Note: First Looks give previews of new dishes, drinks, and menus we're curious about. Since they are arranged photo shoots and interviews with restaurants, we do not make critical evaluations or recommendations.
Do white tablecloths belong in a Tex-Mex restaurant? Austinites are about to find out with the opening of Benji's Cantina, the new upmarket Tex-Mex restaurant from the team behind Kung Fu Saloon and Brew Exchange.
"Tex Mex is very personal to people," says operating partner Geoff Freeman. "It's what we grew up with...now we're taking the cuisine up a notch." The chef, Blake Keely, was trained at Cordon Bleu and worked at Roaring Fork and the UT Club. At Benji's, he incorporates his French training and Southwestern influences into dishes like a reconstructed Caldo de Pollo, with consommé poured tableside.
Unlike some Tex Mex restaurants, Benji's sources as many local ingredients as possible. Produce comes from Johnson's Backyard Garden and John Lash's Farm To Table, and pasture-raised poultry from Vital Farms, to name a few.
Their demand for high quality meats may explain why their Signature Fajitas cost $40 a pound for beef and $30 for chicken. For special occasions, a Tenderloin Fajita with a whole lobster tail is also available. Fresh tortillas are made by hand on the rotating comal visible from the dining room.
The 300-seat restaurant includes multiple seating areas and an outdoor patio complete with its own separate bar. Their drink menu includes citrus-forward mixed drinks, an extensive tequila and mezcal list, and, as any respectable Tex-Mex establishment should, several spins on margaritas.
Check out the slideshow above to see the new space and their most popular menu items.
Benji's Cantina716 W 6th St, Austin, Texas 78701 (map)