April 25, 2015

Can Jose Garces Bring the Baja to Philly?

Fast casual set up at Buena Onda. Bit of a line on a weeknight!
Buena Onda is Jose Garces' latest Philly opening at 19th & Callowhill, bringing his local empire to 12 restaurants. It's his most casual, "inspired by the fresh, tranquil, do-it-your-way spirit of Mexico's Baja peninsula." Order at a counter, pick your own seat and they'll bring out your food.

Having been to La Paz, the gorgeous Baja beach town 3 hours north of Cabo where we feasted on heavenly ceviches and fish tacos caught that same day, we had much more reasonable expectations for Buena Onda. It didn't exactly transport us back to the Baja, but we have to say "fresh" was the best word that came to mind after our visit and the ambiance did give off a more tranquil vibe than most fast casual joints.

Tacos de Pescado Por Favor!

With fish tacos at the center of the menu, we tried each - Atlantic mahi mahi, jumbo pacific shrimp and the catch of the day (perch). You choose to have the fishes fried or tequila-lime glazed, and all are served with a chipotle remoulade, avocado, red cabbage and jícama slaw in a house made flour tortilla. Both of us really enjoyed the light tequila-lime glaze on the mahi mahi and the shrimp, and the fry batter on the perch was similarly airy but flavorful. Might as well split up your order and try some of each.

Mahi mahi, perch and carne asada tacos
Shrimp and carnitas tacos

Off the meat tacos menu, Bradd  liked his chili-glazed carne, served with chile de arbol, queso fresco and cilantro in a corn tortilla, but had to improvise when the bottom quickly fell out. He made good use of both house sauces on the table, a spicy tomato and a salsa verde, to punch things up, too. I was a big fan of the pineapple topping that gives Garces' carnitas taco a tropical twist. The menu also includes quesadillas, tortilla soup and other smaller items, as well as margaritas and beer.

Chips and salsa, always a pleaser

I wouldn't call the shrimp "jumbo" but other than that, our only major feedback is that we'd love to see more tables out on the sidewalk. Pizzeria Vetri is two doors away and has quadruple the outside seating.

Could Garces have offered a more innovative food experience? Sure. For a chef of his acclaim, Bueno Onda isn't exactly the next Garces destination. But the ingredients were fresh and balanced each other out well - it was a solid, light dinner for a nice spring night. If we lived within walking distance, we'd be back more quickly. Given the short line that formed by 7pm, the Callowhill neighborhood doesn't disagree.

For 3 fish at $3.50 each, 2 meat at $3 each, salsa and chips ($5), and a margarita ($7), our bill was $31. Not bad, but not cheap when compared to South Philly taquerias. In the end, Bueno Onda is not trying to be the next El Jarocho so give it a try if you're feeling fishy one night this summer.

No comments: