Photography by Kathy Tran.

Kyle Noonan named Joe Leo Fine Tex Mex after his grandfather, Joe Leo Romero. Before he died a few years ago, he visited Noonan within a month after opening The Rustic, another concept of his.

“We were running around, and I was stressed, and he was just sitting there, watching,” Noonan says. “Finally he grabbed my arm and pulled me aside. He said, ‘Hijito, look around, you are so blessed to have this in your life, and you need to take a moment every day to be grateful for what God’s given you.’ And that just is something that really stuck with me.” 

Noonan picked a spot at the intersection of Fitzhugh and Bennett avenues for his new restaurant. The building itself, nestled in a densely populated jungle of apartments and townhomes, was relatively new. But Noonan made some changes to the design. He wanted to emulate in the former El Bolero space a classic cantina, nothing too refined. He gave it new life with modern, bright colors.  

The patio, dining room, bar and outdoor smoking lounge — where the fire pit is — can accommodate nearly 250 guests. There’s an hourslong wait for a table every night. 

“You never want to complain about being busy because that’s the goal,” Noonan says. “But we certainly have seen a tremendous amount of support from the neighborhood so far.”

For those who’d prefer to skip the wait, Joe Leo offers to-go meals. The fajita and taco packs and bulk margaritas are the most common orders. About 20 percent of the restaurant’s sales have come from takeout. 

The second-floor cactus club, which Noonan hoped to open in time for National Tequila Day in late July, should help with the crowding. It will provide a space for 40 guests to enjoy drinks and snacks before they get a table. That date wasn’t set in stone because the furniture supply chain is clogged. But when it opens, guests can order Everclear-spiked margaritas on Friday and Saturday nights. It’s a tradition Noonan wanted to continue, one that originated in border-town cantinas that served extra-strong drinks to laborers at the end of a long, hard week.

“It’ll be light bites and heavy drinks,” he says. 

Like any good chef would, Noonan helped develop the menu by eating a lot. He wanted to avoid getting “too creative” and instead focused on perfecting the Tex-Mex basics. Neighbors have been gobbling up fajitas, the most popular item on the menu by far. Second in popularity are the golden tacos, so named for the mountain of cheese that tops a guest’s choice of chicken, beef or veggies. 

Popular pairings for fajitas and tacos are margaritas and Mexican martini, made with tequila, orange liqueur, agave and fresh orange and lime juice.

Brunchgoers also have a place at Joe Leo. Noonan says he typically doesn’t like sweets, but he loves the tres leches pancakes, which have been a big hit. Another morning dining option is on the horizon. Breakfast tacos will be available every Saturday and Sunday starting in September. 

“They should expect a lively environment, great patio, strong drinks and delicious food,” Noonan says. “And you’re probably going to need to take a doggy bag with you.”  

Joe Leo Fine Tex Mex, 2722 N. Fitzhugh Ave., 214.363.2699