At the new chef-driven destination, known for its layered cuisine and daring design, plan to be transported
By Karen O. Spezia
Photographs by Holly Cowart
The team behind Comedor has a thing for secrets. Their first project, Garage Bar, is a clandestine speakeasy hidden in the basement of a downtown high-rise. Now they’ve opened Comedor, a modern Mexican restaurant discreetly tucked within a black cube, concealing the wildly creative delights nestled inside.
Like with Garage Bar, you have to look hard to find Comedor, although it’s hiding in plain sight on one of downtown’s busiest street corners. The hulking, windowless black box of steel and dark glass brick is easy to miss, as is its simple, unadorned entrance. But step through its dim, intimate lobby and everything changes: The room opens up to reveal an expansive, light-filled space with soaring ceilings and a courtyard.
The illuminated marble-and-brass bar comes first, followed by a dining room that flows seamlessly into a patio accented with desert foliage.
Comedor is Spanish for “dining room,” and the whole vibe is welcoming yet chic, an effortless indoor-outdoor style reminiscent of Mexico City — or even Phoenix. The stunning architecture is by Seattle-based Tom Kundig, and the industrial steelwork is by Austin’s Drophouse Design, whose handiwork also graces ATX Cocina, Suerte, Austin Beerworks and Yeti’s South Congress flagship bar.
The surprises continue with the food, where Comedor’s contemporary cuisine riffs on Mexican culinary traditions. The menu is divided into five sections: shareables, crudo, sides, entrées and desserts. But let’s focus on my favorite dish: the bone marrow tacos, which have become Comedor’s signature item since opening in April. I didn’t care much about bone marrow until I tried these tacos; now it’s my obsession.
Here’s how they work: Sizzling roasted split beef bones are presented atop a scattering of greens sautéed in savory smoked butter. Slather some of the silky marrow onto a warm, homemade tortilla; garnish with a tangle of greens; spoon on some herb-and-nut gremolata; then finish with a squirt of fresh lime. It’s a mouthwatering harmony of contrasting flavors and textures. They’re genius — and absolutely delicious.
The rest of the menu is equally clever and unexpected. There are bite-size tostadas topped with black-eyed peas and roasted beets. A variety of tamales filled with goat barbacoa or spaghetti squash. Or another personal favorite: smoky heirloom beans roasted with Texas mushrooms and chochoyotes masa dumplings. Even the more traditional dishes, like the succulent grilled steak served with mole, are winners. And the basket of exquisite warm tortillas, made from scratch with both blue and yellow corn, are the perfect accompaniment for everything.
Chef and co-owner Philip Speer is known for his pastry chops and is a four-time James Beard semifinalist for Outstanding Pastry Chef. He pulls out all the stops with inventive desserts like a dark-chocolate tamal and an elegant tres leches that ain’t your abuela’s cake.
Comedor’s sibling, Garage Bar, boasts one of the best cocktail programs in town, and Comedor has benefitted from its deep knowledge. General Manager Paul Finn, who designed the program at Garage Bar, invited NYC mixology consultant Phil Ward to join him in creating some dynamite libations, like the Tequila Carrot, a delicious neon-orange concoction of blanco tequila, anise liqueur, fresh lemon and carrot juice, which practically makes it a health food.
Playing it safe has never been the M.O. for the Comedor crew. Speer has been trailblazing his way through Austin’s culinary scene for years at eateries like Uchi, St. Philip and Bonhomie. Co-owner William Ball is an Austin wunderkind with a youthful creative fearlessness but the wisdom and poise of someone much older. The risk-taking Comedor team also includes impressive non-Garage alums, like chef Gabe Erales (Dai Due Taqueria), who first got my attention last spring when he won the Cochon 555 competition with his pig-liver mousse served with churros. A chicken-liver version of this prize-winning dish now graces the Comedor menu. There’s also acclaimed Mexico City chef Daniela Vazquez, from Dulce Patria.
Comedor is a restaurant full of surprises. Who would’ve guessed that so much culinary and design innovation was hidden within a monolithic black box? It’s a secret worth sharing.