El Chile Y Cantina on Greystone. The northwest hills location made it an easy sell since it was right around the corner.
At 3435 Greystone, El Chile Y Cantina is located one block west of Mopac in a little shopping center next to a tack shop and a Pizza Hut. Open since April of 2008, it's the second of three El Chile locations under the ownership of local restaurateur, Carlos Rivero, who also owns El Chilito and Sortini.
The dining room is a small, open room with a sit-down bar, hence the addition of "Y Cantina" in the name. The hostess who greeted us asked if we would like to sit on the patio, an expansive deck off the front of the restaurant. That was kind of a funny question to ask since it was about 40 degrees outside and our party included two people over 75. They put two (inside) tables together to accommodate our party of five. Not a big deal, but it's weird that all the tables were the same four-top size.
We were presented with chips and salsa right away. That's important. Especially the salsa. I can appreciate what Managing Chefs, Kristin Kittrell and Jeff Martinez, former Jeffrey's sous chefs, are trying to achieve with their unique spin on traditional salsa, but I question the execution. The salsa looked like a dark roux and it tasted a little bland and char-like. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't spicy, either. I asked the waiter what was in the salsa and he answered me in a you-should-already-know-about-our-famous-salsa kind of way with "it's just salsa." After pushing him further with my stupidity about why it was so dark and was it made with black beans, he explained that it was salsa made with roasted peppers, giving it the charred flavor. I felt satisfied with his answer. But, it still needed more heat.
Our entrees, on the other hand, were executed perfectly. The Cochinita Pibil was impressive and unique, at least to us. Cochinita Pibil is a pork dish originating from the Yucatan Penninsula. Preparation involves marinating the meat in a strong, acidic, citrus juice, coloring it with annato seed from the achiote plant, and then slow-roasting the meat inside a banana leaf. The bright, orangy-colored pork was served on fresh corn tortillas with rice and black beans on the side. Definitely a dish to inspire a return visit.
The Puffy Tacos with chicken were excellent with moist, shredded chicken served on thick and lightly fried corn tortillas topped with guacamole, lettuce, tomato and queso fresco. The rice and refried pinto beans were seasoned so perfectly as to render the bland salsa but a distant memory.
If you prefer Tex Mex style, the Enchiladas de Queso, topped with good ol' chile con carne sauce, is a good choice. Even better when paired with Gilberto's Sangria Especial.
Clearly, Carlos Rivero knows what he's doing when it comes to the restaurant biz. By expanding his ever popular El Chile to northwest hills and now downtown, he is meeting the needs of his loyal customer base, while attracting new customers and making room for the crowd that's been busting at the seams of the original Manor Road location.
Well, Mr. Rivero, you can include me in the new customer category. It's in the neighborhood and there are many margaritas to try.