Maybe you've seen the construction for the past few months at the northwest corner of Hillcrest and Northwest Highway, and now the butterfly has emerged: Soleo Mexican Kitchen, a Mexican and Tex-Mex restaurant from Lupe Rodriguez, of the Velasquez family, which runs the El Paisa chain of fast-casual taquerias.
They're still adding finishing touches, but you can see it's a handsome place with artwork imported from Mexico, a granite taco bar, open kitchen, patio with seating for up to 60, and a full bar with 30 tequilas. "We didn't want to overdo it and get too many," Rodriguez says. Slated opening is in about a week.
It's quite a leap from the modest taco stands her parents opened after moving here from California in the early '90s.
"We started out in 1998 with one little taco stand," Rodriguez says. "This pre-dated the whole taco craze — 13 or 14 years ago, you could have a taco stand just like in Mexico, where you just had a grill and could do tacos. You could sell the tacos for a dollar, and 14 years ago, a dollar went a long way. But then it got stricter. They made it so that you had to have a full kitchen."
Rodriguez, 33, graduated from the University of North Texas where she studied early childhood education, but she'd always worked in the restaurant business. Soleo is her attempt at a more serious venture, with a kitchen big enough to accommodate the family's catering business. The menu is her pragmatic combination of specialties from El Paisa, such as tacos, but also family favorites with a Jalisco influence, including pozole and seafood dishes like seared tilapia and grilled salmon.
And then Tex-Mex. "I have to do Tex-Mex because of where we're at," Rodriguez says. "If you don't do queso, people wonder where it is. And we do a hamburger because there's going to be that guy who doesn't like Mexican food."
But you can see the little rays of innovation if you look hard enough. For example, some menu items are marked with a (V / VG), indicating vegan or vegetarian, and that's something you don't see at your typical Tex-Mex joint. Veg items include a vegan lentil soup, a quartet of entree salads that can be ordered with or without meat, and enchiladas with tofu that Rodriguez really likes.
Everything in the restaurant has been considered, from the use of slate to the sturdy, comfortable wooden chairs to the quartet of paintings on the far wall, showing a worker in a field, set against a backdrop of agave plants.
"Agave plants — that's what you saw where we came from, and that's my grandfather working in the field," Rodriguez says.