Tex–Mex cuisine has always had a lowbrow reputation outside of its home territory, much as barbecue did a generation ago. You could visit these places for fun and sustenance, but the cooking was never taken seriously.
Javelina aims to change that. It’s the first local Tex–Mex joint I can remember where you actually knew the name of the chef: Richard Caruso, who’s been at Rosa Mexicano and Hill Country. Pat LaFrieda is on hand to supply the beef for all those tacos and enchiladas; or, if you prefer to have your beef naked, there’s a 28-day dry-aged cowboy steak for $38.
As the modern trend requires, there’s a large-format dish, the Parrilladas Mixtas, essentially the fajita platter of the gods, with six proteins (lobster extra) and abundant side dishes, costing $65 for two or $125 for four. But most of the food clocks in at much lower prices. No other item on the two-page menu is more than $25, and portions are generous.
The restaurant is named for a kind of wild pig that roams the wilds of Texas. A stuffed specimen is on display above the bar, and you can see from its sharp teeth that this isn’t an animal to be toyed with.
They take reservations, and you might need one. On a Wednesday evening, there was no chance of getting seated before our 7:45 booking, and the bar was packed too. We cooled our heels at the quiet Italian trattoria next door: Javelina might be the best thing that’s happened to them in years. On a recent evening, Eater’s Ryan Sutton waited 90 minutes for bar seats, got nothing, and gave up.
Once you get in, the sound level is punishing: those brick walls and hard surfaces turn the dining room into an echo chamber. Is it worth the trouble? Not as far as we could tell. We found the food like most of the city’s Tex–Mex: acceptable for what it is, but not worthy of the destination status that diners are conferring on Javelina in its early days.