First Taste

Burros, Beer, and Beats at Cocina 10 in Downtown's Crescent Ballroom

When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out -- and let you know our initial impressions. Share a few photos, some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).

Restaurant: Cocina 10 (in Crescent Ballroom) Location: 308 North 2nd Avenue Open For: About a month. Eats: Mexican Price Point: $5-$10

Thanks to Crescent Ballroom, the mid-sized music venue owned by local promoter Charlie Levy and his company Stateside Presents, who renovated the 1917-era building formerly occupied by Bentley's Nightclub before opening in October, downtown's live music scene is (finally) showing signs of life.

And if you're hungry, it's got some great grub, too, courtesy of Chris Bianco and Doug Robson of Gallo Blanco, the Mexico City-style restaurant inside the Clarendon Hotel.

Called Cocina 10 (Cocina being Spanish for kitchen and the number 10 a reference to Interstate 10), the restaurant component of the Crescent features a small but tight menu of Mexican street food by Bianco and Robson, as well as a tidy list of microbrews, wines, and cocktails.

For munchies, try the crunchy chips and salsa or order up some crush-worthy nachos with beans, guacamole, sour cream, two kinds of cheese, and your choice or beef or pork.

If it's more filling fare you're after, there are burritos and a hamburger. I found my Hamburgesa Norteña, a third-pound patty with sharp cheddar, tasty caramelized onions, and roasted Anaheim and poblano peppers to be somewhat satisfying, but the best flavors were lost between a too-thick, too-dense bun. Better bets (and the true stars of this show) are the burritos. My al pastor (marinated pork) burrito was a two-handed meat beast stuffed with tender, slow-roasted pork shoulder in a sweet and smoky marinade of pineapple and achiote and wrapped in a warm, soft tortilla. Along with chips and a bright tomatillo salsa, it was a meal I'd come back for -- that is, after I try the beef barbacoa.

Reminiscent of an urban loft, the cool, cozy atmosphere is a mix of dark wood, exposed rafters, wrought iron furnishings, and dim lighting with sliding glass doors leading to a outdoor patio filled with candle-topped tall tables. The lounge is separated from the Crescent's main room, where the music happens.

Perfect for a pre- or post-concert noshing or, hell, just a cool downtown spot to eat and knock back a beer, kudos to Crescent Ballroom for making its restaurant, Cocina 10, a key aspect of the experience and not just an afterthought.

What say you, music munchers? Have you eaten at Cocina 10 in Crescent Ballroom? What did you think?

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Laura Hahnefeld
Contact: Laura Hahnefeld