El Gran Malo es La Mas Gran y La Mejor de Gastrocantinas

Categories: Local Spotlight

Photos by Troy Fields
Does your local Tex-Mex joint have a shrine to tequila?
Of course, it's also the only gastrocantina in town. So there's that. But should there eventually one day be many gastrocantinas in Houston, El Gran Malo will still be the Big Bad and the granddaddy of them all.

El Gran Malo's upscale-downmarket amber-hued tequila dive bar concept may be difficult to explain. I find myself describing it in terms of movies I've seen: Like the first time that Clooney and Tarantino walk into the Titty Twister in From Dusk Till Dawn minus the bikers and prostitution, or like being swallowed alive by a less homicidal version of Jodorowsky's Santa Sangre. It's the best way I can think of to describe the boisterously dirty, wonderfully twisted feel of the place.

But just because it's difficult to describe the concept at El Gran Malo doesn't mean I can't see it being replicated by less inventive but more capitalism-minded copy-catters somewhere down the line. As with Sammy's Wild Game Grill and Moon Tower Inn, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and El Gran Malo's infused tequilas and chef-driven, modern Tex-Mex menu is ripe for the flattering.

El Gran Malo's mural was painted by local artist Kevin Hernandez.
It's more difficult for me to see anyone accurately copying what El Gran Malo has going on with its tequilas, however. As Shea Serrano wrote back in September:

The thing you eventually notice about [El Gran Malo] is, at the posterior of the semi-dining area, what amounts to a china cabinet. It glows with neon light, built very much like Pedro Cerrano's shrine to Jobu in Major League. Within are specimen jars each filled with tequila and fruit.

These jars are the reason El Gran Malo will grow even more popular than it already has become in the mere weeks that it's been open. The bar specializes in "infused tequila," essentially tequila flavored like things you wouldn't expect tequila to be flavored like -- grapefruit, jalapeño, grapefruit jalapeño.

A trio of tacos.
Owners Steve Sharma, Dimitre Dimitrov and Lea McKinney are devoted to these tequilas in a way I can't see a more commercialized version of El Gran Malo being. The creations they concoct are inspired -- witness a recent hop-infused tequila whose popularity led to a tequila-beer dinner with Saint Arnold providing the hops -- and grounded at the same time. Although beets may not sound good in tequila, you have to trust El Gran Malo -- and me -- when we promise that they are.

I suspect I'll have less trouble convincing people of the majesty of the rugged torta-burger, especially when topped with a fried egg and pork belly. Either way, El Gran Malo is slyly introducing a more modern version of Tex-Mex into our everyday vocabulary, and reintroducing a generation to what tequila should and can taste like. And those are small but wonderful discoveries that can't ever be replicated.

Read more about El Gran Malo in this week's cafe review, then dive head-first into the Lotería-card look of the place.

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Location Info

El Gran Malo - CLOSED

2307 Ella, Houston, TX

Category: Music

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Lorena Ventura
Lorena Ventura

El Gran Malo es la mejor de las gastrocantinas! I just went to El Gran Malo for the first time this past Saturday, and I instantly fell in love with this beautifully eclectic place. Their Blueberry Jalapeño Margaritas and their tacos de camarones are deliciously addictive!  I can't wait to go back.


I went to El Gran Malo for the first time last night. Funky atmosphere, amazingly creative infused tequila and good food. They have some very interesting concoctions percolating in their Shrine to Infusions. (Dragonfruit? Pink Lady Apple? Just say yes.)

The golden beet infused tequila was terrific; not as big of a fan of the red beet one, which just didn't seem to have as much effect on the scent and flavor. Visitors should not miss the chicken and shrimp tacos. 


El Gran Malo es muy bueno!  Great food and fantastic drinks!  A little on the pricey side, but it is a great upscale date spot with good atmosphere and a nice outdoor area.

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