A First Look at El Bolero

Just like Oak and Pakpao, the two Aphelia Restaurant group restaurants that preceded it, El Bolero makes an exceedingly good first impression. There's stone and tile work everywhere in the new Design District space, with each installation lending color and texture. The front patio is wrapped in cinderblock walls, with a buzzy mosaic of cement and grass beneath. Tile lines the floors inside, the walls in the kitchen and walls in the dining room, too.

The standard chips and salsa land on the table as soon as you sit, and they're pretty good ones. The chips are warm and dusted in salt and dried chili and the salsa is warmer still: a rusty red number with plenty of smoky chili with wisps of steam wafting from the bowl. Despite the traditional Tex-Mex opener, El Bolero wants you to know that you're dining in a Mexican restaurant. This is not Tex-Mex.

And it would be hard to confuse El Bolero with El Fenix when a red snapper ceviche lands on the table, flecked with green and red pepper, small cubes of watermelon and citrus. The same fish was offered in tacos on freshly made tortillas, which also came in pastor, shrimp and other varieties.

The restaurant is still in the soft opening stage, but should be open for lunch and brunch with an extended menu within the next week. I'm thinking those daisy yellow bar stools beckon patrons for a very festive happy hour. There are plenty of riffs on margaritas and other mixed drinks listed on the menu.

There are enchiladas, too, which sounds sorta Tex-Mexish if you think about it -- soft chicken rolled in tortillas served on a bed of rice with a modest amount of salsa verde. Fresh lettuce and radish slices lend a surprising snap, though, and refried beans aren't served automatically, but offered as a stand-alone side.

OK, that settles things. This is definitely not a Tex-Mex restaurant.

El Bolero, 1201 Oak Lawn Ave., elboleromexican.com

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