Well, it’s happening: we’re going back through the decades to revisit salmon-pink plaster and sizzling fajita platters. Since December, we’ve known that brothers Pasha and Sina Heidari were going to open a Tex-Mex restaurant in Uptown and that it would be an ode to Dallas through the decades, with a particular emphasis on the ’80s.
The Heidaris opened the Kennedy Room and Bowen House, Pasha collaborated on Mike’s Gemini Twin, and the family dynasty—father and uncle—is behind restaurants like the Old Warsaw and St. Martin’s on Lower Greenville. The new restaurant, in the former Social House space (2708 Routh St.), near Bowen House, had its soft opening last week, serving old-school Dallas Tex-Mex, with a twist and flair.
“I don’t know what happened,” Pasha says, laughing, when asked about the genesis. “We come from a fine-dining background and everything is very serious, and especially serious service. But we felt like this hadn’t been done. We chose Tex-Mex because it’s such an important cuisine, [and] we pinpointed the ‘80s, just because it’s an easier time to reference. Everyone here in Dallas just kind of understands the ’80s. Or [we] think they do.”
“When we say ’80s, my dream Tex-Mex place is really like ’50s to the ’80s in Dallas. What draws people to Tex-Mex is that you think of the service, the cuisine, the music. I don’t know why ’80s New Wave music reminds me of Tex-Mex, but it does.”
He references his respect for El Fenix, the oldest restaurant operating in Dallas, founded in 1919. “Dallas is a city of restaurants, and if they work, they work, and if they stick around, they’re here. I guess it’s paying respect. It’s about Dallas as much as it is about Tex-Mex.”
They have crispy-shelled tacos and enchilada platters. But it’s not the way you know them: the treatment looks lighter, more delicate, the beans showered delicately with cotija. Sizzling fajita platters, but Wagyu steak ones with bone-marrow butter poured over them. You’ll see people hand-making tortillas through a window.
What it looks like in the world of libations: agave spirits lead the cocktail menu, which consists of a whole page of tequilas and mezcals, followed by a whole of page of massive nostalgia onslaught, which ramps up to dessert cocktails and milkshakes, passing through mocktails. I kind of love that the wine options are Casa Madero—”red,” “white,” or “pink.” That they have a Shirley Temple or Mexican Chocolate Milk (for those who want the equivalent of a glass of milk with dinner). Other cocktails include a seasonal Pimm’s Cup, a sparkling Paloma—emphasis on the sparkling, the fizzy, the bubbles, and the tequila. I’ll be there for the Grasshopper dessert cocktail and Pink Squirrel milkshake. (Good lord, when was the last time you had crème de cacao or crème de mint, throw-backs from an era of cocktails built on sexual innuendo, orange juice, vodka, and things named Blue Lagoon—blue curacao anything, in fact—and pina coladas? It was a dismal time. It was a beautiful time—of Harvey Wallbangers and Long Island Iced Tea. I remember my uncles bartending.)
In this place with two patios and two bars, the cocktail menu, designed by Gregory Huston of Bowen House, goes a little more Tex-Mex and south of the border, with a tepache cocktail and more tequila than vodka.
Meanwhile, the décor involves each room evoking Dallas differently. The El Hollywood room holds Dallas-relevant movie posters and movie heads from classic films. Another will hold copies of watercolor paintings of Fair Park, commemorating the fact that we scored the Centennial Exposition in 1936. Vintage Neiman Marcus bags from the Fortnight travel-themed series that drew stars like Sophia Lauren line the walls of another room. “It’s good to know where you’re from. Everyone wants to,” Pasha says. “I’m constantly learning. It feels good to incorporate it.”
Pasha has friends in the industry doing regional Mexican food. One of them is Hugo Galvan, who carved time out of his executive chef position at Casa Komali to design the menu. And he has friends (ahem! Shannon Wynne) who just opened a Tex-Mex spot, Miriam Cocina, within walking distance in the former Lark on the Park space. Pasha recounts the afternoon they both sat down at Mesero, told the other that they had news to share, and then both confessed that they were opening Tex-Mex restaurants. He chuckles at the recollection.
And what is the elusive thing they’re trying to capture? “I guess it’s like Texas comfort food,” Pasha says. “I never want to change that. Even if it’s really clean. Mia’s is in a homey house,” he continues, “Mi Cocina was business sleek in a way, but always feels homey.”
To him, it’s a beautiful margarita, combination plates, and romantic music. “It’s not the queso. It’s not the crispy tacos. I don’t know what it is, to be honest,” he admits. But that’s the slippery goal: to make it relevant to 2019 without losing something that’s been iconic for the last 80 years in Dallas. “You don’t wanna ruin something that’s been so good for so long,” he concludes. “Be the new guy on the block who messes it up.” But, he says with a wink in his voice, “We can at least make it pretty.” Yes, and I’ll have a Pink Squirrel milkshake, please.