Jonathan Jones Brings Interior Mexican Cuisine to El Big Bad and It's Damn Good

Categories: News, On the Menu

Photo by Mai Pham
Goat Birria, a type of Mexican stew. One of the recent daily specials offered by Jonathan Jones at El Big Bad.

It's Friday evening, just past 6 p.m., and chef Jonathan Jones is moving with ease behind the bar at El Big Bad downtown. He seems comfortable, happy. His mood is decidedly jovial, and he's telling us about the some of the daily specials he's running now that he's taken over as executive chef of the downtown gastro-cantina. They all sound mouthwatering.

"We have St. Louis Berkshire pork ribs glazed with a chile morita sauce," he says, as he describes how he's cooked them so that they're fall off the bone tender. I'm groaning, a sort of half-pain-half-pleasure sort of sound, and tell him: "That sounds so good."

In response, he gives me this confident grin, the one that tells me he knows it's not just good, but damn good, and says somewhat modestly, "It is. It's really good."

Photo by Mai Pham
You want these ribs.
Sometimes confidence such as this is unwarranted, but in Jones's case, his goods measured up to the expectation: The ribs, covered in a chile-morita glaze that resembled a thick Mexican mole, and dusted with some sesame seeds, were fall-off-the-bone-tender, deep with flavor, and absolutely delicious.

Just one of a handful of dishes we had ordered on a recent Friday evening, when my friend Greg and I stopped in for a quick bite on the way to the theater, the ribs told me that Jones is back in the zone, cooking the food that he was meant to cook. Recipes that he'd developed for the late El Xuco Xicana (El XX), have been resurrected, like his famous pozole, which I didn't try, but I hear is as good as ever.

There were the chips and salsa -- hand-made, high quality salsas that are not (gasp!) served gratis, but are offered for reasonable charge. The salsas are the kind you'd find in Mexico, made fiery through the use of different peppers and spices. We received a red salsa, a green salsa, and a deep, brown-black salsa made with whole peppers, their sweet and spicy sourness reminding me a of the flavors of tamarind, yet bolder, spicier.

Then there was the stacked beef brisket barbacoa enchilada, something I'd never tasted before. Served in a shiny brown round casserole, to be cut up and served as you would a deep dish pizza, thick, gooey cheesiness combined with the hearty meatiness of the shredded brisket barbacoa in a way that was so decadent and tasty that I had what can only be described as a "foodgasm."

A daily special of BlackHill Ranch goat birria, a type of Mexican meat stew, also made a strongly favorable impression. Served with handmade tortillas, we scooped the meat and sauce into a tortilla and topped it with red onion and cilantro, eating it like you would a very juicy taco. The sauces may have dripped from my fingers, and there was no way to eat it in a ladylike manner, but man, was it good.

Location Info

El Big Bad

419 Travis St, Houston, TX

Category: Music

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What is brisket barbocoa?  Here in Texas, barbacoa refers to meat from the head of a cow.  Brisket is another cut entirely...

Looks good though.  Now I am hungry for some cachete.


That Goat Birria looks amazing! Last I had it was some time ago, Casa de Leon on Long Point or down the street at El Hidalguense, I forget which, but it was hauntingly good.


The daily ceviches are also consistently excellent.  

Mai Pham
Mai Pham topcommenter

@Nate Barbacoa refers not just to the meat but the method in which is is cooked. I just got back from Mexico -- from the area called Tlaxcala and Tlaxco -- and there when they say "barbacoa," implicit in the term is the fact that it's made with lamb, usually cooked in a pit for several hours or overnight and covered with maguey leaves. 

Here in Houston, people generally do identify barbacoa with meat of the head of of a cow. At El Big Bad, I believe that the menu delineated the meat as "brisket" barbacoa" to indicate that it is prepared in the barbacoa method using brisket.

Incidentally, when I was in Mexico, they said that barbacoa made with goat is called "birria," -- what I inferred from this tidbit of information is that the word "barbacoa" indicates slow-cooked, shredded meat with specific herbs and spices.

Mai Pham
Mai Pham topcommenter

@ESandler It was delicious, and all the more amazing because it was made from Black Hill Meats.

Mai Pham
Mai Pham topcommenter

@FRL713 Good to know! Will be back to try it, and soon.

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