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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Nov. 28, 2014

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In Dining

The hand painted exterior at El Beso in Greenfield. (PHOTO: Bobby Tanzilo)

New El Beso restaurant grabs the eye

The big squarish restaurant building in the parking lot of the Greenfield Fashion Center, a block north of Southridge, is a late blooming visual wonder. Beginning life as a Fuddruckers, it moved on to become part of the Champps Americana chain.

In that incarnation, it was all about burgers, beer and balls – as in baseballs, footballs, golf balls, basketballs. It was an industrial strength sports bar.

But after nearly a year of heavy duty reconstruction and face lifting, the building is such a stunning example of pop Mexican art, one feels compelled to swerve into its parking lot and dig into a platter of salsa and chips, regardless of the time of day. El Beso (the kiss) opened last month as the mother of all Gringo-esque slick Mexican restaurants.

It is the sister of El Fuego, another large and bustling, high-volume Mexican restaurant that opened in July 2009 at 9th and Layton. Both are owned and operated by the Bouraxis family, which built the Omega family restaurant and frozen custard-hamburger empire before selling all of the units except a drive-in on 27th and Rawson.

Observe the El Beso operation for a few minutes, and you can see the same smooth-running, high-efficiency management style that had the Omega restaurants running like well-oiled machines for years.

El Beso owner Andreas Bouraxis won't reveal how much money was spent on transforming the drab Champps into a Disney vision of Mexico, but he admits the project went considerably over budget. While the eatery's hand-painted exterior is the grabber, its interior pops eyes with a brain boggling collection of symbols, signs and artifacts that suggest you have slipped into Cancun for a couple of hours.

Stucco walls are covered with plates, sombreros, guitars, bleached cattle skulls, bull's horns, old black and white photos and movie posters in Spanish. Legendary Mexican artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera watch over a corner of a side alcove from their pictures on a wall.

A long two-sided bar in the center of the main room greets customers as they enter the restaurant. El Beso offers about 50 different tequilas, nine flavored margaritas, and pina coladas, mojitos, daiquiris and sangria. The beer selection – five are on tap – runs the gamut from Mexican brands to local brews and the decidedly non-Mexican Hacker-Pschorr.

During a recent chat, Bouraxis said El Fuego and El Beso are designed differently and their menus are not identical.

"El Fuego has an old world, tropical theme that includes palm trees and waterfalls. El Beso is more about a big city. It is bold and colorful," he explained.

"The two restaurants have a different feel. They have their own identities."

Those separate personalities are reflected in the menus, according to Bouraxis. El Fuego emphasizes seafood, while El Beso offers more meats from the various regions of Mexico.

As an example, the owner mentioned steak tampiquena ($17.95), a traditional skirt steak topped with a cheese enchilada, that is served at El Beso. Jose Martinez, who has worked for the Bouraxis family for 25 years, is the executive chef at both restaurants.

Most El Beso a la carte tacos are $3 each, with mahi mahi costing a $1 more. Enchiladas are $3.50 and $4.50 a piece, depending on the filling. Plate specials are available, as are tamales, fajitas and chimichangas.

El Beso's salads include taco and a Mexican chopped consisting of black beans, sweet corn and bell peppers. Both are priced at $10.95, and steak, shrimp or mahi mahi can be added for $2.

Burgers and chicken breast sandwiches receive a Mexican spin with chihuahua cheese and jalapeno mayo, and a Hawaiian torta (sandwich) mixes the islands with south of the border. It contains ham, pineapple, lettuce, tomato, avocado and sour cream, and is priced at $8.95. An extra $2 will get you rice and beans.

The indoor dining room seats 300, and tables for another 150 customers are on an outdoor patio shielded by a high wall from the Greenfield Fashion Center parking lot and 76th Street. An additional 40 can be seated at the attractive indoor bar, and the patio includes another bar that accommodates 20.

El Beso sells several of its desserts to go from a pastry case near the front door. A variety of bottled hot sauces are also on sale there.


milwgreg | May 13, 2011 at 1:15 p.m. (report)

I think the mexican restaurants have reached a saturation point in milw area. El fuego and beso i heard are owned by the Greeks who used to open all the greek restaurants. I still like to stick with the Authentic mexican owned restaurants... These kinda remind me of Chi Chi's or like a walmart effect on the cuisine

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OCMEX | May 13, 2011 at 11:33 a.m. (report)

I can tell they went way over budget with yet another over priced, off the mark incarnation of a "Mexican?" restaurant. No thanks to $3 tacos. The fine people of Greenfield are going to foot the bill for this place in no time with these menu prices. Paul will be laughing all the way to the bank. I miss Champs :(

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