Desert Companion

Chile effect


Tacos al pastor
Photography by Sabin Orr

Tacos al pastor

Casa del Matador brings burritos and top-shelf booze to Downtown Summerlin — but can it break the cycle of fajita fatigue?

Fajita fatigue is real, particularly if you live in Summerlin. Over the past few years, the neighborhood has seen an endless parade of mid-sized Mexican(ish) restaurant openings: Dos Caminos, Cantina Laredo, Mercadito, Libre, Hussong’s Cantina, Pancho’s. One might dub this section of the city the corn chip belt. (Donald Trump would not approve.) Survival rates are a coin flip, but that hasn’t stopped Casa del Matador, a new modern Mexican concept, from setting up shop in Downtown Summerlin.

Like its neighbors Shake Shack and Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken, the restaurant is contemporary mini-chain. It’s owned by Opper Melang, a Seattle boutique restaurant group founded by Nathan Opper and Zak Melang, a duo with backgrounds in construction and design. The burgeoning brand boasts 10 locations, most of which are located in the Pacific Northwest. Perhaps having roots so far from the border could explain why the interior design — a stylish mix of colorful tile, antique lighting, and hand-built tabletops (made by Melang) — often outshines the food.

There were certainly some highlights during a recent visit. Of the five street tacos we sampled, the pork carnitas stood out for its pleasant citrus notes. A grilled pork al pastor taco, flavored with a hint of pineapple, was also a notch above your standard street fare. But other dishes lacked the complex and soulful qualities I expect from this cuisine. Take the guacamole. Casa del Matador spared us the circus act of making tableside dip — a feature often found at other modern Mexican restaurants. But our tiny bowl of green mush was short on spice and acid.

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Enchiladas poblanos

Enchiladas poblanos.  Photography by Sabin Orr.

The rest of the meal hovered just above forgettable. Crumbled chorizo on a single small corn tortilla struck me as the kind of lazy breakfast a hungover bachelor could cook while still half-asleep. Jalapeño poppers wrapped in crispy bacon were advertised as being stuffed with goat cheese, but there was no hint of creamy grassiness in the filling. And an entrée of chicken enchiladas poblanos (“rich and mild with fire-roasted chiles”) was short on flavor and completely dry on the inside. It was especially disappointing given the vivid descriptions for each of the four sauces available. An optimistic dining companion commented that at least a side of black beans was properly prepared. (Unfortunately, I’m partial to creamier refried pintos.)

The restaurant’s saving grace is its beverage program. There are 128 tequilas and 23 mezcals at every price point stocked at the bar. Guests can knock back $5 shots or sample top-shelf selections in the form of customized flights. Cocktails are also a far cry from the syrupy, neon, frozen drinks one might find at other Mexican mega-restaurants. A cucumber jalapeño margarita on the rocks, served with a chile-spiked salt rim, was refreshing and easy to sip on a hot summer night.

Jalapeno margarita

Jalapeno margarita.  Photography by Sabin Orr.

It’s also worth nothing that, while the food isn’t exactly authentic, the service was friendly and the prices were fair. The beautiful space suggested haute Mexican fare at an offensive mark-up, but a large dinner for two with drinks was $50. Happy hour and brunch service promises to be good for the business.

Unless there’s a fundamental change in the food, Casa del Matador is unlikely to win over any Mexican culinary connoisseurs. The good news is that it can rely on its good looks and prime location to maintain an edge over the nearby competition. It’s Mexican Lite, which is a fine fit for this particular shopping center — a place where the clientele seems willing to pay a premium for simple things in pretty packages. 


Casa del Matador

Downtown Summerlin


Mon-Thu 11a-12a
Fri 11a-2a

Sat 10a-2a
Sun 10a-12a

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