December 5th, 2011
El Gran Malo: Muy Bueno
In 6 Words: Tequila, Luchador, Tacos, Mexi-dive, Skirts, Muertos
When the first question you get asked upon entering an eatery doesn’t have anything to do with how many people are in your party, but rather, “Would you like to try a hops-infused tequila flight?”, you know you’re in for a night full of funny hats, impromptu body graffiti and a bath with a stranger. Thanks, El Gran Malo (Spanish for “The Judgmental Grandmother”)!
If you’ve ever wondered what would happen if Jerry Garcia ran a more gastro-tract-friendly Taco Cabana (and I know we all have), just step inside this circus tent. While just another Mexi-dive with a porch on the outside, the guts of the place are churning…in a good way. Christmas lights and whacky shit adorn the walls ala Dia de los Muertos, while friendly waitresses in short skirts hustle back and forth.
Your bartender will serve you more as a tour guide through the land of infused tequilas and off-the-wall margaritas, and fortune most certainly favors the bold on this little adventure. While I usually like my tequila alongside my beer or funneled down my gullet like a baby seagull in Cancun, sipping on something that combines the glory of the world’s two best things was certainly worth the shot. Chasing it with the latest St. Arnold’s cask and a few other selections from El Gran Malo’s Texas-centric brew offerings was icing on the cake. (On a side note, I’m not really sure that particular SA cask IPA was worth the hype, but I think I got one of the last glasses in stock because the fellows at the table next to me were told that they had “just run out”- as happens with a limited edition cask. Small victories are often the sweetest, and I made sure to smack my lips audibly and make an “O” face while I drank. The aforementioned gentlemen just seemed bewildered.)
The food is good but made great by the fair price. In an odd twist, just like the delicious cheese enchiladas you will find on every Chinese buffet in America, the biggest hit at the table seemed to be the burger. Go figure. My wife wouldn’t share, and jokes about a quick divorce in order to “get half “ didn’t really help my case.
My buddy, an expatriate who got shipped up to Chicago in the Continental shake-down, ordered the carnita tacos, but they were out. I attribute this both to the popularity of the taco and the relative newness of Gran Malo, which came through a little in the service on a busy night. You could hear his heart break and scream thanks simultaneously. He was able to give his ticker a hearty “F— you!” after all though, by ordering some pretty succulent pork belly versions. I chose the shrimp and the chicken tacos that were more than serviceable, and some excellent guacamole.
Naturally, the conversation eventually turned to which character we thought was El Gran Malo – the angry looking dog that looks like Sirius Black’s Animagus (yeah, I went there), or the blue-masked luchador; both of which peer down at you from a mural while you grub-down. That seemed like a decent enough place to call our evening quits, before we were sucked even further down the tequila-shot rabbit hole. If you can brave the parking, and you agave pundits out there can stomach something a little bit off the beaten path, your own Gran Malo adventure awaits.
Where – 2307 Ella Blvd., Houston, TX 77008
What – Infused tequilas, off-the-wall margaritas, a shot of Mexi-dive; chase it with Dia de los Muertos
Wear – Funny hats, impromptu body graffiti, ascots, handkerchiefs, and muumuus
How much – Food – $4 to $9; Drinks – It ain’t no icehouse
When — Sunday – Thursday: 4:00PM to 12:00AM; Friday & Saturday: 4:00PM to 2:00AM; Happy hour is 7 days a week from 4:00PM to 7:30PM
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