh said what he said in the wrong way & that's what can easily kill a place more than bad food. Every customer who gets a bad impression of a restaurant will tell twice as many people then when they get a good one.

My pal isn't a foodie, but a Montrose local, who loves good Tex-Mex & doesn't mind spending a dollar or two more than the average for a good meal with decent service (as I said, we loved our waitress, she was terrific under fire). He took it as being told by a restaurant owner that he had no taste & really felt he was being insulted. Walsh came off as a pompous ass (weather he intended to or not, maybe he didn't). My friend has already said he'll never go back (I will & I'll work on him).

ec
ec

Didn't you just recommend Van Loc, El Charro and House of Pies too? Not a good sign

Kyle
Kyle

Late night in Houston is tough, for sure, and those are some of the best I know.

Montrose restaurant owner
Montrose restaurant owner

Let's just dispel that myth...uh, no, a restaurant doesn't want "anyone and everyone" as a customer. I've had to "fire" a few customers who were abusive to their waiter or had so many food issues that we could never make them happy at a reasonable cost/effort.

Erehwonmai13
Erehwonmai13

Montrose Restaurant Owner:Sorry but I must sincerely disagree. I exclude abusive customers & those with food issues out of that equation. You want to try to include as many as you can since. Those you describe are the minority. In any business no matter what you do, you will get those you will never make happy.

Sadly being snobbish will end up limiting a person (and a business) in so many ways,

Kyle
Kyle

Erehwonmai13, I think Walsh's point wasn't that they're hostile to any certain sort of customer but rather that they're aware that the Tex-Mex genre is not for everyone. Some people simply don't like it, even when done well.

The problem, though, is that you were complaining more about technical flaws in the execution rather than the genre itself, which is why the comment would be off-base.

Erehwonmai13
Erehwonmai13

Bruce R,I should have said that I would not exclude anyone unless they are actually a real problem...ideally you want as many people as possible. The more the merrier.

Bruce R
Bruce R

Erehwonmai13, you are saying that you refuse to exclude any customers except for the ones you exclude.

Erehwonmai13
Erehwonmai13

Montrose Restaurant Owner:I'm very sorry about the bad sentence structure, I did this on my ipod touch -

"I exclude abusive customers & those with food issues out of that equation. You want to try to include as many as you can."

Matthew
Matthew

thanks for the honest review. i've been looking forward to this place. sounds like they definitely have some kinks to work out. as a side note, i immediately thought of robb walsh when you described the "owner" coming to the table. sounds like he needs to polish up his host persona.

Erehwonmai13
Erehwonmai13

Small correction: "(this is just after he reached into the bin where they were keeping the chips for the customers and got himself a handful)"

Jhangten
Jhangten

rickys hub cap grill 2nd location is not even close to those! hes over by reataurant depot on 19th or 20th st. they are gonna saturate the heights, more is on the way!

Kyle
Kyle

El Real was excellent. Try the queso!

H_e_x
H_e_x

I wonder if El Real is expensive. I have a sinking suspicion that it is.

Kyle
Kyle

Entrees were about $10.

H_e_x
H_e_x

Sounds reasonable to me, thanks.

chef504
chef504

I will give the place a try despite the hype. It's tex-mex for Christ sake.

Bruce R
Bruce R

Yes, but it is a joint collaboration of chefs and a famous restaurant critic--you'd expect something other than ordinary. I can get garden variety Tex-Mex pretty much anywhere.

Speaking of garden variety Tex-Mex, as far as I can tell Chuy's is the only Tex-Mex place in town that makes rice that's worth eating. That would be their green chile rice.

matt
matt

I was disappointed in the food at El Real. Had some enchiladas which I found to be really salty. The stuffwhitepeoplelike.com crowd will most likely enjoy it.

Brett
Brett

I went on Friday night with a group of friends, and we, too, found the enchiladas to be really, really salty.

Fatty FatBastard
Fatty FatBastard

as opposed to people with names like matt... Enjoy your pleasantly salted gordita crunch at Taco Bell.

Fatty FatBastard
Fatty FatBastard

This is all great news, with the exception of Mai's-the Taco Bell of Vietnamese restaurants.

Bluevelvetvint
Bluevelvetvint

Agree about Mai's. The place has a place in Houston history, as it was one of the first Vietnamese restaurants; but I don't think that place is assured going forward. There are many better, less expensive Viet restaurants, even in the same area, and there are plenty of good late-night places as well, that serve better food and cost less.

But I'm sure the media will gush about them, as they need content to fill blank pages.

Wyatt
Wyatt

Also, it uses just as many "blank pages" to tear down a popular spot as it does to gush about it.

Wyatt
Wyatt

I don't have a problem with criticizing or praising either one. I was responding to the idea that the local media are going to gush about Mai's simply to fill space. What are you talking about?

Kagan121
Kagan121

'tear down' and 'popular' used this way are just loaded language.

I'm sure you'd have no prob with 'criticizing' an equally popular place like Little Bigs.

Wyatt
Wyatt

"there are plenty of good late-night places as well, that serve better food and cost less."

List please

Kyle
Kyle

Andy's, House of Pies, Van Loc (kinda late), El Charro. I'd love to learn of some more, though.

Sux list: Katz's, Spanish Flowers, Late Nite Pie (sad to see them go so far downhill).

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