[All photos: Ellie Sharp]
Moderno Tex-Mex + Tacos is the latest Houston eatery featuring south-of-the-border flavors and refreshing cocktails— all outside the Beltway. Owner John Moore, who many locals know from Palazzo's Trattoria, has created a restaurant full of character that is inviting enough to lure even the most hesitant Inner Looper while satisfying the hankerings of everyone who lives and works on the west side of town.
Inspired by border town cantinas, Moderno offers a classic Tex-Mex menu in a "new rustic" atmosphere filled with thoughtful touches and creative décor— Oscar the elk for starters, but more on him later. Guests are encouraged to start their visit with a cocktail featuring fresh fruit juices or purees combined with tequila or mescal from a large selection. General Manager Shane Conley heads the beverage program and is well equipped to answer questions or make recommendations regardless of what you're craving. Signature drinks include margaritas every which way (frozen, rocks, straight up), a Mexican Mule, and sangria. To eat, there's house-made ceviche, chile con queso, or guacamole, as well as heavier menu options like spinach and mushroom enchiladas, fried chicken tacos, DF street tacos, steak tampiquena, and a variety of salads.
Moore says the menu will evolve and future additions will include puffy tacos, fusion tacos, and combination plates. Every dish is made from scratch and made to order using recipes developed via a collaborative effort between Moore and his kitchen crew and executed by a staff lead by a head chef with experience in many other local kitchens, most notably Vallone's. Moore explains that although there are many options for Tex-Mex in town, he feels there is room to grow and expand with new concepts such as Moderno where quality and consistency are top priorities. "Like most Texans I love Tex-Mex— it's a staple of our diet. Everyone needs a Tex-Mex fix at least once a week. I could eat tacos about 5 times a week," he says. Happy hour is offered from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. serving $5 margaritas and half-priced appetizers. The soon-to-open back patio will provide a welcoming space to enjoy the aforementioned happy hour with a generous place for 12 tables perfect for after-work gatherings of all sizes.
Moderno's interior sets a tone of casual elegance with rustic aesthetics. Architect Issac Preminger, designers John and Stassa Moore, Melanie Bell of Pear Tree Concepts, and sisters Allison Sacra and Karen Novak contributed to the design with details like a Dia de los Muertos mural.
At the bar, find salvaged and handmade design elements incorporating reclaimed wood from Gino Vian of Fun House and distressed pine tables by local artist Cory Wagner of Dumptruck design, whose work can also be seen at Oxheart and 60 Degrees Mastercrafted. Colorful tiles imported from Mexico and stucco bottle walls (developed by Vian using salvaged liquor bottles and used to separate the private dining room) also brighten up the space.
Most notably: Oscar the elk. Upon entering the restaurant, guests are sure to notice tis creature, who was shot by Moore's father over 35 years ago in Colorado. After receiving praise from the ranch foreman on the beauty of this particular animal, Moore senior had the elk mounted and stored it in the garage as there was no space in the main house. With the opening of Moderno, Moore is happy to "finally have a spot to put him."
Moore hopes to provide his guests with a fun environment and memorable dining experience. He's aiming for both casual and low key with an upscale ambiance in which guests can enjoy "a great meal and service, great margaritas, and great value." And, of course, Oscar.
· All Eater Inside Coverage [-EHOU-]
· Moderno Tacos [Official Site]