Inside Don Artemio, the contemporary Mexican restaurant everyone’s talking about in Fort Worth

by admin

It’s a good time to visit new Fort Worth restaurant Don Artemio. The ebullience in this room — and among the people who created it — is infectious.

General manager Adrian Burciaga and chef-owner Juan Ramón Cárdenas are proud they have opened their first restaurant in the United States, a place that honors their upbringing in Northern Mexico. The walls are laid with clay-colored bricks from Saltillo, Mexico, and the tables are smooth pecan wood. A weaving loom strapped with cream-colored thread hangs from the ceiling as a functional piece of art to pay tribute to the Mexican sarapes made in Cárdenas’ home town.

A floor-to-ceiling wall of clay bricks from Mexico bisects the dining room at Don Artemio in Fort Worth.(Shafkat Anowar / Staff Photographer)

In this upscale dining room, the Saltillo desert comes to life in Texas.

And some Texans might learn a thing or two about traditional Mexican food. Burciaga is ready to respectfully explain the menu. For instance: “In Mexico, we don’t drink margaritas,” Burciaga says — and so, there’s not a margarita on the menu. “A lot of us get a shot of tequila with a Topo Chico and a glass of ice.”

Other cocktails mix tequila with fun ingredients like coconut water or rosé.

Cárdenas is a well-known chef and cookbook author in Mexico who uses a lot of mole, chorizo, nopales (cactus), cajeta de membrillo (quince paste) and cabrito (baby goat) in his dishes. Cárdenas’ son Rodrigo Cárdenas will eventually move to the United States and become the restaurant’s executive chef.

Most of the recipes are inspired by the elder Cárdenas’ recipes — some which are on the menu at the first Don Artemio, which is in Saltillo. The deconstructed tres leches cake, rich and creamy, with yeasty bread, is Rodrigo Cárdenas’ mom’s recipe.

The younger Cárdenas can take credit for one of the restaurants’ best entrees. His Chilean sea bass atop mole negro, with a seared plantain on the side, is an exuberant bite at once: buttery fish, smoky mole and sweet plantain. Executive chef Cárdenas says the mole includes 40 or 50 ingredients.

Chilean sea bass en mole negro was created by chef Rodrigo Cárdenas, son of chef-owner Juan...
Chilean sea bass en mole negro was created by chef Rodrigo Cárdenas, son of chef-owner Juan Ramón Cárdenas.(Shafkat Anowar / Staff Photographer)

Diners should start with a shareable appetizer like white fish and salmon ceviche or chile rellenos stuffed with confit cabrito. But one dish that would feel the most at home in Saltillo would be the fried cactus served on housemade tortillas. These nopalitos fritos are fun to build and better to eat — the crunch of the nopales, the zing of the salsa, the soft pull of the tortillas.

And anytime there’s cabrito, consider getting it.

Adrian Burciaga, general manager of Don Artemio, runs the front of the restaurant.
Adrian Burciaga, general manager of Don Artemio, runs the front of the restaurant.(Shafkat Anowar / Staff Photographer)

The elder Cárdenas says his father, never a professional cook, taught him to make cabrito. Today, he confits it, puts it in tortas, stuffs it in chiles and braises it for stew. His father never got to fulfill his dream of opening a restaurant in Texas before he died, so the son and grandson are doing it in his place.

“Sometimes, parents’ dreams are passed on,” Juan Ramón Cárdenas says.

Diners will find dry-aged steaks from Rosewood Ranch hanging in the dining room. Also on display are dozens of bottles of wine from Spain, France, Mexico and the U.S.

With both Cárdenas chefs overseeing the kitchen and the menu, Burciaga works the room, hugging repeat customers and making wine recommendations. Burciaga used to be the general manager at Cafe Modern at the Modern Museum of Art in Fort Worth, just .1 miles from Don Artemio’s front door. Burciaga had always known of the elder Cárdenas in Mexico, then got to know him when he agreed to be a guest chef at the museum in Fort Worth several years ago.

Their partnership today at Don Artemio still seems to delight Burciaga, the effortless host.

The chilitos gueros rellenos de cabrito at Don Artemio are a sweet and savory start to a meal.
The chilitos gueros rellenos de cabrito at Don Artemio are a sweet and savory start to a meal.(Shafkat Anowar / Staff Photographer)

Who is Don Artemio?

Don Artemio is not a fictional character, though he’s not living, either. Don Artemio was an author born in Saltillo in 1884 who became a bon vivant and a gourmand. He wrote 54 novels that pay particular attention to food and drink.

“When he touches the topic of food in his books, he dives into every detail,” Burciaga says.

Twenty-three of the author’s books, nearly all of them collector’s items, are stacked on a bookcase near the bar.

Don Artemio isn’t there to see the restaurant named after him, but we have to guess: He would like sitting at that handsome bar, watching Texans eat a refined version of his home city’s food.

Don Artemio is at 3268 W. 7th St., Fort Worth. It opened March 23, 2022.

For more food news, follow Sarah Blaskovich on Twitter at @sblaskovich.

Related Posts

Leave a Comment