Let's start this off by clarifying what Odelay isn't.
Odelay is not an authentic Mexican restaurant. There are no chapulines (might we suggest El Oaxaqueño
) or birria (might we suggest Maskara's
) or carnitas (might we suggest Las Almas Rotas
). Odelay is also not an attempt at elevated Latin fine dining in the vein of Javier's, any Mi Cocina location, or Dallas' latest entrant to the space, The Mexican.
Instead, Odelay is classic Tex-Mex that most of us know and love, but handled with a little more style than simply slathering chili con carne over a plate and calling it a day.
That love of Tex-Mex starts with Odelay's founder, Julian Barsotti, who grew up in Dallas eating the cuisine.
"When I lived in the Midwest, and later in California, the taste memory I missed the most was Tex-Mex," Barsotti says. "Always, my first meal when I returned home was Tex-Mex."
And while Barsotti has several revered local Italian restaurants (Nonna, Fachini and Carbone's), he was approached by now-investor Mike Kerr with the idea of opening a Tex-Mex restaurant a couple of years ago. But for him, it had to be personal and differentiated from competitors. For the menu, he says he started with the greatest hits of Dallas Tex-Mex and added a few outliers (see the New Mexico section). Then, for that personal approach, he called up some staff meals, like chimichangas and snapper calabacita.
From there, he focused on the fundamentals. "We wanted to make the commitment to high-quality ingredients, with no compromise," Barsotti tells the Observer
. "The most obvious examples are the proteins we use."
Wagyu beef is sourced from Rosewood Ranch, the pork is Berkshire and the seafood is caught from the Gulf of Mexico. Tortilleria la Nortena in Oak Cliff provides the corn tortillas, and Odelay's chef, Jesse Sosa, created an in-house flour tortilla program. Barsotti gives the bulk of the credit for the food to Sosa for "scaling up small recipes" for the daily masses.
The artwork inside Odelay is an homage to Dallas Tex-Mex and pop culture.
Barsotti and his partners gutted the former Cafe Express in Inwood Village, transforming it into a colorful hacienda. Stucco walls, wooden beams and Saltillo-tiled floors provide ambiance, along with dozens of La Catrina dolls at the entrance. Several fresco murals are painted along one wall, including one depicting Jerry Jones pitching the Cowboys head-coaching gig to Jimmy Johnson at Mia's Tex-Mex on Lemmon Avenue in 1989.
Once seated, diners are quickly served the mandatory chips and salsa. The fried chips arrived fresh, crunchy and hot, with just the right level of saltiness. The single red salsa offered only flirts with spice and never fully commits to heat. It's refreshing that Odelay hasn't joined the trend of offering a litany of salsas at the table, but a little more dinamismo
wouldn't hurt either.
Fortunately, other appetizers allow Odelay to flex its Tex-Mex chops. Yellow queso ($7) from the popular pandemic-born Ritas & Queso pop-up reappears, or there's a queso blanco that offers a creamier alternative for a dollar extra per cup. On one visit, we also opted for chimichangitos ($13), which are bite-sized fried tortillas filled with black beans, chicken and corn. The quartet of fried bites comes with a scoop of fresh guacamole and buttermilk chipotle crema for dipping, but a party of four may want to double their order.
On another night, we opened our visit with a half order of Odelay's Perfect Nachos ($8). For a half order, a whole tortilla is quartered and fried, then loaded with a healthy portion of cheese, refried beans and pickled jalapeños that would overwhelm a lesser, soggier chip. The chips border a plate centered by guacamole, sour cream, shredded lettuce and pico de gallo. We added cubes of succulent grilled chicken to our nachos for an extra two dollars; tenderloin steak is an option for three bucks more. Perfect is a bold claim, but these nachos come close to the ideal.
Odelay's entrées cover more common Tex-Mex ground. There are seven combo plates of various tacos and enchiladas, served with rice and fried beans. There's also an a la carte section of tamales, tacos and the like that lets you customize the precise meal you seek.
We did most of our dining on Odelay's house specialties. The shrimp tinga ($21) brings fresh shrimp served in a chili adobo sauce and topped with tortilla strips and a mild crema. Green rice, a small ensalada and a cup of black beans round out the dish. The shrimp were well cooked, but the adobo sauce seems to be missing a touch of heat.
We also had some spicier high hopes for the pork steak in mole verde ($18), but again, the dish errs on the milder side. It's a shame because the mole verde has an otherwise excellent flavor, and the strips of grilled pork were juicy and tender. The entrée is capped with crunchy lettuce and radish salad and served with fresh tortillas that make for a great pork taco, provided you kick up the heat with a splash or two of hot sauce.
No such flavor adjustments are necessary for Odelay's brisket tacos ($19). As mentioned, Rosewood Ranch provides the wagyu brisket, and the flavor and tenderness pay off in spades. Instead of shredded beef like you might find in other brisket tacos, Odelay's brisket is sliced pencil-width and nestled into the tortilla with lightly caramelized onions and a touch of queso blanco. Topped with a wedge of avocado and a dash of tomatillo salsa, it's one of the best brisket tacos we've had in some time, and two large tacos are plenty filling.
The tenderloin tampiquena at Odelay
We also found more beefy pleasure in the tenderloin tampiqueña ($24), consisting of beef tips cooked to order and served in a tomato and poblano sauce. The whole dish is smothered in cheese, with obligatory rice and black beans. As with the pork mole verde, fresh tortillas accompany the order and are the consummate tool for piling the beef, peppers and cheese into your mouth.
Odelay has been open only since April, but the word is already out on the street. On both of our visits, patrons gathered two and three deep at the bar. Those of us waiting for tables didn't suffer, and our actual wait times ended up being significantly shorter than we were quoted. Reservations are available only for parties of 8 or more, so expect a wait during peak hours.
Dallas needs another Tex-Mex restaurant like the proverbial agujero en la cabeza,
but Odelay takes the Tex-Mex essentials, weaves them together with top-tier ingredients, then assembles them with finesse and skill. Odelay is both new and familiar, vivacious and casual, and proof that our love of cheese-soaked Tex-Mex knows no bounds.
Odelay, 5600 W. Lovers Lane, 11 a.m. - 10 p.m. Sunday - Thursday; 11 a.m. - 11 p.m.Friday - Saturday,