Bar Amá

Josef Centeno brings the flavors of his Texas heritage to 4th and Main and in doing so, redeems an entire cuisine. In the same adept hands as neighboring restaurants Orsa & Winston and Bäco Mercat, Tex-Mex classics such as Frito pie become towers of lengua chili-doused corn chips in a pocito cast-iron skillet. Short fideo noodles form a bed for bits of octopus and smoky sausage. All hail the flour tortilla and the curiously viscous queso dip.

The Top Ten Best New Restaurants: No. 9, January 2014

In this rowdy room where customers on multicolored metal chairs shoot reposado and añejo flights, Josef Centeno is doing the most personal cooking of his L.A. career. A tribute to his San Antonio upbringing, it’s unapologetically Tex-Mex but executed with signature finesse. Grilled prickly pear slivers gain remarkable amplitude with the sweet herbal notes of epazote and quesillo cheese. Smoky hunks of kielbasa anchor borracho beans spiked with Negra Modelo. The son of a butcher, Centeno is intent on reaching a meaty absolute, simmering beef tongue for Frito pie and draping melt-in-the-mouthchicharrónes with poblano chile cream. Going to the childhood well doesn’t always lead to the best work for chefs (matters can get a little cloying), but here—a place where Jack cheese bubbles across chicken enchiladas and a puffy taco cradles braised pork cheek—what’s captured is oh so real.