Deep Ellum has a new bar from the team behind Armoury — and although Ruins has a distinctive Mexican accent, it feels a whole lot like Armoury.
That’s not a bad thing. Ruins is still in its “soft open” phase, with the grand opening party scheduled for Wednesday, but it’s already building a top-notch spirits program focused on Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, and as with its sibling restaurant, the bar food could be killer.
On our first visit, we took a stool — with flat metal seats, they fit the industrial reclamation aesthetic but aren’t exactly the comfiest — and ordered cocktails such as a Wall-arita, with tequila and splashes of mandarin orange, ginger and lime ($9). The salted rim includes a spicy kick, the garnish is a gooseberry and the result is irresistible. The You’re So Brown ($9) matched our waiter’s description, a rum old-fashioned with cocoa shavings, but it tasted a little like someone poured a splash of chocolate milk into our booze.
Behind the cocktail list, which is short but will grow as Ruins enters full service, is a huge stable of mezcals, tequilas and rums. Rum is organized geographically, with offerings from Brazil, Spain, Colombia and a dozen Caribbean countries, plus Waco’s Balcones Texas Rum. Mezcals, handily, come with brief descriptions of each type of agave and region, a big help for customers who don’t yet know and love the spirit.
Ruins might be themed around the Gulf of Mexico, with its Mexican menu and rum-heavy drinks list, but it looks a whole lot like Armoury, the previous bar from owner Peter Novotny and chef Abram Vargas. There are still exposed brick walls, metal chairs and tables that look like they’ve been repurposed from industrial past lives, concrete floors and antique-looking paper menus. The all-American playlist certainly doesn’t reflect the menu’s geography (although we occasionally heard some Tejano slipping out of the kitchen).
On the food menu, Ruins is just the second restaurant in Dallas to make a tlayuda. Only Mi Lindo Oaxaca, the beloved Oak Cliff neighborhood classic, also serves Oaxaca’s iconic, gigantic crispy hybrid between a quesadilla and a pizza. Another similarity between the two kitchens: Ruins is also serving chapulines (grasshoppers), both on the house appetizer sampler ($13) and alongside a shot of mezcal for $9.
During our soft-open meal, the least impressive bite was a lengua taco featuring lamb tongue that struggled to get its taste across underneath a fiery salsa verde and big, chunky cubes of raw onion ($4). But Ruins is using great corn tortillas, and the taco menu’s big-time promise was borne out by an outstanding feature that combined three kinds of wild mushrooms with a gooey blanket of Oaxacan cheese ($2.50).
We also nibbled on a whole pint glass full of serrano-pepper-laden shrimp cocktail ($16) and a truly enormous torta dubbed El Borracho ($15). If anyone says Ruins has small portions, he or she is lying. El Borracho is Vargas’ twist on a pambazo, the iconic Mexican sandwich dunked in red chile sauce. A salsa made with chile de arbol is slathered across the top of the buns. Inside is a layer of rather dry wild boar carnitas and some shredded cabbage. The sandwich is just a quick tweak away from greatness — it needs a little moisture and a little acidity, so we’re betting pickling the cabbage would take it over the top.
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All in all, the first-week jitters at Ruins are pretty minor. We’re eager to head back and try more snacks, like the fried pork shanks ($12) or the gigantic sandwich topped with four meats and three cheeses ($18). The service is already friendly and first class, and the bar is loaded with temptations (including, believe it or not, a couple of very good Mexican wines). Lunch service has already begun. Oh, and the skinny, crispy fries are dusted with a veritable snowbank of salt and ground chile pepper. What more could we ask for?
In other words, keep your eye on Ruins. The name may suggest that the bar has seen better days — and that may always be the case to those who know this space as the former Luscher’s Red Hots — but these ruins have some life in them yet.
Ruins, 2653 Commerce St. Open 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily.