Fajitas aren’t the only thing on the menu at Benji’s Cantina, but they are most definitely the focus.
The newly opened restaurant at 716 W. Sixth St. in downtown Austin comes from the same group of friends behind Kung Fu Saloon and the Brew Exchange, two popular bars nearby.
While the area is home to countless Tex-Mex eateries, the owners of Benji’s say they’re offering an upscale dining experience unlike anywhere else in Central Texas.
“There are a lot of great places out there, but no really great places,” said Nick Adams, a partner in the restaurant along with Ben Cantu, Geoff Freeman, Chris Horne and Michael Dickson. “Our target is someone who appreciates good food.”
And that’s where those sizzling fajitas come into play. A pound of beef will cost you about $40. Chicken runs approximately $30 per pound. Owners say the higher-than-normal prices – nearly double the cost of some other Austin Tex-Mex restaurants – are a result of Benji’s opting to serve all-natural certified Angus beef and pasture-raised chicken.
“Right now, I don’t feel like the quality is out there,” Freeman said. “We’re putting together the best product possible.”
In addition to fajitas, Benji’s also offers enchiladas, tacos and a host of other Tex-Mex dishes, as well as oysters.
The bar at Benji’s features the usual beers and margaritas, as well as high-end cocktails.
Before the restaurant opened its doors, the building – once entirely occupied by a printing company that now leases just a sliver of the space – underwent extensive renovations. The interior was gutted and a rooftop patio was added. Owners declined to say how much the makeover cost.
“We wanted to do something that took it back to its origins,” Horne said. “It was all about stripping back the layers.”
The cavernous building, which measures about 12,000 square feet, has scattered seating for more than 300 diners, including several intimate spaces.
“Our biggest directive was that we didn’t want it to feel giant and open,” Horne said.
While getting Benji’s up and going has taken up much of the partners’ time for more than a year now, it hasn’t kept them from taking on other projects. Kung Fu Saloon, which opened in late 2010, has expanded into Dallas and Houston and a new restaurant is also in the works.
“Our growth has been organic,” Dickson said. “We never said we wanted to be in this many cities in this amount of time. We know a lot of people in Dallas and Houston, so expanding just seemed like a good idea.”