John Lewis is lighting up the Lowcountry food scene in his native West Texas style.
Once one of Texas's most prized barbecue pitmasters, John Lewis was lured to Charleston after attending the city's SC-TX BBQ Invitational in 2014 and seeing whole-hog country "freak out over beef barbecue," he says. Two years into Lewis's Lowcountry conversion, the hot guts sausage and brisket the chef serves at his Lewis Barbecue restaurant have become an ingrained part of the local vernacular. Now, Lewis is attempting to do the same with Hatch chiles and field corn at Juan Luis, his cheekily named restaurant in Workshop, Charleston's first food hall.
Don't expect to find any cumin-scented ground beef or molten American cheese here. Instead, the chef elevates the usual suspects: queso augmented with a chile broth, tortillas made from freshly nixtamalized corn (a process of soaking and cooking the kernels in an alkaline solution), and enchiladas stuffed with the same brisket that made Lewis the Holy City's beef barbecue messiah.
And despite the tacos and margaritas, Lewis says the menu at Juan Luis is not Tex-Mex. "Tex-Mex is more about fake cheese on everything. This is really El Paso–style food—it's what happens on the El Paso border, which combines Texan, Mexican, and New Mexican cuisine." For the West Texas native, that's a category unto itself. "This particular kind of Mexican food is what I grew up on, and it's my favorite food to eat to this day," he says. "Yes, even more than barbecue."
Related: How to Make Chicken Wonton Tacos
Hometown: El Paso, Texas
Experience: Franklin Barbecue and la Barbecue in Austin
Early career goal: Winemaker
Side project: Austin Smoke Works barbecue smokers, which he makes with his father, John Lewis Sr.
Make His Recipe
The flavors of the El Paso border—influenced by Texan, Mexican, and New Mexican cuisine—are on full display in Charleston chef John Lewis’s elevated take on chicken enchiladas. Reserve any leftover Anaheim- and Hatch green-chile sauce for your next round of queso, breakfast tacos, or chile rellenos.