5 Things You Need to Know about Nixta, Ben Poremba's New Restaurant in Botanical Heights

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Ben Poremba's hotly anticipated Nixta will open to the public this Friday, November 11. - BEN POREMBA
  • Ben Poremba
  • Ben Poremba's hotly anticipated Nixta will open to the public this Friday, November 11.

This Friday, Ben Poremba's upscale Mexican concept Nixta (1621 Tower Grove Avenue; 314-899-9000) will open to the public in Botanical Heights. The restaurant, which will be located in the former Old Standard space directly across from two of Poremba's other restaurants, Elaia and Olio, is one of this year's most hotly anticipated restaurant openings. It also represents Poremba's first foray into Latin American cuisine, with the help of Nixta Executive Chef Tello Carreon.

Local diners have been buzzing about what Poremba has been up to at the Old Standard spot for months, and the rollout last month, which was big enough news to break in Food & Wine, only generated more curiosity. Now we're just one day away from seeing Poremba's latest creation for ourselves.

Until then, the James Beard Award-nominated chef is here to give you a sneak peak of what to expect — and why Nixta is unlike anything you might be imagining.

1. Don't call Nixta a taco joint.

"There have been rumors going for a while that I'm opening a Mexican restaurant, and I get the same question: Are you opening a taco joint? That's like me saying that I'm opening an Italian restaurant and having everyone ask if it's going to be a pizza joint. We're starting with a foundation of authenticity but are peeling back the preconceptions people have of what a Mexican restaurant is. It's hard. I still feel uncomfortable calling it a Mexican restaurant for that reason. I say it's 'upscale Mexican,' but then people think that just means expensive. Once they see the menu, though, they'll see things that aren't usually in a Mexican restaurant, or if they are, they are served in a totally different way."

2. Nixta is a chance for the unsung heroes to shine.

"In this industry, everyone has a superstar Mexican, or Latin American, cook who is equal to three line cooks — and they always make the family meals that everyone gets the most excited about. At Nixta, there are no white people in the kitchen — it's just a team of amazing folks in the kitchen who are the most talented cooks and who are getting the chance to cook food from where they are from."

3. It's time for St. Louis to know Tello Carreon.

"Tello is a very accomplished chef and has worked at a number of restaurants around town like Terrine, Portabella and, many years ago, at Pueblo Solis, when it was regarded as some of the best Mexican food in town. He began working for me as a daytime sous chef and would do all of the prep for Elaia, Olio and Old Standard — he ran it all. He started picking up evening shifts, and when Josh Charles left Elaia, Tello became chef de cuisine there. He's so talented, and this is an opportunity for him to express who he is."

4. Mediterranean and Mexican food are quite similar.

"Before Nixta, Tello and I would always have conversations about how similar Mediterranean and Mexican food are — he calls Mexico the 'American Mediterranean.' When you think about it, Mexican food has all of these colonial influences, but then it influenced Europe back, with ingredients like potatoes and tomatoes. We would use chiles and spices like cinnamon and cumin and talk about how much North African flavors are like those in Latin America. We'd always say that this would make for a good restaurant, and when Ben Grupe came on at Elaia and Old Standard closed, it was the logical thing to do."

5. Nixta's Bar Limon is going to transform nightlife in Botanical Heights.

"When I was in college I used to hang out at Club Viva, the salsa bar in the Central West End, and remember the sheer fun of the music, dancing and drinks. We want Bar Limon to be a nightlife destination. Bar Limon isn't going to be that cerebral experience you get at some of the great cocktail bars around town. The drinks will be well-crafted but easy to drink and will give you a good buzz. The late-night menu will be fun, with things like fried items and ceviche. We all said to each other, 'Let's just make fun drinks that aren't that expensive, a menu of easy foods, dim lights.' We're going for a big city lounge ambiance. There isn't really room for it, but who knows — maybe people will make a space and dance."

We are always hungry for tips and feedback. Email the author at cheryl.baehr@riverfronttimes.com.

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