First Look: The El Cantina Superior Is Not So Super

Categories: Local Spotlight

the-el-cantina-skinny-marg.jpg
Photo by Molly Dunn
The skinny margarita at The El Cantina Superior tastes more like sugary juice than a tequila-based drink.
Screaming children, smoky fajitas and weak margaritas basically sums up The El Cantina Superior. This new Tex-Mex spot opened just a few weeks ago in the Heights at the corner of White Oak and Studewood. Based on the hype, it seemed to be the new place to be. Unfortunately, it has got some serious work to do if it wants returning customers.

Dining during happy hour on a weekday (4 p.m. until 7 p.m.) seemed like the opportune time to visit, as certain margaritas, domestic and draft beers are $3, and premium beer bottles are $3.75.

This could be a much better deal if discounted appetizers were included, but as of now, happy hour only applies to drinks. There might be a nacho bar happy hour special on the way, though.

the-el-cantina-guac.jpg
Photo by Molly Dunn
Opt for the guacamole instead of the salsa.
Props to the bar for whipping out the half-price (normally $6.50) skinny margaritas quickly, but the bartender should work on the ratio of tequila to lime juice and triple sec. A skinny margarita should be less sugary and have more emphasis on the lime and tequila, but this libation just tasted like orange juice with a squeeze of lime and hint of tequila.

Author's note: I'm a lightweight and couldn't feel anything from this drink.

Salt should also go all the way around the rim of the glass; it shouldn't be in a small clump.

Chips and salsa arrived the second we were seated. Each tortilla chip was drenched in oil and you could practically see through to the other side. The salsa lacked any sort of heat component, as well. It tasted like tomatoes and water. If only there were diced Serrano peppers or jalapenos to give it a kick. Guacamole is not listed on the menu, but you can order it to go with your chips. Even though someone went a little heavy on the lime juice, a simple shake of salt and you're good to go.

Unlike other Tex-Mex restaurants where the menus are five pages long, The El Cantina Superior's meals fit on just one page with drinks listed on the back. Choices include beef or chicken fajitas; enchiladas with red, green or creamy green sauce; ground beef burritos; fish, chicken, beef or pork tacos; and four combination plates.

This story continues on the next page.


Location Info

The El Cantina Superior

602 Studewood St., Houston, TX

Category: Restaurant

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46 comments
Hill_
Hill_

Tried it last week, went in around 9PM on a Wednesday.  Sat at the bar, the place was maybe 1/4 full.  The service from the bar staff was....lacking.  No silverware until after our food arrived and we had to remind her, asked for water 5 times before receiving it. Had to prompt them for chips and salsa, and so on.   But whatever, not the end of the world and maybe she was just having a bad night...


As for the food.  I liked the menu options, it is limited but covered most things i enjoy.  I went with 1 of the combo plates, cheese enchilada, crispy taco and beef taco al carbon, rice and beans.   And as mentioned in the article, the salsa was about as bland as it gets.  My food ranked somewhere between Taco Cabana and Casa Ole.

The food gets a solid Meh.


I like the location and the layout of the place, but can't imagine going back for anything other than drinks on the patio.

