True confessions: I was not that impressed by Diego's when it opened last year. The downtown SanTana restaurant tried too hard with dishes that had two ingredients too many, featured tiny portions too expensive by five bucks, and a pan-Latino approach that tried to reach across the region but came up as short as Mexican democracy. Harsh words, but true.
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But over the past six months, owner-chef Richard Espinachio has worked out the kinks, leaving it grab the crown left behind by the late, great Memphis at the Santora as a place for great, innovative, humble eating. The chilaquiles are out of a tía's kitchen; banana fritters, out of Calle Ocho. And the bar is ramping up its offerings as well, eschewing clichés in favor of innovators like the Kicking Venado.
This is a classic sour, enlivened with ginger beer and cayenne pepper, with your choice of tequila or gin (I chose tequila, because gin makes me throw chairs--just ask the Jeffs at C4 Deli). The ginger beer undercuts the lime's acidity; the pepper actually burns. I don't even like ginger beer, but this Kicking Venado went down like tepache. Kudos, Richard, for turning Diego's into a must-eat, and just a warning: make sure I never drink gin--just saying!