We began one meal with what is supposed to be herby guacamole. Although no one in my dinner party could discern any herbs, we greedily dug into the thick, chunky dip, fresh and bright from a hit of lime. A garnish of pepitas and pomegranate seeds, and the presentation in a lava rock bowl, certainly elevated it, but $15 still seemed a hefty price for guac and house-made chips.
An appetizer of albondigas brought three golf ball-sized, warm meatballs covered in a smoky, spicy, thick adobo sauce. The sauce didn’t make an impression, but the meatballs, made from a blend of beef and pork, were notably juicy, and their scraggly roundness lent a bit of rusticity that lived up to the menu description: “comfort food straight from the casa of your abuela.”
A seasonal salad proved to be the most creative starter: thin strips of grilled nopal topped with a mound of pickled red onions, green tomatoes, jalapeno and crumbled cotija cheese, and all tossed in a cilantro-lime vinaigrette — fresh, light, bright and delicious.
Tortilla-making is approached as a craft here. Heirloom corn from Mexico is treated in-house with lime, then cooked, dried and ground. Once turned into a masa, it is pressed and cooked on a rotund griddle that sits behind a glass window in the kitchen. The result is an earthy, grainy, slightly nutty, pliable tortilla.
While the tortilla itself is praiseworthy, the majority of the fillings fell short. Beef was fatty, chicken was dry, and al pastor was both chewy and dry. At $7 apiece, they felt overpriced.
The quesabirria taco, a $16 off-menu item that comes three to an order, is a must-try. Tops among every dish I tasted, the slow-cooked beef filling was meltingly tender, with the cheese oozing out of the top of the crispy fried tortilla shell. It became a fiesta of flavors when dunked into a rich red consommé.
I wouldn’t have known about the birria tacos (a chicken version also is available) had I not eyed a plate on a neighboring table, because our server didn’t mention them. How many uninformed customers are missing out on this dish? I suppose the same number who miss out on the salsa board, for the exact same reason.
Of the three entrees, the one that really woke up my palate was a vegetarian cauliflower plate. The veggie comes as a grilled steak with pickled florets that pack a habanero punch. Bites get more interesting and spicier as you swipe the bits in a creamy cashew chipotle dressing.
However, for $35, I got a dry chicken thigh and rice, both doused in mole that lacked nuance. And, a $42 whole, grilled snapper was beautifully presented on a hollowed volcanic rock plate, but the skin offered little crispness, and the flesh had little flavor, beyond that of orange segments. It’s hard to dismiss poor execution when the prices bring upscale expectations.
The restaurant also could do a better job of communicating with customers. They don’t accept cash (as they say in fine print on the menu), but they charge you a fee for not paying cash. Nowhere is that mandatory surcharge mentioned, nor was it conveyed verbally by the staff.
In this post-pandemic period of inflation, passing along the cost of credit card transactions to customers is understandable. However, the lack of transparency does not foster the trust that is important in establishing a loyal customer base.
Bernal has built a restaurant whose beautiful contemporary space and explorable food and beverage menus pay homage to his Mexican roots. However, consistency from the kitchen and better communication from the service team would elevate the dining experience, and might induce patrons to come back for more.
D BOCA N BOCA
Food: contemporary Mexican
Service: affable, yet hesitant
Best dishes: guacamole, chipotle albondigas (meatballs), mushroom escabeche, Nuevo Cordoba (seasonal salad), mushroom taco, chorizo taco, birria taco with beef, cauliflower steak entree, churros
Vegetarian dishes: crema de frijol, guacamole, mushroom escabeche, seasonal salad, mushroom taco, cauliflower steak entree, churros, flan, frutas y chamoy
Alcohol: full bar
Price range: $$$
Credit cards: all major cards accepted
Hours: 5-10 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 3-11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sundays
Parking: free parking in lot across the street
MARTA station: none
Wheelchair access: yes
Noise level: average, sometimes rising to loud, due to the music
Outdoor dining: patio
Takeout: not recommended
Address, phone: 39-A Georgia Ave., Atlanta. 770-655-9467
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