Bodega Taco Bar wins over serious foodies
By Mary Kate Hogan
With a casual name like Bodega and a low-key location in a Post Road shopping center, you’d think this mighty Mexican restaurant might fly under the radar. It could be that best-kept-secret type of place, where friends say to friends, “Check this out but don’t tell too many people.” But good food news travels fast. At the reasonably early hour of 6:30 p.m. on a recent Saturday night, packs of hopefuls and hungry couples were approaching the place, hoping to land a table. We were among those who kept our names on the list—a few groups walked in and out, unwilling to stick around—and we waited in the midst of the two-deep crowd around the bar, and then on a bench out front. Clearly, the word is out that this is not just any old Mexican joint but the type of spot you’d hit to impress your California cousins (the ones who claim that the East Coast doesn’t do Mexican).
There are only about ten tables total, four opposite the bar, which occupy prominent real estate—fitting for a place that stocks sixty varieties of tequila and slings cool cocktails like the ginger smash and the tomalito with jalapeno-infused tequila, tangerine juice, agave and red chili. I’m not a straight-up tequila gal, but I did partake in the Natalie Portman, which blends gran centenario “rosangel” with lemon juice, agave and cava, refreshing and lightly sparkling. After standing around for forty minutes or so and enjoying our drinks, we were seated at a high table near the front of the restaurant. Our patience was rewarded immediately when the waitress brought over the guacamole of the day, a version with crushed roasted pistachios. The guac is lush, rich and creamy with a nice amount of lime, and the chips served in a brown-paper-bag “bowl” are replenished as often as needed. You can also shake up your “slapped to order” guac by opting for the orange habanero or garlic-infused chili crab. While tacos are a focus, of course, the menu counts many creative “antojitos” (little cravings) and “platos” among its attractions, such as seared scallops with roasted corn, tomato and edamame, and a vegetable cazuela. This Saturday night’s specials included an enticing crabby arepa with avocado and jalapeno and a Brussels sprout-duck salad.
Along with our guacamole, we started with the ceviche de mariscos with lightly sweet tostone (twice-fried plantain) on the side. Presented in a glass sundae dish with slices of avocado as garnish, this mixture of big pieces of shrimp and scallop in a lightly spicy tomato-based sauce was bright and super-fresh tasting.
At the recommendation of friends, we went heavy on the tacos, sampling everything from the classic Americano to the Baja fish. I love the fact that you can order the tacos in lettuce wraps, which they call “Lady Tata” style. Tacos are sized small enough to encourage you to sample a bunch; they’re served in a no-frills fashion on metal trays. My favorite was the “Gambas” (ancho-chili shrimp with cucumber-mango salsa and a chipotle mayo), a fresh blend of flavors tucked into a soft corn tortilla. The taco de costilla combined short ribs with truffle-laced cheese, mushroom and onion for a rich flavor, so it paired perfectly with the light lettuce wrap. The classic Americano, with savory seasoned beef, Manchego cheese and salsa in a crispy corn shell, is pure taco nostalgia, yet an upgrade from the tacos we had growing up. The crispy Korean chicken taco with Asian slaw was not all that crispy but a fun variation with a lighter-than-expected sauce; Baja tacos are filled with big pieces of panko-fried fish and pico de gallo.
An entrée special too good to pass up: the pepito-crused mahimahi with grilled pineapple mixed into a sweet potato purée and laced with cilantro and smoked peanut mojo. This tender fish was slathered with herbs, and the sweet potato purée made for an indulgent seasonal side; as with much of the menu here, the dish was a great value at $15. Tasty veggie sides, such as blistered Brussels sprouts, braised kale and yucca fritas, are just $10 for three.
Even after feasting on all those tacos, we said yes to both desserts: a pot de crème and the nightly special Tres Leches cake, drunk with vanilla liquid under a blanket of strawberries. The pot de crème’s sumptuous Mexican chocolate mousse is topped with an equal amount of homemade whipped cream dusted with chili and cocoa powders!
While Bodega’s inventive food will certainly lure us back, the space is cramped enough to be a tad uncomfortable. When waiting out front before our meal, my husband pointed out the vacant space next to the restaurant, and another couple wondered out loud, “Maybe they’ll expand?” Let’s hope so. Until then…race you to the bar.