Tex-Mex and Margaritas
Benji’s Cantina Opens on West 6th Street
Soon to be Austin’s It spot for exceptional Tex-Mex and classic margaritas, Benji’s Cantina opens May 24th, just in time for margarita season, and boasts west Sixth Street’s only rooftop dining space. The venture is the latest endeavor from the group behind Kung Fu Saloon and the Brew Exchange and operating partner Geoff Freeman.
Freeman ran the downtown Eddie V’s Prime Seafood for ten years. “I’m really excited to bring my longtime diners another unique dining experience,” says Freeman. After being mentored by Tom Farace (formerly the general manager of Eddie V’s) and Larry Foles (a former co-owner of Eddie V’s), Freeman applies exceptional standards to the Benji’s menu offerings. “It all starts with finding the best product available.”
Freeman and executive chef Blake Keely, formerly of the Roaring Fork and the UT Club, have combined their vision and culinary prowess to create a farm-to-table menu that feature perfectly grilled Beef Tenderloin or Chicken Fajitas sold by the pound ($35-$40 lb). Keely uses pasture-raised chickens from Vital Farms and all-natural certified Angus beef—a high acidic marinade breaks down the tissue making the beef extremely tender—and dredges the meat in a house-made rub before charring on a mesquite-infused grill. The fajitas, which are accompanied by a grilled jalapeño and a traditional bell-pepper-and-onion medley, arrive tableside in a cast-iron skillet that rests in a handmade anafre, which stores coals to ensure the meat stays hot the entire meal. The duo has placed an emphasis on fresh high-quality products and incorporates fine ingredients such as Rancho Gordo beans out of Napa and sources local goods from Johnson’s Backyard Garden and John Lash’s Farm To Table to produce time-honored dishes with a modern twist. An ingenious mix of seafood and Mexican influences dominates the menu, from appetizers such as Chicken Tortilla Soup, presented with rich pasilla-chile broth poured around traditional ingredients ($8); and Cocktel de Camarones, a deconstructed dish of Gulf shrimp, avocado, and tomato relish ($12); to entrées such as Chile en Nogada, a poblano chile stuffed with Chihuahua and asadero cheese ($16); and Snapper a la Mexicana, lightly floured fish sautéed crisp with a citrus-Mezcal-butter sauce ($mkt).
Creativity extends to the drink menu as well. Diners can expect an impressive selection of specialty margaritas, mexican beers, tequilas and mescals, including the “con gusano” (“with the worm”) variety. Fresh juices, simple syrups, and fresh ingredients are stocked for all the beverages.
Design firm Chioco Design, the visionary behind myriad local projects including Lavaca Teppan, Winflo Osteria, and Perla’s, created the space—a fusion of clean lines, urban funk, and natural elements. From the flowering vine bedecked exterior, to refurbishing parts of the existing structure, Chioco designed the ultra-stylish space, which juxtaposes vintage pieces such as the “Checker Front Store” sign with a ceiling of exposed pipes and incorporates textures, shapes, and natural light to bring the great outdoors inside.
Once indoors, a smallish lounge plays host to another bar, community tables that encourage mingling, and expansive glass doors that let in just the right amount of city-life action. The adjacent main dining room—a seamless mixture of exposed brick, subway-tiled nooks, and wood-paneled walls—seats approximately 300 and emanates a slightly more serene feel. A tortilla station, where attendants roll and press dough, provides that touch of old Mexico. Upstairs, the breezy rooftop patio has been converted into Austin’s premier al fresco dining space, featuring a water fountain as the centerpiece. The view is unrivaled and the vibe is decidedly energized—and urban. Stadium-style seating near the bar provides even more occasions for socializing under the stars and taking in the downtown skyline.
Benji’s Cantina is located in the lively West 6th street district of Downtown Austin, on the NE corner of 6th & West Avenue – at 716 W. 6th St. The restaurant will open for dinner service Sun-Weds, 4pm-11pm, Thurs-Sat, 4pm-12am, with lunch & brunch coming soon. Valet parking available. For more information visit www.benjiscantina.com.
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