A new Mexican restaurant opening in Old Lake Highlands marks a return to Tex-Mex from a well-versed vet. Called El Vecino, the restaurant comes from John McBride, great-grandson of Mike Martinez, who co-founded the El Fenix chain. It will open in the fall in the White Rock Center, formerly Lake Highlands Village, at the corner of Buckner Boulevard and Northcliff Drive.
McBride and his family sold El Fenix in 2008 to Firebird Restaurant Group (which also owns Meso Maya, La Ventana, and Tortaco). He had a noncompete agreement not to do Mexican food for five years, and in 2013, he opened The Lot, his restaurant and beer garden on Grand Avenue, off the Santa Fe Trail.
El Vecino joins a new wine boutique called Le Caveau Vinoteque, from Thierry Plumettaz, a food and beverage veteran who is opening the shop as an alternative to the trend of big chains.
"East Dallas is a community, it's the place to be," McBride says. "People here genuinely want you to succeed. If you're a restaurant guy, you look for areas that are under-served, and I think the center where we're going to open El Vecino is a gem."
El Vecino, Spanish for "the neighbor," is going to be a neighborhood Mexican restaurant. "This is going to be me and my wife — small, simple, comfortable," he says. "We'll have 120 seats, including 30 seats in the bar. The majority of the menu is going to be basic Tex-Mex."
There'll be margaritas and a full bar, and a special section on the menu inspired by Rosa Mexicano, the famed upscale Mexican restaurant in New York, which McBride ran before returning to Dallas.
"We're going to include some dishes with influences for that guest who wants something more modern," he says. "But the majority will be tried-and-true Tex-Mex."
He recalls that the El Fenix at Casa Linda opened in 1956.
"This area has always been so loyal to Mexican food," he says. "As part of the Martinez family, I grew up on it. I always knew I would get back to it in some form or fashion."