Jose Garces’ Buena Onda opens big in Rittenhouse in what was Tinto on South 20th Street.
After opening a Baja-menu inspired Callowhill/Art Museum area restaurant/take out joint and announcing its franchising opportunities across the country, Philly’s Iron Chef, Jose Garces, opened his first new Buena Onda in the Rittenhouse area this week.
Debuting in what used to be S. 20th Street’s Tinto (fear not, Chef Garces’ Basque-influenced restaurant of Garces is scheduled to open again, elsewhere), the Rittenhouse region’s Baja-inflected Buena Onda – which translates to “good vibes” in English – the space is bright and casually cool, with a menu that’s hotter and much much heartier. In fact, “Casual Baja Taqueria” is part of Buena Onda’s tagline, so knowing that, I can assuredly state that Garces’ new menu lives up to that legend.
Unique to a sit-down and take-out spot in Rittenhouse, Garces’ Buena Onda does indeed serve liquor as its one-time Tinto address had a liquor license. Boo ya! So I had the red sangria, which, quite frankly, I never get enough of, this summer or ever.
From there, if you’re sampling a Mexican-based menu, you have to taste the guacamole. Typical (and not so typical) for a lighter, Cali-Baja menu, Garces’ guac is fluffier, juicier, topped with grated Cotija cheese and served with homemade tortilla chips. Round one: great. (I didn’t try the smoked tuna dip, which also looked great, but I’m not a pig. Definitely next time, though). That said, in the starter department, there is Garces’ way-generous Quesadilla – an airy, flour tortilla served with Queso Mixto, crema, salsa Mexicana and meaty chicken. That item alone, zesty and stuffed, could have functioned as a meal.
Obviously, when you go to Buena Onda, you better come with an appetite.
Since Buena Onda is a “Casual Baja Taqueria,” you have to go for its taco selection, one that its staff (hello, Nolan and Lorraina) says should start with its house specialty: their signature batter fried fresh fish taco and its grilled, Tequila lime glazed jumbo shrimp taco.
Confession time: I’ve never been a fish taco fan.
Now, I am. Served as they are on house-made flour tortillas with Chipotle remoulade, avocado and red cabbage slaw, the fresh fish taco had several different brands of crunch, fleshiness and flavor, and – like the chicken quesadilla – the shrimp was zesty against the sweetness of the avocado and the tartness of the cabbage. Boom. After that, and for any vegetarians in our audience, I tried the kale and mushroom taco. Salty and sweet, and nestled into the warm house-made flour tortilla, this is a great option for those non-pescatarians or non-meat eaters in the dosage MAGAZINE audience.
Buena Onda’s “K38” burritos, however, are where we got our dose of meaty goodness. Done up with rice, spiced black beans, salsa Mexicana, crema, romaine, and Queso Fresco, and filled with (the traditional) pork al pastor and the (non-traditional) red chile short rib, Garces makes a mean, tightly-rolled (that’s right, it is actually neat) burrito with juicy pork and juicier steak. I live in the Italian Market where traditional Mexican burritos are de rigueur. Garces’ burritos are different, more-high end, neater and bold. Just wow.
The only thing that you could do to close out a meal at Buena Onda is have the traditional Mexican sweet, the Churros, but – of course in Garces’ land – was made unique by its just out of the oven toasty warmth and its melty filling of Dulce De Leche. Like the fish taco, a churro is not something I always get since I usually skip dessert. When I return to Buena Onda, I won’t skimp or skip the Churros.
With that, I need to add that, for those cost-conscious diners, as high-end as Buena Onda is in all of its ingredients, Garces’ dine-in and take-out Baja hot spot is cool on your wallet and crazy affordable.
Dig it. Dig in.