What does Charlotte love? New restaurants.
What else do we love? Tacos.
It was clear to me that Babalu Tapas & Tacos would be a huge success the moment I saw their colorful sign pop-up in front of the 1511 building on East Blvd. I'm always excited about new restaurants, as are most of you. I've not had a terrible meal at any restaurant located on East so how could Babalu be any different?! When I got the invite to join in on one of their media preview nights I was ecstatic and made reservations within minutes. I love unique blends of Mexican, Cuban and South American cuisine. Plus I was dying to see what the did to that awful space previously occupied by Cantina.
The bright colors and simple decor fill the open layout with positive vibes in all directions. They have transformed the old, dingy closed-off dining rooms into a stunning new atmosphere. The bar is open on three sides located in between community tables, high top tables and a patio that can be used year-round. The kitchen has two and a half walls. It’s open to the restaurant giving several tables a front row seat to the action. I think it was a nice touch having the kitchen open to the entire restaurant. It wasn't as loud as I was expecting, and we were only about 5 feet away as you can see in my picture below.
Even though their name has the word taco in it, don’t focus too much on that because they offer so much more. The menu is Cuban-inspired with fresh flavors that support our local distributors. It’s well rounded with 6 starters, a soup of the day and 2 salads, 14 tapas choices, 10 tacos, and 4 sandwiches. We were there Saturday night, here are some of the plates we tried.
House tequila (for an extra $2 you can get Patron Silver), agave nectar, fresh-squeezed sour mix, POM, and triple sec. I really enjoyed this margarita. I have never liked the basic lime sour-mix so the POM addition was exactly what I needed!
I got to taste my friend's and it was delicious! I like most any version of a Mule, Babalu's had Cazadores gin, reposado, seasonal fruit puree (it comes layered so you have to mix it yourself to even out the flavors), cucumber, agave nectar, fresh-squeezed sour mix, and Fever Tree ginger beer.
They have 6 other margaritas to choose from and 5 other cocktails. The group next to us ordered a pitcher of Sangria (red or white) and everyone was enjoying it! So many drinks and so little time!
Yellowfin Tuna Ceviche
Hass avocado, tomatoes, onions, cilantro, garlic, jalapeños, tequila-lime marinade, house chips. Super fresh and light with perfectly salted chips.
Flash Fried Calamari
Lightly breaded domestic calamari, fresno peppers, soy Sambal glaze. These were by far my favorite starter. Light and crispy, get an occaisional pepper in there with the dipping sauce. Perfect bite!
Soup of the Day
Offered this night was their roasted red pepper & tomato. It was great. Definitely looking forward to their other flavors.
Queso Blanco Dip, Pico de Gallo & House Chips, Black-Eyed Pea Hummus or tableside Guac.
Citrus braised pulled pork, black forest ham, marinated cucumbers, sweet mustard BBQ sauce, Swiss cheese, sweet sourdough hoagie.
Baba Burger, Black Bean Burger or a Spice Seared Tuna BLC. We saw at least 20 Black Bean Burgers leave the kitchen, they must be a hit!
Citrus braised pulled pork, roasted peanut slaw, salsa roja, pickled red onions
Carne de Cerdo
Smoked Compart Farms pork belly, chipotle-citrus BBQ sauce, roasted peanut slaw, cotija cheese
Yellow squash, zucchini, crimini mushrooms, grilled red onion ring, red chimichurri, arugula, cotija cheese
Orange and soy braised duck, cilantro vinegar slaw, soy Sambal glaze, toasted sesame seeds
Pollo, Carne La Vaca, Atun, Redfish, Camarones, and Ostra.
I thought my favorite would have been the duck or pork belly taco but surprisingly the vegetable taco was the most flavorful of all of that we tried. Maybe it had to do with that red chimichurri sauce, yum!
Everyone was so excited about the tacos & tortas that no one ordered any tapas. Managers say some of the favorites are Filet on a Stick, Pan Roasted Redfish and the Enchiladas of the Day. The tapas menu consists of 11 other choices of salmon, tuna, shrimp and grits and so much more. Need to go back without tacos on the brain.
Garlic Rosti Potatoes
Also known as "crack potatoes" according to our waitress. Smothered in chihuahua cheese and teriyaki glaze. This side is a meal in itself, it took 4 of us to eat it all!
We kept seeing the Mexican Street Corn side fly out of the kitchen! I didn't know what to expect when I read it on the menu because Street Corn is usually on the cob and I wondered "how am I going to share that?". Well...it comes in a bowl, easy to share! You'll also find grilled broccolini, cheese grits, regular and sweet potato fries, black beans & rice, and charred shishito peppers.
Dulce De Leche Cheesecake Bites
House made dulce de leche cheese cake, Khalua caramel, Mexican chocolate and powdered sugar. They sound as delicious as you just read! They are a perfect end to a savory meal.
Spicy Mexican Fudge, Cinnamon Bread Pudding, Pineapple Rum Empanadas.