Not Tex-Mex

El Fenix owner opens Dallas restaurant dedicated to ritzy vacay spot

El Fenix owner opens Dallas restaurant dedicated to ritzy vacay spot

Tulum chicken masa
Chicken masa with serrano verde and red guajillo. Photo courtesy of Tulum

Inspired by their favorite vacation spot, Dallas restaurateur Mike Karns and his wife are opening a restaurant called Tulum, in the former Madrina spot at 4216 Oak Lawn Ave.

The restaurant will open in late October, Karns says.

"My wife and I travel there and love the area," Karns says. "It speaks to us. It's beachy, rustic, laid-back with a concentration of culinary excellence, with chefs from all over the place, not just Mexico."

"Cancun used to be a great place a long time ago, but we like venturing a little farther south," he says. "We were doing Playa del Carmen, but that got commercialized. Now it's moved to Tulum, which is still a very bohemian artsy area."

Karns is chief at Firebird Restaurant Group which also owns El Fenix, Meso Maya, La Ventana, and Tortaco. But this restaurant is a separate "pet project" just between Karns and his wife, Valerie. She describes the restaurant as "an expression of pure and natural offerings that enhance and inspire the experience of dining."

Nonetheless, the menu will be overseen by Firebird corporate chef Nico Sanchez, and will incorporate Mexican elements but not be a Mexican restaurant.

"The restaurant will not be specifically Mexican, although there are Mexican ingredients and inspired plates," Karns says. "It's a real off-the-grid feel. We've got a wood-burning oven that we're going to use, to bring some smoke into the place and some char."

"It's just an upturn on a little bit more culinary-oriented product," he says. "We won't have enchiladas, but we'll have seafood, steak, that sort of thing."

The decor will mimic the experience of being in Tulum.

"When you're in Tulum, there's one little sandy road that wanders through, with the jungle on the right and the beach on the left," he says. "So we've designed the restaurant that way. You walk in the front door into the bar and it's the jungle side. You get that real organic feel. Behind the bar is a small nook lounge — a nest, if you will — it's got a living room feel to it."

The dining room is their beach. "The dining side is the beach side, so to speak," he says. "It's open-air. We want to be authentic to the area."

Karns may already have many restaurants, but he always has ideas.

"People ask, 'Why do we need another restaurant?' but I get inspired by different things," he says. "I'm a creator and love to do new things."

They're still working on the menu and don't have dishes to share, but they know their website: thetulumexperience.com (although it doesn't seem to be active yet). It's not just Tulum, it's an experience.

"We wanted to embrace what that is and let people know it's something different," he says.