Jay Allen Sanford 8 p.m., Jan. 18
This Burro blind, not dumb
The Blind Burro’s got some serious pre-game game
I didn’t sob when The Fleetwood closed its doors. Despite its sleek appeal, it always came across as another style-over-substance downtown blemish. I was glad to see the space boarded up for installation of a new concept. Now, when I heard the name of the new venue it would become, that made me feel like shedding a tear. The Blind Burro (639 J Street, Downtown). Not exactly a handle that inspires much faith in an eatery, but if names dictated the worth of a restaurant, we could just write off places called Bo-Beau, Burlap, Crab Catcher, and The Smoking Goat. That would be (75% percent) criminal! So, rather than be an ass and hold nomenclature against the new Mexican-inspired eatery on the corner of Seventh and J, I went in with both eyes and my taste buds open, ready to make an educated judgment.
I arrived during The Blind Burro’s soft open period. Checking a place out so early in its existence often yields service problems, inconsistent seasoning, and problem dishes, all of which have the potential to work themselves out later. A writer in my position has to take that sort of thing into account and, often, return later for a follow-up to make sure what appear to be soft open kinks are just that versus long-term problems. I will certainly dine at The Blind Burro again, but not to see if they shored up shortcomings. Over the course of my hour-and-a-half meal, there really weren’t any. Service is smart and hospitable, allowing The Blind Burro to remain just what it’s meant to be — whimsical and relaxed.
This place is all about fun and intelligent spins on well known Mexican favorites. The menu is stocked with a plethora of shared plates and entrees that sound good enough to make selecting a dish the only stressful part of a visit. The individuals responsible for the bill of fare share my mindset that, a life spent eating Mexican food every day would make for happy and satisfied existence. As such, they’re offering up mole sauces, cotija cheese, pepitas, chilies, and a salsa flight. That’s right—a salsa flight! I was instantly endeared to the place based on this alone.
While the salsa wasn’t the best I’d ever had, it was a pleasant and welcomed palate awakener served with salty, extra thick tortilla chips. It consisted of a red roasted tomato-pasilla salsa, serrano-laced salsa verde, triple cheese sauce, and escabeche (the pickled carrot nosh we’re all familiar with from taco shops). The best of the bunch was the salsa verde thanks to its bright tomatillo tang and it's being the spiciest of the bunch. I saved some and poured onto jalapeño popper tacos, which sound like a gringo bastardization of a noble handheld treat, but turned out to be so much more. In reality, they’re small corn tortillas (nice to have one sturdy wrap versus a doubled-up, gut-filling filling package) packed with tender pulled chicken and topped with fried queso panela, roasted jalapeños, and chicharones. It’s a mix that tastes as good as it sounds and brings on a variety of textures.
Taquitos are made interesting with a filling of mashed sweet potatoes spiced up with house-made chorizo, and leveled out with a sweet, earthy mole negro. Add on some candied jalapeños and you have something easy to fall in love with. An almond- and pumpkin seed-crusted cylinder of goat cheese is simultaneously soft and crunchy, and served with a stylish smear of smoky-sweet chipotle-flavored syrup plus a clever reduction of jamaica (a hibiscus flower-infused beverage popular south of the border) that’s, sadly, served in too small a portion to be detected. The coolest dish of the night, for sure, was barbecued yellowtail collar. It’s tough to find this delicacy (only one other downtown restaurant I know of, Katsuya by Starck, serves it). Having tender, blackened, chipotle-orange glazed chunks of tuna melt in your mouth will make you wonder why so many restaurants fail to utilize this lovely part of the fish. Delicious!
In addition to a nice variety of flavorful food, The Blind Burro sports an extensive array of tequilas with plenty of interesting selections to appeal to aficionados. Their margaritas make for early hits and something for the bar to hang its sombrero on, and there’s also plenty of craft beer—especially by downtown standards (though the East Village has really upped urbanites’ options over the past few years). Most notable on that front is the presence of beers from Cucapá, a Mexicali-based craft brewery. Cucapá’s Chupacabras American (ironic) Pale Ale and Runaway IPA (which sports artwork that is so wrong…but kinda hilarious) were on-tap. I tried them both and was impressed by their hop forwardness. The IPA left an especially good impression on my taste buds, thanks mostly to a blunt earthiness that’s rare in an India pale ale.
All in all, I found The Blind Burro to be a hit, and will be looking forward to coming back when baseball season starts. Provided, of course, the Padres can field a squad worth driving downtown for. On second thought, probably better hedge my bets on something more reliable—like salsa verde and yellowtail collars!
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