First Bite

First Bite: Killen's TMX

The Pearland pitmaster puts his spin on authentic Mexican grub.

By Timothy Malcolm January 1, 2019

Considering Ronnie Killen kept featuring Tex-Mex dishes on his Killen's Barbecue menu, it wasn't a secret the Pearland pitmaster was looking into spinning off into a restaurant built on enchiladas and fajitas. Still, diners across the region had to be excited when Killen made his formal announcement, and when he opened Killen's TMX over the weekend.

But if you're looking to just find enchiladas and fajitas here, you should readjust your expectations a smidge. Yes, the tried and true Tex-Mex staples are here, and they were delicious at a media tasting during the second day of operation, but the menu at Killen's TMX is more nuanced than formulaic. There's a focus on balanced flavor profiles, some tinkering with the smoking and cooking techniques we've grown to love at Killen's restaurants, and several early standout dishes.

The barbacoa short rib at Killen's TMX.

Image: Kimberly Park

Standout No. 1: Barbacoa short rib. A big, honkin' piece of beef topped by adobo, which brings a dose of flavorful heat, then smoked in-house (Killen has a smoker at TMX; there's no meat transport happening here). The rib, as you'd expect, melts off the bone and into your mouth.

Standout No. 2: Creamed corn empanadas. This starter is the perfect fusion of what we know from Killen's and authentic Mexican. Inside the thin dough is Killen's creamed corn; an order is topped with cotija, an aioli, and roasted street corn. 

Standout No. 3: Chicharron pork belly: As the name suggests, this is a take on the Mexican snack, but here, much of the bite is fatty. Only a piece of skin at the end of the bite has been fried to a crisp, and it's crunchy. it's served with a white bean and chayote puree, which adds a bit of earthiness to the pork.

Other items include short rib empanadas, ceviche Ciudad de Mexico in a coconut and lime leche de tigre, lobster tacos, brisket queso, and yup, enchiladas and fajitas (the latter uses Snake River Farms wagyu). Also, the chips are warm and thin, and the salsas are warm and multi-dimensional. A roasted red was particularly intriguing.

Salsas and pico de gallo at Killen's TMX.

Image: Kimberly Park

At the media tasting, pastry chef Samantha Mendoza wowed with a few dishes that aren't yet finalized for the dessert menu. They include a take on a strawberry shortcake, rich bread pudding, and classic churros with a bitter chocolate dipping sauce and goat cheese ice cream. Hopefully we'll see these on an official dessert list.

The drink list is out, however, and it includes a classic margarita, plus a few inventive takes on classic cocktails. The verde gimlet, for one, is made with Ancho Reyes Verde, a green chile liqueur. The result is a gin drink that curiously tastes a lot like a margarita, if you can believe it.

The dining room at Killen's TMX.

Image: Kimberly Park

Killen's TMX is a corner anchor of a shopping center in Pearland, just a few miles from Killen's BBQ, but you'll feel slightly transformed upon walking in. The color scheme is beige brick, white, and deep blue, and tapestries and Mexican-made ornaments hang on the walls and from the ceiling. The bar is in a raised area by the door, while guests can peer into the kitchen where there are no heat lamps (Killen wants every dish at a table to come out simultaneously, eliminating the need to heat up food at the pass). At lunch TMX can look like any normal elevated Tex-Mex hang, but at dinner with the lights dimmed, it can take on a more romantic profile. A private dining room is exactly that - prominent wood doors keep people from peering in.

Expect changes as TMX goes through its first few weeks. Menu items are bound to be tweaked, even removed, and others might possibly come in. Whatever the case, you probably should travel to Pearland for this.

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