Happy hour deals offer the best bet at El Segundo Mexican Kitchen
Cameron Mitchell’s first Mexican restaurant also offers a lively space, great service and a straightforward menu that’s mostly well-executed
In Spanish, “el segundo” means “the second.” El Segundo Mexican Kitchen, then, has a fitting title because it’s the second go-round for Cameron Mitchell Restaurants in a prime Short North spot: The address that recently housed Mitchell's short-lived Harvey and Ed’s delicatessen, and which once contained Rigsby’s Kitchen, a chance-taking, sophisticated eatery that helped propel Columbus onto the map of noteworthy dining cities.
This building appears so dramatically transformed since late August when El Segundo premiered that barely a trace of those previous occupants remains. Nowadays, when you gaze around the space, you’ll be treated to a theatrically lit, Mexico-inspired visual feast.
El Segundo’s handsome, tile-inlaid booths and simpler wooden tables with green stools — they’re overseen by the kind of gracious staff for which Cameron Mitchell Restaurants has become celebrated — are surrounded by so many glittering and Mexican-themed decorations (especially near the entrance) that you might think a high-end souvenir shop has been emptied.
The colorful collection includes cacti, pottery, surreal animal head ornaments, stylish lighting fixtures, Day of the Dead murals on brick walls and myriad mariachi-style sombreros. In spite of touches like those flashy hats, the decor generally leans more toward “trendy lounge” than “kitschy taqueria.”
Get news and entertainment delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our daily newsletter
Transitioning to edible feasts, two of the lowest-priced dishes are highly recommended on the easy-to-navigate menu: an attractively presented bowl of well-garnished and delicious pozole ($7) and a fun-sized carnitas torta ($5). The latter — a small sandwich of flavorful pork overstuffed into a tiny-but-good bolillo roll — is discounted to $2.50 in the bar area during happy hour (4 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and after 8 p.m. on Sundays).
Following the wallet-friendly policy of other Mitchell restaurants, that torta bargain is part of El Segundo’s fine lineup of half-priced happy hour items. This roster also includes (happy hour prices are given): queso fundido ($5) — nicely broiled good Mexican cheese (not sloppy nacho goo) speckled with gratuitous beans and served in a cute little iron skillet with flour tortillas, plus, for $3 extra, salty chorizo; straightforward Mexican street corn ($3.50); hot tamales ($6) — glossy masa tubes packed with pot roast-like meat (mine were good-tasting but rather dry) served with “chili gravy” that conjured spicy coney sauce; ceviche ($6.50) — ample good shrimp and crab with diced onion, chile, tomato, effective avocado and surprisingly modest amounts of lime juice; inhalable calabacita flatbread ($5) — a crispy-yet-airy, flour tortilla “pizza” with zippy, thick salsa playing off loads of cheese and roasted lumps of corn and squash; and spot-hitting house margaritas ($6; the extra-refreshing spicy version is worth $1 extra).
Among never discounted fare is an impressive selection of tequilas and mezcals, some of which are available in sampler flights ($18 to $48). These can be great palate-openers for tacos, which are only sold in three-taco platters ($14 to $18) accompanied by decent Mexican rice and a ramekin of good beans (get the beer-and-bacon-fortified borracho beans; “borracho” means “drunk”).
I picked the Three Amigos platter — it allows diners to select three different tacos — and enjoyed the fillings, which included: fragrant pork al pastor, a highlight sliced from a “trompo,” aka a rotating spit; crispy fish (fish-and-chips-style cod); and barbacoa (juicy brisket). I only wish the fillings hadn’t been so skimpy, and that El Segundo’s touted house-made tortillas had been longer griddle-toasted to make them more pliable and flavorful.
As further evidenced by a big and winning, tinga-like braised chicken burrito ($15, with rice and beans) and a semi-successful tres leches cake only dairy-saturated on the bottom ($6), this place can exhibit inconsistencies. And it’s hardly a cutting-edge operation like site predecessor Rigsby’s. But if you’re seeking bargains on fun Mexican food and drinks, obliging service and an appealing and cut-loose Short North setting, it’s hard to beat happy hour in El Segundo.
El Segundo Mexican Kitchen
698 N. High St., Short North