Border Cantos is a timely, new and free exhibit now on view at Crystal Bridges.
In just a few short years, the Baja Grill food truck went from Saline County's best-kept secret to the winner of multiple awards — the readers of the Arkansas Times declared it not only one of Arkansas's best food trucks, but one of the best places to eat overall in Central Arkansas. Those awards are all hanging on the walls of the Mexi-Cali taco joint's new brick-and-mortar digs, with owners Craig and Melissa Roe hoping that their success in the food truck business can translate into taco dominance in one of Little Rock's best neighborhoods. But while the surroundings may have changed, after several visits to the new location we can say with certainty that one thing hasn't: the excellent food.
So what's good at the Grill? We recommend starting off with the Triple Dipper ($10 small, $15 large), a selection of queso blanca, guacamole and salsa served with an endless supply of light, crispy tortilla chips. In a town known for cheese dip, Baja Grill's white queso is destined to be a star with its smooth, thick texture broken only by the occasional small bite of spicy jalapeno. The guacamole is fresh-made and just the way we like it: simple, with creamy avocado joined by just a dash of lime and seasoning to make for a rich portion of green goodness. As for the salsa, it's brightly flavored and hot, but doesn't let its heat overwhelm the flavor of the fresh vegetables. Each of these is available by itself, but don't be scared to treat yourself to the sampler.
For the main event, Baja Grill has several varieties of protein that they offer up in taco, burrito or quesadilla form. Being taco lovers, we think the Cuban Taco ($4), a giant pile of smoked pork, red cabbage-jicama slaw, avocado and chipotle aioli is the best of the bunch — to the point where we feel like this taco place could teach some of our local barbecue joints a thing or two about what smoked pork is all about. For folks not in the mood for pork, the Baja Beef ($3.75) is also quite tasty, and much simpler: Savory shredded beef is topped with pico de gallo, fresco cheese and a small amount of the secret-recipe Baja sauce. It's not complicated, but it doesn't have to be — it's delicious nonetheless.
When craving something large and filling, we move to the burrito section of the menu, where the Baja Chicken Burrito ($7.50), with its juicy, spicy shredded chicken, is a personal favorite. The Honey Chipotle ($8.50) is another great take on pork, with a sweet spiciness that's just enough of both without being too much of either. Add a heaping helping of rice and beans to your choice of meat, wrap it in a tortilla and smother it in queso — and be prepared to bring your appetite for one of these.
The quesadilla section of the menu follows the same format, but adds a toasted tortilla and cheese to the mix. The Grilled Shrimp ($9.50) is particularly good done this way, and we're torn between the Baja Pork ($8) and smoked pork with barbecue sauce Pig Sooie ($9). Each of these meats is lovingly prepared, and each is different enough from the other that the work that went into developing the recipes at Baja Grill is apparent. It's a rare restaurant where we say that there's no wrong choice on the menu, but for anyone who loves this sort of food, there really isn't a bad option.
Being a new restaurant, there are always going to be kinks in the first few weeks of service, but while we've had a meal or two that took a little longer than might be expected, none of those hiccups have been of the sort where we felt neglected by the staff. Servers have been very professional and polite, and are more than willing to tell all about the various ways each food item is produced. Having eaten at the place when it was a food truck, we can say that much of the vibe from the "old" Baja Grill has survived, and the future is looking bright for taco lovers with the Roe family in town.