Houston Chronicle food critic Alison Cook awarded gastrocantina El Gran Malo two stars for "food [that] is neither showy nor tortured."
Though initially doubtful about the bar-restaurant's infused tequila program, Cook was charmed by a tequila infused with Chinese squash and charred lemon and declared many of them "strikingly good." She sampled nearly everything on the abbreviated menu devised by consulting chef Greg Lowry including quesadillas, a "racy, finely cut" ceviche and grown-up jalapeño poppers with "an interior ooze of goat cheese and gorgonzola."
Altogether, it's the "drinks that animate the dining experience and make me want to linger in the broad garage-bay of a dining room" and though not quite just a bar or just a restaurant, she calls El Gran Malo "greater than the sum of its parts."
Houston Press' Katharine Shilcutt practically called for street justice this week when she tackled the adults-only Vida Tex-Mex. Owners Yvonne Melcher, her husband Magic Schwarz and her son Trey Melcher intended to make the restaurant an extension of Austin-based Vivo with the help of Chef Paul Peterson. When the deal fell through, Melcher carried on despite a lack of experience in the industry.
Shilcutt was not impressed, calling Vida "a swinger's club that happens to serve really bad Tex-Mex." Persistent problems include underseasoned, gummy batter on fried dishes while her dining companion had a "carne asada that includes a 'tequila demiglace' in which the tequila isn't cooked off, and is instead poured on top of a piece of rubbery steak and left to pool disgustingly all around the meat."
She did enjoy the margaritas and a "perfect bowl of queso," but ultimately "to serve bad Tex-Mex in Houston is, simply put, a crime. And Vida Tex-Mex is guilty."