It’s rare for us to walk out of a restaurant smiling because we just enjoyed the two best things we’ve ever eaten. In fact, it’s never happened before. What’s even more remarkable is that these two best things are in two broad categories: tacos and desserts. This is the magic of Comedor.
Comedor is the latest project by Philip Speer, he of the delicious but ill-fated (and missed) Bonhomie on Burnet Road and a four-time James Beard Award nominee. Comedor is also a remarkably no-holds-barred run at creating a restaurant. Speer and his investors not only built the restaurant from the ground up on a desirable downtown lot, but hired none other than Tom Kundig out of Seattle to design the space.
The resulting Comedor has a speakeasy-ish approach with two large, intersecting, coal-smoked volumes with a lower, introverted level that occupies the entire lot and an upper factory-windowed translucent volume that’s slightly tectonically shifted over the western sidewalk. The name Comedor is only discretely found at one extreme end at street level near the door with black steel letters on black steel.
You enter a dark, compressed, Wrightian, low-ceilinged space to speak with the hostess before entering an explosion of light and height with sunshine, 32-foot ceilings, and a courtyard to the sky. Once inside, you realize that what you thought were glazed bricks on the outside are actually made of glass, allowing ample ambient light to filter through the walls.
Kundig is famous for his human-scaled minimalist steampunk aesthetic where each building has some interactive mechanical feature. In this space, it is the large wheels used to open and close patio doors thresholding the indoor-outdoor space. The architecture subtly lets you know through brick, steel, concrete, and glass that while there’s a solid foundation in tradition and history here, there’s also a nod to today and the future. Call it steam-punk Mexican.
We started dinner with a couple drinks, both selecting the Oaxaca Margarita (reposado tequila, créma mezcal, Cointreau, lime, and lemon; $16). Surprisingly reasonably priced for a high-end establishment, the drink was too shy, with only a hint of mezcal smokiness and oddly little else, the only miss of the evening (a later Comedor Margarita [blanco tequila, lime-citrus blend, Cointreau, simple syrup, salt; $15] was far tastier).
The menu has been pared down (from what I read in earlier reviews) to the Para la Mesa (For the Table), 15 items that range in cost from a $9 avocado toast to a $95 ribeye. The menu responds to what’s in season, so there were subtle differences from what was posted online and what we saw in the flesh. Our waiter encouraged us to order all our dishes at the same time so they could be delivered in the appropriate order with richer dishes appearing on the table later, and he was helpful in ensuring we ordered the appropriate number to sate our appetite.
We started with the Carrot Tostada (with sunflower sikil pak, queso fesca, radish, coriander; $14). Sikil pak is essentially a Mayan hummus, traditionally made with pumpkin seeds. It made a good, light starter with a creamy nut flavor sharpened with raw radish. Next up was the Tuna Aguachile (citrus, costeno rojo, kelp chicharrón; $23), a Sinaloan (central West Mexico) dish of raw fish in a pepper-infused sauce. The salty-fishy flavor and crunch of the fried kelp complemented the costeno-stained tuna. A pleasant low-buzz burn gently peaked after we finished the dish.
In my lifetime, I’ve eaten approximately 366,451 tacos, but I’ve never had tacos as perfectly prepared and composed as Comedor’s Tacos de Pescado (with grilled cabbage, toreado aioloi, and salda verde; $29). The tacos appear simple enough: housemade tortillas of Oaxacan maize topped with fried fish and sprigs of cabbage and cilantro and a side-slice of radish. But they are so expertly executed to bring tears of joy. “These tacos are like eating clouds,” exclaimed The Bride. Indeed, the fish was perfectly, lightly fried and the tacos so delicately balanced with the masa, fish, veggies, and salsa that a bite floats around your mouth with a weightlessness you don’t want to end.
We ended our main eating with what many consider Comedor’s signature dish, the Bone Marrow Tacos (with quelites, smoked butter, and pecan gremolata; $47). For those not familiar with Oaxacan dishes, it’s quite a sight to behold with four halfbones carefully tumbled on the plate filled with fixins. Although the bones themselves look like tacos, a side basket holds four of those delicious house-made tortillas.
These Tacos make for an immensely rich dish, dripping with fat. The only dish I’ve had that was greasier was the Triple Manny Burger at the Buckhorn Saloon in San Antonio, New Mexico, back in 1987 where grease dripped off my elbows. The bride balked after one marrow taco (we’re not big beef eaters, let alone beef marrow eaters). I enjoyed the uniqueness of the dish but don’t feel a burning need to order it again.
Comedor has another signature dish, this one off of the dessert menu, the Tamal de Chocolate (with carmelized milk ice cream and amaranth; $15). Wow. Just Wow. My photo doesn’t do the aesthetics justice since the sun had (appropriately) set by the time it arrived, but the dish looks like something straight out of Avengers: Infinity War with two opposing worlds careening toward each other but stopped a split second before the catastrophic collision. On one side is chocolate married to masa in its full, naked glory, blissfully bitter to its molten core. On the other side is the sweetness of ice cream rolled in black and white sesame seeds.
The dish is interactive where the user chooses how much sweetness of the ice cream they want to offset the bitterness of the chocolate. The revelation is the firing of taste buds that generally don’t fire together creating a rollercoastered mouthful of euphoria. The Bride, who prefers chocolate on the bitter side, came alive after her first taste as if jumpstarted by Dr. Frankenstein. We’re still raving about the dish weeks later. We chased it all down with a spectacular latte with the slightest rumor of horchata.
Comedor is truly a triumph of architecture and creative cuisine, and we’re fortunate to see Speer’s aesthetic and culinary vision fully implemented. We’re looking forward to digging deeper into the menu, at least the Para la Mesa part. As far as we’re concerned, there’s only one dessert at Comedor.
web&where: interwebs; 501 colorado street; (512) 499-0977
what’s the deal? modern Mexican by Philip Speer in a Kundig-designed space (table service; reservations strongly encouraged)
overall: ***** (food*****; drink***; atmosphere*****; service***; instagrammability****)
cost: $$$$$ (depends on what you order)
– meh [think twice]
* OK [it’ll get the job done]
** good [solid neighborhood joint]
*** damn good [we’ll definitely be back]
**** yippity-yikes that was amazeballs [fantastic; one of the best]
***** holy sh!t [transcendental; best of the best] each $ = $10; cost is based on a typical dinner entrée and appetizer (no drinks)
each $ = $10; cost is based on a typical dinner entrée and appetizer (no drinks)