Culinary Dream Teams: Diego Galicia, Rico Torres and Jesse Torres

Left to right: Diego Galicia, Jesse Torres and Rico Torres - JOSH HUSKIN
Josh Huskin
Left to right: Diego Galicia, Jesse Torres and Rico Torres

Diego Galicia & Rico Torres, Co-owners, Mixtli

Jesse Torres, Partner/bartender, Mixtli

Three beards faced me across the table, but a single vision emerged from my chat with the boys of Mixtli. Get ready for a big move beyond Mixtli, the little cloud that could and its railroad car confines.

Diego Galicia and Rico Torres met via a pop-up restaurant group and began plotting to do something together from that point on. But it wasn't until the railroad car in The Yard became available that the project began to take shape. "Everything else was beyond our means," says Galicia, who has assumed the role of group spokesman. "It looked like nothing when we walked in; we just took some chalk and started marking..." And then, like a recently married couple, "we had to go shopping together," adds Torres. It took them four months, but in October of 2013, the freshly outfitted car, with its table for all of 12 diners, allowed the two partners to launch what has become an extremely successful enterprise—cloud-based in Nahuatl name only. Their menu, changing every 45 days, has, from the start, reflected the varied regions of Mexico, and it has tantalized folks from as far away as Germany. Reflecting their culinary travels to date, the next theme will be a kind of "best-of" celebration of more than a year in business.

A tamal from Mixtli’s Oaxacan menu - CASEY HOWELL
Casey Howell
A tamal from Mixtli’s Oaxacan menu

In order to keep the concept fresh, the whole staff, now totaling six, recently took a trip to Mexico, a gira that included a stop at Enrique Olvera's super-hot Pujol in the D.F. Among that expanded group is Jesse Torres, initially on board to do a stage, or apprenticeship, but now a partner in the latest venture, Mezcalería Mixtli. According to Jesse, he started using the diminutive space as a hub to experiment with drinks, such as the fermented pineapple tepache, that "celebrated Mexico." "We had to play catch-up to him," says Rico. "He was evolving faster."

Fortunately, evolution is essential to the trio's personal and business plans—but it's evolution still within the bounds of the original concept. "I don't understand chefs that want to do it all—red, blue, purple, green; you need to do what you know," says Galicia.

Which brings us back to the "collective vision" that is the mezcalería, now in the beyond-chalk phase at a former photo studio, also in The Yard. "Initially, we had thought of doing only a bar with snacks," says Rico, "but regulations in Olmos Park require that the operation be at least 51 percent food-oriented." So a restaurant with a very integrated bar it is. Naturally, Mexican spirits will be at the core of the drinks menu—yes, we can expect tequilas and the namesake mezcales. But we should also be able to sample products that are rarely available in San Antonio. Raicilla and bacanora are agave-based spirits that just don't fit within the delimited geographic bounds of tequila and mezcal. Sotol ("It's really grassy," says Jesse), from Chihuahua, is made from a different plant altogether. And charanda is a cane-based rum most often associated with Michoacán—by those who have even heard of it. "There's so much subtlety to be tasted," says Jesse.

"Carnitas, chorizos, house-made tortillas and botanas, botanas, botanas" can be expected from the food menu, and much of the prep will be visible through a window to the kitchen. "We want to do the simplest food, but only in the highest way," says Galicia. As for the decor, "We don't do piñatas anymore," he says, in reference to the knee-jerk serape and luchador-mask kitsch that has prevailed in the past.

In order to realize this vision, the trio will be hiring five to seven more staffers, and if past performance holds (they haven't fired anybody yet), new hires should expect to become a part of the family. Everybody will have to hustle, however, if la familia is to realize a soft opening by January's San Antonio Cocktail Conference.

Once that dust settles, there are intimations of other projects in the works. "We expect to be tired," says Rico, "but it will be tired on our own terms."