cWalking into El Carlos Elegante in the Design District is a treat for the senses. The eye-grabbing decor is truly like nothing else in the city — certainly not like any of the Mexican or Tex-Mex offerings. The story is, that it’s designed to be like a house passed down through several generations, with layers of old and new sitting next to and on top of each other. And the menu incorporates that family-style spirit also: order a bunch of dishes from across the five sections on it and prepare to share.
This is the newest restaurant from Duro Hospitality, the group behind The Charles, Sister, and Cafe Duro, the 2022 Eater Dallas Award winner for Best Decor. And it caused quite a stir when it opened. “Five years ago, I don’t think we could have pulled this off,” Chastain says. “We were a brand new company, just starting out, and we had to get people used to what we were doing and trusting us.”
Chastain and a team of six chefs from across the hospitality group worked together to create the menu at El Carlos Elegante. They drew on research trips to Central and South America, and from family recipes and cooking techniques of the staff, some of whom are from rural parts of Mexico.
The menu is not online and reservations are still tough to get. For diners who haven’t gotten a peek inside yet, Eater Dallas got a look at some of the highlights from the menu from J Chastain, a partner at Duro.
“As part of the experience, we want you to be involved with everybody and every dish at your table,” Chastain says. The servers are well-versed in the food and wine, so don’t hesitate to ask them for guidance or even to curate a meal for you.
A Trio of One-Hitter Appetizers
“Osteones, which are Murder Point oysters out of Alabama that are filled with mezcal mignonette, spicy chili, and a little piece of pickled apple. The apple doesn’t come across, it’s more of a texture thing. And a piece of lily pad flower, nasturtium, for flavor — it has almost a slight licorice flavor. We didn’t want one mixture of tastes throughout the bite, but lots of different ones that vary so you can taste more than one flavor and feel more than one texture.
“We first started developing the charred eggplant as a side dish. Everybody loved it, but we couldn’t finish it. So we looked at it and thought, actually a one-bite of this would be amazing because it gives you a big mouth feel of spice and acid. It may look mundane on the menu, but it’s one of the more flavorful bites. It’s got recado negro, a charred chili paste from the Yucatan; a chili garlic puree that adds a bite to it; and it’s served in a little tart shell made from a light pastry that doesn’t overpower the rest of the flavors.
“Our most popular one-hitter is the surf and turf. It has A5 Miyazaki wagyu beef that’s well-marbled and expensive, diced into a tartare with a Calabrian dressing. It’s served in a housemade, tiny taco shell and topped with Osetra caviar. It’s spicy, has big acid and flavor — lots of fun things people go for.
Ceviche de Tigre
“This was developed by one of our newest sous chefs at the Charles. It was a special there and we all loved it so much that we knew it had to come with us to El Carlos. It is a ceviche made with Crystal Blue prawns. The idea is to take a sauce and puree some of the fish into it to make the texture creamier and silkier, and incorporate the fish flavor. We’re using aji panca as a chili in that, with the flavor of the kumquat, which is one of my favorite fruits. And on the side is a Mexican wheat chicharron, like Duros, that texture. The crispiness of it adds a balance to the seafood, cutting the texture of the soft fish.
“In Mexican street food, the machete is common — it looks like a larger quesadilla, but it is not. It’s more focused on the meats, the different varietals of lengua and barbacoa and the like, not a big blob of cheese. At the Charles we have the Pie, a chef-driven dish and the only thing that stays the same in it is the savory pie crust. We wanted something like that here, and the machete is what we decided on. It’s a corn masa tortilla in a long football shape. Right now, we’re doing lengua, to start, with Oaxaca cheese and caramelized vegetables, with a pickled, almost Mexican, giardiniera. The server cuts it table side with a knife presentation.
“We put the name Mayan hummus on the menu because Sikil Pak felt too far out there for people to recognize, and we really want people to try this dish. It’s an old traditional dish from the Yucatan with pepita seeds as the base, but very similar to hummus. It has a spicy, full flavor with some acid and seasonal vegetables. It is a thick condiment that you drag the roasted and pickled vegetables through. We add pepitas candied with coriander, cumin, and Mexican oregano on top to add to the texture.
Pork Al Pastor
“This has been a crowd favorite. Tortillas and butter remind me of Mexican restaurants growing up, so they put an amazing, flavorful pineapple butter with this dish that you just spread on a tortilla and that’s a meal itself. We take a pork blade chop, a cut off the pork butt, and brine and sous vide it for 72 hours to break down the cartilage inside, which makes it cut more like a steak. You get the fattiness and flavor of the pork but the texture of a pork chop, that’s meaty when you cut it rather than soft and braised.”