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First Look: Elmyriachi

New Kirkwood Tex-Mex joint is a crowd-pleaser

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Around dinnertime most evenings, a crowd gathers near Elmyriachi's side door, people chatting and checking their phones as they wait for a table. Some wrangle the tiny humans clinging to their legs and others sip on frosty margaritas ordered from the bar. Some do both.

The restaurant has gone on a wait every night since Elmyr co-owners Alex Skalicky and Jim Shelly, along with longtime Elmyr cook Jeff Dilbeck, opened Elmyriachi in Kirkwood four weeks ago. The restaurant's most attractive feature, an 80-seat patio off Hosea L. Williams Drive, fills up first. Once the dinner rush hits, the 50-seat dining room quickly follows. But it appears even a 20-30 minute delay is not enough to keep taco-hungry Kirkwoodians away. Like Elmyriachi's older, grungier sister in nearby Little Five Points, the new taco/tequila/burrito joint is a hit.

When Skalicky first opened Elmyr 17 years ago with business partner Skip Finanian, his goal was to create a "rowdy" dive in Little Five Points. Now, at 42 and with a newborn baby, his vision for a second restaurant is a little classier. Elmyriachi is what Elmyr would be like if it grew up, quit smoking, and got a "real" job — but a cool one, obviously, like as a graphic designer or an urban farmer. The same goes for Elmyriachi's clientele: hip families with little kids, young couples on a midweek date, and friends of all ages catching up over giant burritos and craft beers.

Inside, the décor is cool and streamlined. For now, art is minimal — a few folky Mexican pieces hang on the wall. According to Skalicky, additional commissioned art from local artists will follow. Behind the L-shaped bar, wooden shelves are packed with liquor bottles.

The menu is full of familiar Tex-Mex fare: tacos, burritos, quesadillas, and a section with three entrées. Unlike Elmyr, however, Elmyriachi's menu comes with an environmental conscience.

"Our pork, chicken, and steak are all natural, hormone free, and antibiotic free," the menu says. "Our fryer oil is all natural non-gmo canola oil, and all oil waste is converted into biodiesel (locally). All of our produce comes from the farmer's market."

Tender, quality beef makes for a flavorful pair of steak tacos ($9.75) doused in a tart and herby chimichurri sauce. The chimichanga ($9.75) is a burrito the size of a peewee football that's deep-fried until gold and crispy. It's filled with chopped hatch green chiles, tender shredded chicken (or tofu), and roasted corn. The queso-coated exterior is piled high with guacamole, lettuce, tomatoes, and a choice of verde or red guajillo chili salsa.

The Tres Hermanas Burrito ($9.75) is one of six vegetarian options. It comes stuffed with squash (the version I got came with zucchini), roasted corn, and a charred tomato salsa. It comes slathered in a chocolate-colored black bean sauce, guac, tomatoes, and cilantro. For Elmyr devotees who've made their way out of L5P, there's a section of "Elmyr's favorites" including the popular Thai, Fajito, Green, and Migas burritos, along with the veggie-packed Hazedilla quesadilla.

So far, service has ranged from friendly and slow to inattentive and borderline prickly. These lapses, however, are understandable given the high volume of diners the restaurant has received its first few weeks. Even so, until the staff has had time to acclimate, this is not the place to dine if you are on a tight schedule.

After 9 p.m., aka when the kiddies go to bed, Elmyriachi becomes a bar. You can smoke on the patio and Skalicky says eventually there will be DJs. There are 20 beers on draft ranging from Bells, Ommegang, and Allagash to six Georgia beers including drafts from Three Taverns, Terrapin, SweetWater, Red Brick, and Eventide. You'll find your requisite Coronas, Tecates, and Modelos over in the bottle/cans section alongside PBR, 21st Amendment Hell or High Watermelon, and Miller High Life.

Despite its outward family-friendliness, a lengthy list of adult beverages confirms that there's still a little of the booze-loving Elmyr in Elmyriachi. There are an eyebrow-raising 19 specialty margaritas and cocktails. The Margarita Verde ($8) is a mix of well tequila, triple sec, a splash of jalapeño juice, and avocado purée. Beyond margs, the Gineralissimo ($9) with gin, Aperol, rose water, and grapefruit juice drinks like a flagon of perfume. The Pisco Loco ($7) is a funky, grown-up piña colada made with frothy coconut milk. While all of Elmyriachi's cocktails sound interesting, there is a general lack of finesse in their execution. Despite ingredients that should work well together, most drinks tasted flat and out of balance. Maybe the sheer number of drinks on the sprawling cocktail list is over-ambitious, or maybe the bartender just needs to use a jigger.

Elmyriachi is the rare restaurant that manages to alienate almost no one. The service staff may be green. There may be hiccups at the bar. But with tasty food that feels so developed so soon, and a devoted following right off the bat, Elmyriachi has all the elements of a neighborhood mainstay. In that way, it is exactly like Elmyr.

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