rercalvert
rercalvert

I finally tried the "El" yesterday for lunch. I have watched with interest for several months since the building began construction, hoping that we would have a good Tex-Mex restaurant here in the Lower Heights area. Despite the negative reviews, such as the Houston Press', and favorable comments on Nextdoor, I gave it a whirl. In short, "El" is not great, but it's pretty darn respectable. I found the simple, short menu adequate for Tex-Mex, especially for a restaurant starting out. Menus can be expanded over time. The basics were there, and I found them to be executed well, especially the beans and rice, by which I judge all Tex-Mex establishments. If those are not good, I don't care how fabulous your Chile Relleno is. The cheese enchilada was delicious, the traditional red sauce rich in ancho/pasilla flavor. The fajitas were perfectly cooked, and the pico de gallo accompanying them was beautifully chopped and mixed (though I would have liked a lot more heat in it). The simple taco, while many would consider it bland, was exactly what it should be. The only item I did not care for was the tamale, but I find few restaurants actually have good tamales. The Margaritas were passable, though we ordered an authentic Marg...tequila, lime juice, and Cointreau/Triple Sec...as we find most places to have too-sweet Margs. The bartender came to the table to check on how we liked them. The owner stopped by for feedback, which we candidly gave. Our biggest comment was the lack of a salsa piquante (there is no heat here!), though the red and green salsas were good, and a need to work on the Margaritas. The service was good, but the place was not busy at lunch, and they are still working out the kinks and training staff. Noise factor was high with all the concrete and glass. I think their biggest challenges will be consistency and service, which I told the owner, as Houston has too many good places to eat. If you want to try "El" soon, remember this Saturday is White Linen Night, and they will probably be packed.

jbsnet
jbsnet

corn tortilla's with fajitas? really?

Hilda Marceleno
Hilda Marceleno

where is the camino part? I read the article, sorry, I dont know the obscure references you apparently know. I speak spanish fluently. this place is named a stuupid name, it makes no grammatical sense. I guess that why its tex mex. its disgusting anyway. oh, but god forbid someone not speak english, right? what the fuck ever.

Matt McLeod
Matt McLeod

I like the place. My family will be back. They'll get it together.

Jay Francis
Jay Francis

The El refers to his El Camino, so it is actually correct.

Jay Francis
Jay Francis

I liked it. The fajitas were tender. And the enchilada was excellent. A very well thought out and tasty ancho/guajillo sauce.

Jeorgeanne Loyacono
Jeorgeanne Loyacono

I did not like the menu. Service was OK. Margarita was WEAK. Food was very blah. Not gonna go back.

Nojusticenopiece
Nojusticenopiece

Wow, Molly Dunn writing an actual opinion instead of her usual fluff pieces! Someone's angling for the critic job...

rastro69
rastro69

Good to see Molly voicing an opinion with a side of verve...

JayPFrancis1
JayPFrancis1


My lunch today was excellent. The enchilada was perfect and about as genuine as I have ever had in my 50 plus years of travel in Mexico. The corn tortillas are made on premises so they don't have those store bought preservatives and thickeners, lightly fried in oil to soften which is about as classically Mexican as you can get. The word enchilada is from enchilar, meaning to cover or enfuse something with chiles. The sauce, as opposed to a classic Tex-Mex chili gravy which is wonderful in its own right, but different,  is the result of a puree of two chiles, one of which adds a sweet note. Yeah, I could figure out what they were doing, but I won't go into details here. And the enchilada gravy is excellent. 


My fajitas were as tender as can be and perfectly seasoned. 


The rice and the charro style beans were very good and I was well pleased that the salt level was not off the charts (as one finds in many restaurants in Houston). 

All in all, a great experience. And for the person who found the salsa wanting, all I can say is that I disagree. I have had similar salsas all over northern Mexico and I found it to be excellent also.


Hilda, the "El" refers to his vintage El Camino car. Although you are technically correct that cantina is feminine, in this context, he is not wrong. It would be like saying Bob's Cantina is wrong because "Bob" is masculine.

Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah
Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah topcommenter

The worst Tex-Mex my guests and I have ever had in Texas… We couldn't eat the refried beans or our main courses… They did comp our tab which was nice. We decided to go across the street to BB's which was better but not much….

Layne Jones
Layne Jones

Yep. We tried it after a few beers at Little Wood rows and it was pretty bad. Decent service. Bad margaritas. Really boring, bland food. Won't go back.

Jonathan Alonzo
Jonathan Alonzo

I don't usually back HP...but at Hilda it IS called The El Cantina Superior, idiota

Sara Scarborough
Sara Scarborough

Maybe give it some time? This could be someone's dream. I'm sure they're taking all the feedback and making changes for the better.

