When a new spot opens in town, we're eager to check it out, let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about 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 — an occasion to sample a few items and satisfy curiosities (both yours and ours).
Location: 1301 NW Grand Avenue, #1
Eats/drinks: Sonora-style food and cocktails
Open: About two months
Hours: 5 to 10 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, 5 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday, closed Monday and Tuesday
The restaurant, perched on the corner of 13th and Grand avenues in the Bragg's Pie Factory building, sports a laid-back vibe. A pink wall opposite the bar flaunts the new eatery's name in bright yellow neon lowercase letters that can be seen from the building's many windows: bacanora.
It's decidedly different from the previous occupant, Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza's Barrio Cafe Gran Reserva, one of the first big pandemic casualties. Bacanora is making its own, less formal rules on eclectic Grand Avenue, starting with some damn good guacamole.
Chef Rene Andrade, formerly of Ghost Ranch, teamed up with Tacos Chiwas owners Nadia Holguin and Armando Hernandez (best known for slinging some of the best tacos in town from a shack with a drive-thru at 19th Street and McDowell Road), for the new project.
"I want to represent the Sonoran Desert, but I also want to take you home. I want it to be like you’re coming to my house and I’m cooking for you," Andrade recently told New Times.
Feels like that's been accomplished. Meat is grilled over an open fire. Salsas are homemade, along with the flour tortillas. A small staff runs the entire operation: "a bartender, one server, plus a dishwasher, and myself," Andrade tells us.
Andrade dined in the space when it was Barrio Cafe Gran Reserva. At times, he confessed, he wanted the spot to one day be his. The universe granted Andrade his wish.
The menu is small: less than 10 items. When we visited, Bacanora was short on appetizers, namely the aguachile (a traditional Mexican seafood dish with thinly sliced shrimp, or camarones, marinated in a citrus and jalapeño sauce and served with tortilla chips). It would have to wait for another time.
The guacamole arrived looking ordinary, but one bite told us otherwise. It's crafted with nopales and quesa fresca, then drizzled with extra virgin olive oil. Please do not take this lightly: this is the best guac we ever had.
The cocktails, a citrusy Paloma and a Bacanorita were sweet, yet refreshing. They washed down the guacamole and tortilla chips a bit too easily.
A few friends toasted at the bar, which accommodates about six people. "To the end of COVID," one yelled. "Fuck COVID," shouted another. We raised our glasses and had a sip in solidarity to such an eloquent timely toast.
The roast chicken, served with charred potatoes, was enough to satiate a large appetite or two, while the carne asada tostada was stacked high with beans and steak. Plans were made to order the burrito too.
But the portions are generous here, leaving no room for burritos or dessert. We left stuffed, happy, and a little buzzed.
The Grand Avenue community — heck, the city — collectively mourned when Barrio Cafe Gran Reserva lost the space. But it appears to be rejoicing in this new addition, the bustling yet laid-back restaurant a sign of things to come. We could all learn to eat like this in a post-pandemic-ish world.
And next time, we'll try the aguachile and burrito. And of course, there'll be more guac.
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