First Look: The El Felix, Alpharetta

Two chefs with Texas roots, Ford Fry and Kevin Maxey call the El Felix “Mex Tex.” But the latest addition to Fry’s growing Rocket Farm Restaurants group (JCT. Kitchen, No. 246, the Optimist, King + Duke) is notable for anchoring a prominent spot at Avalon, the new luxury mixed-use development in Alpharetta. And the menu ranges from freebie housemade chips with red and green salsa to market priced wood-grilled Maine lobster.

The look: Rocket Farm designer Elizabeth Ingram mixes funky and industrial elements with rustic and natural materials. Reclaimed wood meets split-face concrete block, and a length of chain link fence is suspended between the dining room and the sizable bar area, where there’s room for drinking, eating and socializing.

The scene: One recent afternoon, the pre-Thanksgiving rush packed the streets, parking lots and sidewalks around Avalon, creating a giddy holiday atmosphere of shoppers and gawkers. Inside the El Felix, the lunch crowd was serious about sustenance, occupying every seat at the bar and a good portion of the restaurant.

The food: Fry and Maxey spin Southwestern cooking by looking to the past and adding bits of now. Among the starters, homesick Texans will dig the Bob Armstrong dip ($12) with layers of taco meat, chile con queso, guacamole and sour cream. Campechana de Marisco ($19) is a tall order of Gulf shrimp, octopus, lump crab and avocado, arranged in a parfait glass with spicy cocktail sauce. Dinner plates with rice and beans ($12-$18) feature San Antonio-style “puffy tacos,” plus hard and soft tacos, enchiladas and chilis rellenos. Wood-grilled plates ($16-$38) range from a slow-braised short rib grilled with chipotle molasses to Gulf shrimp and red snapper.

The drinks: While there’s a decent wine list for a Mexican joint, and a selection of local craft and Mexican beer on draft and in the bottle, the focus of the bar is fun and booze. The house margarita ($7) is a simple mix of reposado tequlia, triple sec and lime, while the Mezcal Smash ($12) riffs on a pre-prohibition classic with the current “it” spirit, fresh mint, muddled citrus, agave nectar and crushed ice.

The extras: The $9.99 lunch combo offers a choice of two items from a list that includes nachos, tacos, enchiladas, soups and a house salad.

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