Austin’s Top Chef competitor to open Mexican eatery in trendy downtown district

A taste of the Yucatan is coming to the Rainey Street District, care of an Austin-based top chef.

Chef Gabe Erales, currently a contestant on season 18 of Bravo’s Top Chef and a champion of Mexican cuisine, will open his first restaurant — a Mexican-inspired eatery called Bacalar that will draw influence from various regions of the Yucatan Peninsula, where Erales has family roots.

Scheduled to open in the fall of next year, Bacalar will anchor the ground level of the 44 East Ave Residences, the slick skyscraper currently under construction on the banks of Lady Bird Lake.

Bacalar is a partnership between Erales and Austin-based Urbanspace Real Estate + Interiors owner and CEO Kevin Burns, as well as the company’s principal designer, Merrill Alley. Burns and Alley, who recently opened Urbanspace’s first hospitality concept, Codependent Cocktails and Coffee in the Seaholm District, purchased the ground floor retail space at 44 East Ave and sought out Erales for the new restaurant partnership.

“I am excited to partner with Urbanspace because, through my relationship with both Kevin and Merrill, I have seen their true potential in creating projects that are not only unique and exciting, but provide a landmark to the Austin community,” Erales says. “I have been a close friend of Merrill and her family for the last 10 years. Throughout this time, we have exchanged our career passions, dreams, and goals while equally witnessing our professional growth, and I knew that one day, we would be able to create something special together.”

Erales’ previous Austin cooking stints include working as the executive chef at downtown eatery Comedor and at local favorite Dai Due Taqueria.

Though the new restaurant’s menu is still in development, the concept is driven by Erales’ family memories of Bacalar, the historic and stunning lakeside Mexican town located just north of Belize, including his fond experiences with local flavors and cuisine. Bacalar will also draw from the concept of “La Milpa,” with Erales emphasizing personal relationships with the farmers he’s sourcing from and the ingredients he’ll highlight in his dishes. And you can bet the menu will include odes to heritage Mexican corn and chiles, two of the chef’s chosen ingredients.

“We love working with passionate, talented individuals, and Gabe is truly the best of the best,” Burns says. “His careful attention to detail in the way he crafts his dishes is the same attention to detail we bring to the environments we create. This concept is all about creating an engaging and harmonious backdrop to let Gabe’s talent take center stage.”

While fans of Erales’ food will have to wait another year or so to dine at Bacalar, they can catch him on Top Chef, the high-stakes culinary competition airing on Bravo on Thursday nights.