Happy hour deals offer the best bet at El Segundo Mexican Kitchen

Cameron Mitchell’s first Mexican restaurant also offers a lively space, great service and a straightforward menu that’s mostly well-executed

G.A. Benton
Barbacoa, al pastor and crispy fish tacos with borracho beans and rice at El Segundo

In Spanish, “el segundo” means “the second.” El Segundo Mexican Kitchen, then, has a fitting title because it’s the second go-round for Cameron Mitchell Restaurants in a prime Short North spot: The address that recently housed Mitchell's short-lived Harvey and Ed’s delicatessen, and which once contained Rigsby’s Kitchen, a chance-taking, sophisticated eatery that helped propel Columbus onto the map of noteworthy dining cities.

This building appears so dramatically transformed since late August when El Segundo premiered that barely a trace of those previous occupants remains. Nowadays, when you gaze around the space, you’ll be treated to a theatrically lit, Mexico-inspired visual feast. 

El Segundo’s handsome, tile-inlaid booths and simpler wooden tables with green stools — they’re overseen by the kind of gracious staff for which Cameron Mitchell Restaurants has become celebrated — are surrounded by so many glittering and Mexican-themed decorations (especially near the entrance) that you might think a high-end souvenir shop has been emptied.

The colorful collection includes cacti, pottery, surreal animal head ornaments, stylish lighting fixtures, Day of the Dead murals on brick walls and myriad mariachi-style sombreros. In spite of touches like those flashy hats, the decor generally leans more toward “trendy lounge” than “kitschy taqueria.”

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Transitioning to edible feasts, two of the lowest-priced dishes are highly recommended on the easy-to-navigate menu: an attractively presented bowl of well-garnished and delicious pozole ($7) and a fun-sized carnitas torta ($5). The latter — a small sandwich of flavorful pork overstuffed into a tiny-but-good bolillo roll — is discounted to $2.50 in the bar area during happy hour (4 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and after 8 p.m. on Sundays). 

Carnitas torta and Ceviche at El Segundo

Following the wallet-friendly policy of other Mitchell restaurants, that torta bargain is part of El Segundo’s fine lineup of half-priced happy hour items. This roster also includes (happy hour prices are given): queso fundido ($5) — nicely broiled good Mexican cheese (not sloppy nacho goo) speckled with gratuitous beans and served in a cute little iron skillet with flour tortillas, plus, for $3 extra, salty chorizo; straightforward Mexican street corn ($3.50); hot tamales ($6) — glossy masa tubes packed with pot roast-like meat (mine were good-tasting but rather dry) served with “chili gravy” that conjured spicy coney sauce; ceviche ($6.50) — ample good shrimp and crab with diced onion, chile, tomato, effective avocado and surprisingly modest amounts of lime juice; inhalable calabacita flatbread ($5) — a crispy-yet-airy, flour tortilla “pizza” with zippy, thick salsa playing off loads of cheese and roasted lumps of corn and squash; and spot-hitting house margaritas ($6; the extra-refreshing spicy version is worth $1 extra).

Among never discounted fare is an impressive selection of tequilas and mezcals, some of which are available in sampler flights ($18 to $48). These can be great palate-openers for tacos, which are only sold in three-taco platters ($14 to $18) accompanied by decent Mexican rice and a ramekin of good beans (get the beer-and-bacon-fortified borracho beans; “borracho” means “drunk”).  

Queso Fundido with chorizo at El Segundo

I picked the Three Amigos platter — it allows diners to select three different tacos — and enjoyed the fillings, which included: fragrant pork al pastor, a highlight sliced from a “trompo,” aka a rotating spit; crispy fish (fish-and-chips-style cod); and barbacoa (juicy brisket). I only wish the fillings hadn’t been so skimpy, and that El Segundo’s touted house-made tortillas had been longer griddle-toasted to make them more pliable and flavorful.      

As further evidenced by a big and winning, tinga-like braised chicken burrito ($15, with rice and beans) and a semi-successful tres leches cake only dairy-saturated on the bottom ($6), this place can exhibit inconsistencies. And it’s hardly a cutting-edge operation like site predecessor Rigsby’s. But if you’re seeking bargains on fun Mexican food and drinks, obliging service and an appealing and cut-loose Short North setting, it’s hard to beat happy hour in El Segundo.   

Posole at El Segundo

El Segundo Mexican Kitchen

698 N. High St., Short North