Acclaimed pitmaster John Lewis’ El Paso, Texas-style eatery opens Saturday. Juan Luis is located in a renovated trailer next to Lewis’ smokehouse and will serve breakfast daily from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. with lunch and dinner to follow in the coming weeks.
The concept is an homage to El Paso, a city that rests at the intersection of Texas, New Mexico and Mexico.
“I grew up in El Paso and New Mexico was like four houses down and Mexico was like one mile away. It’s the place where everything comes together,” Lewis said. “[Juan Luis] serves that food. It’s not Tex-Mex, it’s not quite New Mexican, it’s not quite Mexican. I call it border food.”
Lewis said there are five dishes that people in his hometown can’t live without — tacos, chile rellenos, enchiladas, gorditas and smothered “Christmas-style” burritos. Those are the only five items on Juan Luis’ menu, which relies on chiles Lewis brought to Charleston from Hatch, New Mexico.
“My grandparents lived in New Mexico and my great grandparents had a chile farm in Hatch, so it’s the kind of food we ate all the time,” Lewis said. “If you get something with a red sauce, it’s not tomatoes, it’s red chiles. And if you get something that’s green, it’s not tomatillos it’s green chiles. So everything is really based on these chiles they grow out there.”
During Juan Luis’ 16-month residency at Workshop from 2017-2018, Lewis was using Hatch chiles, but he said the cuisine was leaning more Tex-Mex. That isn’t the case anymore, evidenced by the brand new masa machine and other gadgets churning out fresh flour and corn tortillas.
The handmade tortillas have a subtle, noticeable flavor, setting them apart from the store-bought stuff.
Nailing the texture, which Lewis said took him and Juan Luis chef de cuisine Philip Powers “a lot of research and trial and error” was key — these babies aren’t going to rip or fall apart when stuffed with cheese and beef, pork or chicken.
Which brings us back to the food offering at Juan Luis. Not surprisingly, all five lunch and dinner dishes utilize chiles, along with plenty of other Southwestern ingredients like pinto beans from Morrow Farms in New Mexico.
“Our beans come from out there — I drove them back here myself in a utility trailer,” Lewis said. “We’ve got 6,000 pounds of Morrow Farms pinto beans from Hatch, New Mexico. What’s really nice about them is they are a fresh, dried pinto bean, and they’re never more than a year old. So what you get is a really tender skin and a really creamy inside.”
While there, Lewis also learned a new trick for making chile rellenos, a dish comprised of two fire-roasted, long green chiles that are stuffed with Oaxacan cheese.
Aside from the chile rellenos, tacos will likely be a popular item, but Lewis is also excited to share his rendition of the smothered “Christmas-style” burrito, which is stuffed with beef, chicken or pork and topped with cheese along with red and green chile sauces.
To compliment the bold cuisine, Juan Luis will serve a variety of Mexican and local beers as well as frozen margaritas.
The build-out on the Juan Luis trailer is nearly 15 months in the making, Lewis said.
“I went and got a utility trailer from Georgia last summer that they built for me. Then my dad came up here in January and spent a couple months with me. We did all the electrical and worked on the outside,” he said.
Once the framework was in place, Lewis worked with Stitch Design Co. to create a design inspired by traditional homes in New Mexico. The trailer’s stucco walls are adorned with wood frames hand-carved by Perrin Woodworking, and Lewis added one final touch to the exterior of the trailer.
“I also drove down to get all of the cactus’ [in front of the trailer] in El Paso this summer,” he said.
Starting Saturday at 8 a.m., order breakfast tacos like the green chile beef, pinto bean and egg El Toro or the vegetarian Vitamin T, which is filled with crispy potatoes , avocado, Hatch green chiles, eggs and cheese at Juan Luis seven days a week. The eatery’s full opening will depend on how the staff manages breakfast the first few weeks, Lewis said. When the time comes, Juan Luis will be open Sun.-Mon. from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Tues.-Sat. from 8 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Peep the menu here at lewisbarbecue.com/juan-luis.