San Antonio chef Jason Dady isn’t exactly a new name in the Capital City. Even before his star turn on Food Network’s Iron Chef Gauntlet, he was already luring Austinites south to experience with restaurants like Shuck Shack and Tre Trattoria and wowing locals as a fixture at the Austin Food & Wine Festival.
Now he will be an even more familiar face around town with the opening of Chispas, his highly anticipated first Austin eatery, in the former home of Fado Irish Pub at 214 W. Fourth St. in the Warehouse District. With little fanfare, the playful new eatery debuted February 17.
The name, literally translated as “sparks,” is also Alamo City slang for a strong, tart margarita. Both meanings ring true in the menu, which features a drink program anchored by the classic cocktail and unfussy tacos that showcase vibrant, pure flavors.
During a sneak peek of the space, Dady told CultureMap that he isn’t a “San Antonio chef trying to tell Austin how to do tacos.” Instead Chispas is a showcase for a more personal vision that combines culinary flourishes like a tomatillo-apple pico de gallo with more everyday ingredients like crispy sirloin and Monterey Jack cheese.
The marquee dish is the Tacos Chispas, double decker creation with housemade flour tortillas and a crispy shell loaded with black beans, chorizo, and crema and smothered with cheesy gravy and queso.
Other offerings are equally fun. Butternut squash is sprinkled with goat cheese and a few candied pepitas, duck confit carnitas are specked with bacon, and traditional al pastor is reinvented as a vegan dish by subbing in tofu for the pork.
The menu is rounded off with snacks like grilled chicken wings, “huevos rancheros” deviled eggs, ancho chile tortilla soup, made-to-order guacamole, green chile queso. Families can dive into Grande Nachos Supreme, a gigantic $30 plate that can serve the entire table. The layout also makes room for a small raw bar featuring East Coast and Gulf oysters served with jalapeño mignonette.
Once Chispas gets fully rolling, Dady says he plans to offer breakfast on the weekends with dishes like huevos rancheros and chilaquiles. He’ll also offer a spirited take on one of San Antonio’s classic pairings, Big Red and Barbacoa, offering guests a choice of red drinks ranging from the soda to boozy options like red sangria, micheladas, or Bloody Marys.
Dady will also serve a simplified menu late nights from the outdoor cantina, where the namesake margaritas will take center stage. Wine, local and Mexican beer, and a few classic cocktails like a Singapore Sling, mezcal Negroni, and Ranch Water round off the approachable drink program.
The interior is an extension of the menu’s crowd-pleasing formula. Executed by the in-house team, the design makes the most of Fado’s unique promenade-style layout, converting the former’s traditional Irish snugs into zones for sit-down dining and lounging.
The areas are full of clever details like an installation of baskets snaking across a leafy wallpapered wall, birdcage planters dangling among exposed bulb fixtures, pop art stacks of fideo boxes and Jarritos soda bottles, a bar plastered with lotería cards, and a wall piece recycled from a rusted box spring.
Fado’s familiar geometric tile floors were kept intact. Next to the bright papel picado on the walls, they no longer read Irish at all.
Although the restaurant started slinging tacos on February 17, Dady cautions that it is only "kinda open." Some details are still being worked out and hours might be in flux while Chispas makes the final few hires.
In about a week, the eatery should be in full swing with lunch, dinner, and late night hours on weekdays and morning service on weekends. Tentative hours are 11 am-midnight Monday through Thursday, 11 am-2:30 am Friday, 9 am-2:30 am Saturday, and 9 am-10 pm Sunday.