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Controversial ‘Top Chef’ Winner Gabe Erales Opens Yucatán Restaurant on Rainey Street

Bacalar is found in downtown Austin, with a casual walk-up window restaurant coming later

Three oval-shaped dough pieces with swirls of purple next to a dollop of green sauce and a halved lime on a dark plate.
A dish from Bacalar.
Jessica Attie
Erin Russell is associate editor of Eater Austin, a native Austinite, and a big fan of carbs.

Ousted Comedor chef and Top Chef winner Gabe Erales is opening a restaurant with Urbanspace Hospitality on Rainey Street. Bacalar and its walk-up window counterpart Tómalo Taqueria will focus on food from the state of Yucatán in Mexico. Bacalar opens at 44 East Avenue on Saturday, September 16, with Tómalo Taqueria opening later this fall.

Erales’s new restaurant showcases the global influences on food from the Yucatán region, including Lebanese, Spanish, and Caribbean flavors. That means dishes like the well-known cochinita pibil (marinated pork roasted in banana leaves) as well as bacalao (a salted cod fish stew), seasonal tamals, and labneh sorbet with hoja santa from pastry chef Natalie Gazaui (formerly of the McGuire Moorman Lambert Hospitality group). The restaurant will have a full bar, helmed by Dragan Milivojevic, and the menu of wines by the glass will exclusively be Mexican makers.

Tómalo Taqueria will be a more casual walk-up window open daily with a menu separate from Bacalar, including tacos (Think: egg and longaniza breakfast tacos and al pastor dinner tacos), tortas, aguas frescas, and grab-and-go options.

Erales, who is from El Paso, opened much-lauded modern Mexican restaurant Comedor in 2019 with Phillip Speer. He won the 18th season of Top Chef, which focused heavily on his image as a family man. However, shortly after filming wrapped and before the season aired, he was fired from Comedor, which Speer said was due to “repeated violations of our policies and for behavior in conflict with our values.” Statesman reported that Erales admitted to having a consensual sexual relationship with a female staffer during the summer of 2020, and cutting her work hours. After the relationship ended, he reportedly continued to “communicate with her in an unprofessional manner.”

Erales’s partner in Bacalar, Urbanspace, is a real estate and interior design company that recently expanded into logistics and hospitality, starting with Codependent Cocktails + Coffee at the bottom of the Independent (aka the Jenga building at 301 West Avenue). Urbanspace designed the interior, which has stone carvings, a sculptural wall relief, and graphic cowhide rugs. Bacalar has a large two-story space with an outdoor patio and a private dining room for 18 people.

Bacalar will be open Sunday through Wednesday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. and Thursday through Saturday from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.

A grilled fish dish on a fish-shaped plate.
A fish dish from Bacalar.
Jessica Attie


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