Everyone is on the same page at El Tejano. And if you aren’t, you better get your shit together real quick. Owner Larry Rogers doesn’t mince words. Sit down, eat your food and get packing. If you didn’t make a reservation and the place is full, tough luck. If you came dressed in a fur coat, don’t expect more than a meat hook to hang it. Try to steal beer while everyone’s backs are turned, you’re going to get thrown out. For anyone who has been to a barbecue joint before in the southern United States, or any small town USA for that matter, this isn’t anything foreign. It’s as authentic as it gets.
None of this is to say that El Tejano is inhospitable or unkind; it’s quite the contrary, in fact. Rogers and his small team are amongst the most hospitable crew you’ll come across in Buenos Aires, but it’s their house and when you come inside you play by their rules. “This is a backroads highway barbecue joint,” explains Rogers, “and you don’t mess around with the cook.”
On a Friday afternoon the place is packed, and no one seems to mind. I wobbled on a high chair wedged in tightly with my neighbors. There was just enough room to squeeze in an extra stool for an unexpected extra guest. We were there to share a sampler platter — a gluttonous mingling of ribs, brisket, chorizo, french fries, coleslaw and pickles drowning in homemade barbecue sauce. Cold beers from Boudicca and Kingston and soiled napkins littered the table wherever there was enough free space.
Directly across from us, two large guy friends individually devoured the plate that our group decided to share. The rest of the room was filled from end to end with happy eaters. Dishes overflow with smoked meats and whatever doesn’t land in your mouth is most likely staining your lips and fingers (unless you’re like me, in which case it’s the top of your forehead). The grill and deep fryer hiss in the background and the smoker is in plain site, and if you can’t see it you can most definitely smell it.
Rogers, an Austin, Texas native opened El Tejano three years ago and it all boiled down to the happenstance of a flipped coin. After making a career for himself as a technical draftsmen for industrial and mechanical engineering firms, he got tired of the hustle and was ready to make the move to South America — which he’d studied extensively at school. It was between Buenos Aires and Santiago, and the coin sent him to Buenos Aires. He spent a few years living in different parts of the country before settling in the Capital where he taught English, often pulling 52 hour weeks and not leaving enough time to cook at home.
He ate out a lot. This was around 2008, when the Buenos Aires foodscape was drastically different. “The food sucked,” Rogers explains with a laugh, pointing out the lack of variety of food on offer, “I tried a lot of different food and it just made me miss food from home. I missed the free water and refills and baskets of chips and salsa, and I really missed hot sauce.” He started bottling and selling his own. A regular customer brought a small smoker back from the US, and he began making brisket for the pair. A combination of a basic search online and advice from him mother helped him develop a rolodex of Southern style recipes before he began catering parties then opening a short lived “closed door” that quickly became too small for the demand.
The ribs and brisket are the bread and butter of the restaurant. Ten kilo slabs of ribs smoke for up to seven hours, the brisket, which marinates for a few hours in a dry rub cooks for ten. “Barbecue is a tough business,” Rogers continues, “In Texas, the pit master probably gets up at 4am everyday to start cooking.” Both the ribs and the brisket take on a nice slightly charred crust that reveal tender meat underneath. The beef slides off the rib bones like butter. Both should be generously doused in barbecue sauce, here you’ll find the best in Buenos Aires. While local imitations all have the same saccharine sweet brown sugar based sauces, Rogers’ sauces are of the Texan persuasion: thinner and spicier. A mixture of beer, coke and fernet are reduced with apples, raisins, and additional ingredients that only the house is privy to.
El Aquino is another fantastic mess of brisket grilled with fontina, jalapeño pepper, baby pickles, panceta, caramelized onion and a special spicy mayo tossed onto a homemade bun. “I hope you can handle hot,” he warns. The thin slices of brisket are stacked generously high, and the spicy mayo, which Rogers’ made on the spot, ties the whole sandwich together. It mixed together with the cheese and barbecue to form a buttery spicy flavor that stays in your mouth like a fog and gets all over your hands and face. Everything comes accompanied with fries, which are extremely addictive. They are cooked, frozen and fried a second time to give the thicker steak fry a solid crunch before being mixed with a smattering of garlic, chile powder and salt. They are savory and strongly flavored without bearing over the rest of the food and speak to the rest of the dishes: bold, direct, and bountiful in every way.
Not everyone takes kindly to the tejano’s rules, and he simply ‘doesn’t care’, but with food like his, who cares if it’s served with a little bit of attitude.
Honduras 4416, Palermo
Tuesday through Saturday
12:30 PM to 4:30 PM & 8:00 PM to 11:00 PM
12:30 to 4:30