Radical Eats's Radical New Restaurant Sets Up Shop in Northside Village
Handpainted words on an old window advertise tacos, tortas and menudo in bright red and yellow lettering. This little white restaurant with red trim at the corner of Fulton and Catherine used to be just another taqueria in the neighborhood. These days, its new tenant -- Radical Eats -- doesn't sell menudo, but it does sell tacos. In fact, its specials today include fried okra tacos and fried avocado tacos.
Photos by Katharine Shilcutt Radical Eats is slowly transforming an old taqueria into a vegan paradise.
Construction on Fulton is kicking up gritty waves of dust as Radical Eats's owner, Staci Davis, points to the front facade of the old building. "This is where the mural is going to be," she says.
It's already taking shape, striking black lines radiating out from a cherry tomato speared on a fork. The paint is dripping a little bit in the heat, the 17th consecutive day of 100 degree temperatures this summer. Despite this, the garden behind Radical Eats is in full bloom. Amaranth and basil grow in one planter; corn and okra in another.
Back inside, Davis takes a seat at one of the laminate wood tables in the old taqueria. "The whole place came with most of this stuff in it," she says, gesturing in particular to the checkboard pattern of ceiling tiles with Chinese dragons on them. "There's no indication that this place used to be a Chinese restaurant, though," she chuckles.
They've painted some of the old wood paneling blue and hung art on the walls -- all of it made from recycled materials -- but haven't changed much else so far. "I'd love to sack all of this," says Davis. "Get a sod roof, solar panels, paint some more murals." But for now, Radical Eats is taking baby steps.
A man starts to walk toward the kitchen and Davis stops him. "Greg, you need a hat," she reminds him. Many of Davis's employees are part-time here at Radical Eats, which is as much a restaurant as a commercial kitchen. Greg grins and ties a bright green bandanna around his head, then sets off to work.
The small but cheerful dining room is busy on the weekends.
"Some people just work here for the Internet access," she says. Others, like her plumber and her website designer, work in trade, a website for some tacos or an unstopped sink for some tamales. It's a system that is wholly communal in nature, and one that's unusual for a city like Houston that celebrates capitalism at every turn.
In fact, Davis is counting on that communal approach to help Radical Eats raise money for its next big project. Although the restaurant has only been open since July 3, Davis has big plans for this patch of land. She's currently raising $8,000 for a wine and beer garden that will be located at the back of the restaurant, mixed in along with the actual garden she already has growing out there.
More than half of that amount -- $4,200 -- is dedicated to the immense cost of obtaining a liquor license from the TABC. But she's convinced that it's necessary to help her fledgling restaurant grow: "Beer and wine will bring more locals into the place," she says. "And help with revenue, of course."
Just a small garden for now, Davis hopes to transform it into a larger wine and beer garden by October.
The way in which Davis and her team at Radical Eats is raising that money is as radical as the restaurant's name would imply: They started a Kickstarter account this past Monday where the community and its customers can chip in small amounts to raise the total $8,000 that's needed.
Three days in, and people have already thrown their support behind the project: "We've raised $1,200 already," Davis beams. And in the restaurant's spirit of bartering, people pledging cash to the project won't come away with just a sense of community: thank-you gifts are available at almost every level of donation, PBS-style. Instead of a tote bag, though, patrons can receive locally made mugs and hula hoops, cooking demonstrations, a dish named after them and -- yes -- T-shirts.