El Fenix Celebrates 100th Birthday

Chris Sommer
September 13, 2018 - 5:06 pm
El Fenix

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There was no such thing as Tex-Mex in 1918.

One hundred years ago this week, Miguel "Mike" Martinez opened the first El Fenix restaurant in Dallas. They had a menu you wouldn't recognize today. "Dallas Morning News" food writer Sarah Blaskovich said, "The first El Fenix started serving food to people back then who had never heard of Tex-Mex, and Tex-Mex did not become a thing for many decades after it launched."

In researching the history of the iconic North Texas restaurant, Blaskovich dug up some fascinating information about El Fenix.  She said, "They served spaghetti and meatballs.  There were oysters on the menu.  There was chicken fried steak.  And I just love that fact, because the owner, who was from Mexico and moved to the U.S., he was trying to make food he thought people in Dallas wanted, and he didn't think they wanted Mexican food.  He thought they wanted American food.  So he was making them American food, but he was making Mexican food in the kitchen.  And he would sometimes bring those items around to his favorite customers."

The rest is history.

To celebrate its 100th birthday, El Fenix is offering a $1 enchilada special Thursday, Sept. 13, at its flagship location in downtown Dallas.  Incidentally, that is not the original El Fenix opened in 1918.  The very first restaurant was a short distance away in what is now the Dallas West End.  Blaskovich said it even had a dance hall, "El Fenix was open 24 hours a day.  The ballroom was very popular on the weekends, and people would spend a lot of time and maybe some money at both of those places for many, many hours.  When they put in Woodall Rodgers (Freeway), a lot of things had to be bulldozed to make way for that highway.  El Fenix was one of them.  So, they moved up the street to that downtown Dallas location that you now know."

The El Fenix chain was sold to Firebird Restaurant Group in 2008.  El Fenix now has 22 locations, including one at Winstar World Casino and Resort in Oklahoma.