Mexican, With a Side of Bacon
BY LINDA LEE
Clockwise from left: Al Pasto; The main dining room; Pekin-Lu and Carne Asada tacos; Elote Asado smothered in Cotija cheese, cream, chile and lime
The apple didn’t fall far from the tree when Zach Chodorow decided to open El Scorpion, a Mexican restaurant and tequila bar in Miami Beach. He chose a place across from China Grill, owned by his restaurateur father, Jeffrey, in the site of the old Tuscan Steak—another Chodorow project— south of Fifth Street on Washington Avenue.
Zach, a 24-year-old Wharton grad, got a taste for the business two years ago while operating a hot-dog cart outside his dad’s Kobe Beach Club restaurant in the Hamptons. Chodorow’s restaurant was known for its pricey cuts of Japanese beef; Zach’s Kobe-beef hot dogs were five dollars apiece. “I didn’t make a ton of money, but it was good PR,” he says. From there it was a short leap to El Scorpion, which is attracting a hip young crowd to its 41-foot-long bar.
There are 120-plus tequilas. “I’ve always been a big tequila fan,” Zach says. “I remember when Patrón came out. Then I had a transformative moment with Don Julio 1942.” For a peek inside Zach’s head, try a flight of El Scorpion’s extra añejos (Don Julio 1942, Jose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia and Patrón Gran Burdeos) for $75. “With the Cuervo,” he says, “we carry only the really high end.”
The margaritas are, as expected, excellent. But for those with a mortal fear of tequila (you know who you are), there are beers and cocktails made with other spirits. For inexperienced drinkers who think they are getting drunk on the two-dollar watermelon sangrita… nah. This is the traditional fruit-juice chaser for tequila shots. “It’s a nice palate cleanser,” Zach says. Note that the añejos are not for shots. “Those are for sipping,” he adds. Between drinks, guests can play pool (for free) in the old private Tuscan Steak dining room. The main room has been refreshed with Mesoamerican glyphs wrapped around pillars, but otherwise remains familiar.
Can there be too much of a good thing? Possibly, if that good thing is the Elvis, one of five guacamoles, this one made with bacon. For cilantro-holics there are two guacs: La Verdad and Verde.
Check out the refreshing Borracha salsa with tomato, mint, pineapple, garlic, jalapeño and tequila. And the service is prompt and attentive: For example, a waiter will expertly trim the kernels off the cob for your Elote Asado, grilled corn slathered with Cotija cheese, chile, lime and cream. The Carne Asada quesadillas are also a favorite. Even more so, the pork-shoulder entrée Puerco Pibil, rubbed with orange and achiote, cooked in a banana leaf until meltingly tender and served with kick-ass charro beans and rice. The menu also offers tacos, enchiladas, fondues, a battered and fried poblano pepper stuffed with Maytag blue cheese and served with mole sauce, and desserts including a Choco Taco.
“I tried to design a place for people like me and my friends,” Zach says. “Good food, not too expensive. Great drinks and good music.”
ROMANCING THE SOURCE
El Scorpion likes to highlight its signature ingredients and marques, including Hendrick’s (gin), Corner Creek (bourbon), Bison Grass (vodka) and a few of its sources for protein.
Benton’s bacon, from Madisonville, Tennessee. Hickory-smoked and thick-cut. “It’s the stock bacon for our company, and really one of my favorite products,” says Zach, who counts the bacon taco among his essentials. How much Benton’s bacon does El Scorpion go through in a week? “I don’t know,” he says, “but it’s a lot.”
Maytag blue cheese, from Maytag Dairy Farms, founded in Newton, Iowa, by the grandson of the man behind Maytag washing machines. “If I just said ‘blue cheese,’ you might assume it’s the kind you get with Buffalo wings. Maytag has a nice provenance.”
Creekstone Farms beef, from Arkansas City, Kansas. The new insider’s beef, served at New York restaurants like Babbo, Café Boulud, Balthazar and Shake Shack (coming soon to Lincoln Road). “It makes the best Carne Asada taco you’ve ever had!” Zach says.