Attention To Detail Sets Food & Drink Establishment Apart, Charleston Location First of Several For Carolinas
Jeff Walker, Food & Beverage Writer
What began as a tequila bar nearly 20 years ago in the upper northwest of America morphed into a full blown Tex-Mex restaurant with 10 locations including their latest at the former home of Sticky Fingers BBQ in downtown Charleston. The Matador at 235 Meeting Street (corner of Hasell) is a welcome addition to the ever changing food and beverage community on the peninsula, offering up a distinctive blend of Mexican entrees enhanced with southwest culture, with a hint of (just a hint) of the low country.
Their website says it best 'taste Mexico reimagined'. The Matador serve up seven separate menu items all beginning with S, i.e. Snacks, Starters, Soups, Salads, Sandwiches, Signature Entrees, and Sweets, all with a decidedly Tex-Mex influence. Great tasting food might be one of their marquee attractions at The Matador, however they did not forgo their first love, pouring awesome scratch-made cocktails concocted from the blue agave plant (aka tequila), among other preferred adult beverages.
Let's take a quick view at their menu beginning with snacks and starters. Their Mexican Street Tacos come layered with white onion, cilantro, cotija, house-made salsa, radish, and lime on gluten free corn tortillas with your choice of beef, chicken choriza (sausage), carnitas (pork) or Beyond Picadillo (plant based & vegan friendly). Their Grande Nachos are blanketed under a medley of cheddar, monterey jack, black beans, pico de gallo, guacamole, and a lively house-made cilantro-lime sour cream.
Maybe opt for one of my favorites, the Crispy Brussel Sprouts. Seasoned and fried before being introduced in a melange of peppers & onions, lime, agave, cotija (aged Mexican cheese). Again everything carries a Tex-Mex essence including their Chicken Wings seasoned with Serrano slaw (lime & hot pepper), ranch dressing, cilantro, queso fresco, honey-chipotle or haba-Buffalo (unique blend of habanero, cayenne, red jalepeno, and spices). Caliente! All the apps are an awesome way to kick start a meal or too enjoy with a cocktail at the bar.
If you're going the three or four course meal route than The Matador's Tortilla Chicken Soup is a nice segue way into the main entree, especially if you savor roasted poultry. We're talking roasted chicken, fire-roasted corn, avocado, tortilla strips, cotija, and cilantro. This Mexican broth will excite the taste buds, as will the Mango-Pineapple Shrimp Salad (need I say more). Sautéed chile-seasoned shrimp, arugula, avocado, crispy tortilla strips, Tajin (chili pepper & lime sauce), queso fresco, and agave vinaigrette. Sweet yet spicy, and extremely zesty. Gluten free options available.
The Matador offer up three signature tacos as well as four signature versions of enchiladas and burritos. Carnivores might opt for the Ribeye Tacos or the Habanero Steak Burrito, with seafood lovers leaning toward the Baja Fish Tacos teeming with Panko crusted and fried Mahi Mahi, serrano slaw, guacamole, chipotle mayo, radish, cilantro, lime. This handheld delight will pop in your mouth.
The Matador's seven main entrees will appeal to lovers of land and sea, as well as vegans. The Braised Carnitas are an ample and succulent serving of pork shoulder complete with black beans or black beans & rice, pico de Gallo, hibiscus pickled onions, guacamole, with a dollop of cilantro-lime sour cream on your choice of flour or corn torillas.
Their Carne Asada, a seasoned and marinated skirt steak comes plated with roasted garlic mashed potatoes, Mexican street corn, grilled peppers, cotija, and cilantro. Upgrade to a Surf & Turf by adding habanero, garlic-chile or poblano shrimp. Está delicioso aka Mexican for totally freakin' awesome!
Feeling a little adventurous, The Matador's Bacon Cheeseburger presents with a twist. A charbroiled (for juiciness) steakburger adorned under arugula, pico de gallo, bacon, French fried onions, Jack & cheddar cheeses, and chipotle mayo for an additional zing. No matter your hunger level or how far you want to test the your Tex-Mex (mild, hot or spicy) palate, The Matador have menu items to accommodate a variety of appetites.
Perhaps bring your Tex Mex meal full circle by sharing any of their four select desserts including Matador Choco Tacos, a Salted Caramel Brownie, the gluten free House Made Mango Sorbet (Chamoy, tajin, strawberry, lime), or their old school Fried Ice Cream cloaked in toasted coconut surrounded by dollops of whipped cream and drizzles of reposado dulce de leech (sweet caramel) with a hint of cinnamon. Delicioso!
Enough about their distinctive menu. The Matador began with tequila and let's dive into their agave pool. As their website suggests 'they know tequila', so much so that they've keep over 150 plus blends on hand to cater to tequila connoisseurs, including a select few exclusive to The Matador. Enjoy them straight up or let your bartender use your favorite in a plethora of blue agave cocktails.
Sip on as many as twelve signature Matador Margaritas including the Blood Orange laced with Patrón Silver and Solerno Blood Orange Liqueur. The Founder's offers a smooth, rich golden amber meld of Don Julio Reposado blended with Cointreau, an orange-flavoured triple sec. The Blackberry Habanero is particularly exhilarating, allowing for your choice of 400 Conejos Joven (smoky aged mezcal) or Espolòn Blanco with its smooth, slightly sweet tropical lemony zest! Served complete with a Tajin Rim to further enhance the spirit of your tequila sour.
While the food (Tex Mex) and drink (tequila) may receive top billing, the overall ambiance of The Matador deserves equal notoriety. Owner Zak Melang is meticulous about the look, creating a modern yet rustic welcoming cantina with much of the decor coming from Mexico. With just two TVs behind the street level bar, The Matador is definitely not a sports bar, rather it's a gathering place for patrons who seek refreshment while engaging in good conversation and making memories.
The main dining room downstairs sits around 90 comfortably with another dozen or more at the bar. Upstairs at The Matador you'll discover a reception area suitable for corporate functions, private socials, mixers, and more. Adjacent to the event hall is The Matador's more quaint mezcal bar (open Fri & Sat nights) with an adjoining raised outdoor patio, ideal for sipping alcoholic beverages under moonlit nights.
Let's take a quick recap. The Matador is an impressive location to revel in good tasting scratch made and often seasonal Tex Mex cuisine, all the while relishing in over 150 curated tequilas. Open 11am until midnight The Matador offers up two daily happy hours (4-6pm & 10pm til last call).
Starters, snacks, and sandwiches in the mid teens, with main course entrees between $20-$30. Cocktails and specialty margaritas priced nicely around $12, adjusted during happy hours. The answer is yes. While their primary focus is on tequila, The Matador serve up beer and fruit of the vine, with many of the wines coming from Spanish speaking countries as well as California and Europe. Food and drink for a variety of palates.
In the shrimp & grits and BBQ heavy laden community of downtown Charleston, The Matador is a welcome distraction. Come enjoy everything from nachos to salads and sandwiches, to burritos, enchiladas, tacos and more, while distilled agave alcohol lovers savor one of the low country's most extensive and friendly tequila bars. With Charleston becoming their first location on the east coast, The Matador have plans to open locations in Greenville and Charlotte in 2024. Welcome to the Carolinas!
Find the Charleston location at 235 Meeting Street at the corner of Hasell, just a block from Charleston Place and the historic Charleston Market. For quicker info visit https://www.matadorrestaurants.com/locations/charleston-sc