Kersten Rettig: El Carlos Defines Upscale Mexican Cuisine

Elegance is a whisper, not a scream.

El Carlos Elegante, the latest upscale Mexican restaurant to open in Dallas, whispers elegance. The refined cuisine is approachable, unpretentious, and yet positively regal. The newest concept from Duro Hospitality Group opened in late November, just steps from its first venture, The Charles.

“Dallas is a city that has been screaming out for more in every genre of food and wine for a long time,” said Chas Martin, partner in Duro Hospitality, of their inspiration for this restaurant. “We want El Carlos Elegante to be as authentically-inspired as possible and to be different from the number of other Mexican restaurants in the city,” he added.

The menu at El Carlos Elegante is divided into six sections: One-Hitter; Cold; Masa; Vegetables; Grill; and Dulces. Each section has no more than six options, a refreshing, direct approach to menu development.

And who’s leading the charge for this creative menu? Duro Hospitality credits the team.

“[We are] a group of highly dedicated culinary professionals that work together to create and run these kitchens,” Duro’s team told me, referring to all five Duro Hospitality culinary concepts operating today: The Charles, Bar Charles, Sister, Café Duro and, of course, El Carlos. “No individual is solely responsible.  All of our chefs create together.  The inspiration for the menu came from the idea that Mexican food has been missed over and over in Dallas when it comes to high end cuisine.” 

So, what’s good here? The short answer is everything.

The Surf and Turf One-Hitter PHOTO: Kersten Rettig

One-hitters are just that, one bite of carefully composed nibbles to accompany an El Carlos original cocktail or a tequila or mezcal from its robust list. The Surf and Turf is miniscule in size but giant in flavor; buttery Wagyu beef topped with a kiss of Osetra caviar that results in rich, salty, earthy ecstasy in a crispy taco shell no larger than my pinky.

Seafood swims through the cold menu, with the crystal blue prawn Ceviche de Tigre accessorized with chicharron and kumquat. It’s a standout.

Long ribbons of chayote swirl in a pool of guajillo goat cheese with crunched almonds and golden beets giving additional texture to the salad which is shareable, flavorful, and a delightful mix of textures; creamy, spicy, mildly tart, and crunchy.  Be sure to mix it before eating to get those ribbons well coated with sauce.

El Carlos Elegante has its own in-house masa program.  Masa is all the rage among foodies these days and you’ve likely seen or heard the word “nixtamalization,” a process by which corn is soaked and cooked to expose nutrients deep within the kernel which drastically improves nutritional value, flavor, and texture of the corn. El Carlos’ nixtamalized masa is made in-house.

The taste, texture, and quality comparison between masa made with nixtamalized corn and industrialized masa is like the difference between Wagyu beef and hot dogs. They are both edible and both made of beef but that’s where the similarity ends.

El Carlos Elegante’s masa dishes provide an earthy base of masa placed atop a sauce, in our case, a spicy salsa tinga, with a mound of duck confit and maitake mushrooms. Other options include chorizo and beans, or Mexican truffle, also known as Huitlacoche, each topped with garnishes. The dish seems so simple, so elementary; yet it’s refined, flavorful, and not heavy.

Lightly smoked beets served with a vegan sauce of pulverized almonds and garlic and popped with pistachios was delicious and satisfying, it could easily serve as a main course for a vegan dinner. The creamy refried lentils served with tostadas were deeply flavored and would work as a shared starter.  Another unusual item on a menu filled with them is Mayan Hummus, also known as Sikil P’aak, a Mayan dip made with pumpkin seeds, tomatoes, herbs, and spices.

Whole Fish

On the right side of the menu lies Grill, the protein section which has six luxurious options including one lone steak, the Tomahawk, which is served by the ounce at Market Price.  Other items match the previous entries’ creativity and commitment to Mexican cuisine. The Ossobuco Carnitas was superb, the tender veal shank enrobed in a rich red sauce was slightly hot and smokey. It’s sharable and pro-tip, order some tostadas to dip in the remaining sauce.

Three divine choices for dessert reflect Latin flavors in entertaining and imaginative ways. The Mexican Chocolate Pot de Crème is like edible brown velvet, it was gorgeous. 

Design and Duro
Like the other Duro concepts, Sees Design created the design narrative for the space, and, once again, the result is brilliant. “We wanted it to feel multigenerational and cozy,” said Corbin See, Duro Hospitality and Sees Design partner. “The space has a residential feel, and we aimed for the pieces to feel collected and added over time.”

The mix of crystal chandeliers, exposed brick walls, rich hardwood floors, and thin white metal chairs that gather round Reflex blue tables is simply spectacular in this space, so appropriately located in the Design District.

Duro Hospitality is an exciting group to watch. They recently hired Monarch alum Nicole Nowlin as company beverage director, and she’s compiled a brilliant wine and spirits list for the new restaurant while working with the other concepts as well. As previously reported, Duro will open a concept in the former Highland Park Pharmacy in Knox Street but the timing has not been announced.

El Carlos Elegante isn’t Tex-Mex, nor is it a TikTok-for-the-‘gram Trompe l’oeil of a restaurant. It doesn’t scream. It’s an homage to Latin ingredients comingled in unique ways, prepared expertly. I predict El Carlos Elegante is destined for national awards and accolades.

You can make reservations for El Carlos Elegante on Resy.  All Duro Hospitality restaurants are open on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.

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Kersten Rettig

Kersten Rettig is the only DFW Food/Travel writer with luxury hospitality leadership experience and a former restaurant owner, employee, and chief marketing officer. Kersten's worked on the inside and has the insight and experience to tell the stories to the outside. She's a Park Cities resident, mom, wife and a decent cook. Follow her on Instagram @KerstenEats.

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