Rodney Flores
Rodney Flores

I can only attest to Screaming children and weak margaritas

Hilda Marceleno
Hilda Marceleno

Context clues, people! El cantina. its La cantina, mensos.

John D Vrbanac
John D Vrbanac

I don't think I'll be a repeat, which is a shame because it's walking distance to my house. Everything we tried was absolutely bland.

trigger_ninja
trigger_ninja

based on location and natural improvement with time (it just opened), this place will be fine. its patio will become a popular watering hole. look at BB's – marginal food, always packed. also – this "first look" is terrible. reads as though it was written in about 20 minutes, if that

BobbyFreshpants
BobbyFreshpants topcommenter

The article doesn't come across as critiquing the food, it's more a list of personal problems. 

Why does everything need to be hot?

JayPFrancis1
JayPFrancis1

I like it. I've always admired Ken Bridges's aesthetic sense for color and design. I like the graphics and design of Lola's, Pink's and Witchcraft. And The El (Camino) is a beautiful retro venue. 

rercalvert
rercalvert

My thoughts exactly. This is not an expensive restaurant...it's Tex-Mex, and pretty decent Tex-Mex, at that.  Not great, but very good.  Time will tell if Ken Bridges can maintain consistency of the food and service quality.

rercalvert
rercalvert

Most Tex-Mex places are family oriented.  And know how to order a Margarita.  I have yet to find anyplace in the US that has a good house Marg.

Bruce_Are
Bruce_Are topcommenter

@trigger_ninja 

IMO the review was pretty good. MD was very specific in her criticisms. She left it open as to whether the place might improve and gave some clear areas that they should look at. Whereas you simply state that the "place will be fine" and that "it will become popular" with absolutely no basis other than the fallacy that the place is bound to get better.  It might, but some places start out as good as they're going to get and then go downhill or remain inconsistent.

Bruce_Are
Bruce_Are topcommenter

@BobbyFreshpants 

Everything doesn't need to be hot and Molly D didn't indicate that was her expectation. But the salsa should have a least a mild glow. And greasy chips and undercooked tortillas are not personal gripes.

kmaher23
kmaher23

@BobbyFreshpants Heat isn't always necessary, but a little flavor would help.  I dropped by one afternoon, just after the "lunch specials" went off the menu.  (Berryhill's will prepare lunch or dinner sized meals at any time of the day.)  There were almost no customers but service was sluggish. Prices are high for what you get.


The beef quesadilla contained finely minced meat--no identifiable chunks. The watermelon margarita was OK.  


The location is handy & they sure made that old convenience store look pretty.  Until they get somebody in the kitchen who knows how to cook, I'll drop by after work for a happy hour drink on Thursday or Friday--while I'm waiting for Bernie's Burger Bus to open across the street....

rastro69
rastro69

@trigger_ninja @JayPFrancis1 

Jay is an expert on everything that is Jay, and he never tires of letting you know his opinion. Be glad you're reading him, instead of conversing at a cocktail party....

trigger_ninja
trigger_ninja

@Bruce_Are You wanna' know why I "simply state 'the place will be fine?' and "it will become popular?" Because for the last 13 years I have lived about four blocks north of this intersection. I have seen crowds of idiots such as yourself in growing numbers invade The Heights – and especially this intersection – virtually every night of the week to eat mediocre food, stand in line at underwhelming food trucks and drink overrated local craft beer with their frat bros and sorority sisters. That's why I say The El will be fine. Because, with a couple of exceptions, it's just as unimaginative, inauthentic and safe as the rest of the venues in this area. So please, don't tell me my business. Go back to the suburbs punk.

jerrybrown246
jerrybrown246

Seriously low class. How unique... a hipster with "my 'hood" smugness. Just imagine what residents thought when the "ninja" moved in. Get over yourself, boy.

trigger_ninja
trigger_ninja

@jerrybrown246 hipster? hah, that's a laugh. I'm a native Houstonian and probably older than your dumb ass

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