Bracero Cocina de Raiz, the long-anticipated second local eatery from chef Javier Plascencia, arrives ten years after his first San Diego-area offering, Bonita's Romesco; get up to speed on the huge Little Italy opening via all of Eater's Bracero coverage.
Plascencia, partner Luis Peña and their team have spent over a year prepping and building the Kettner Boulevard restaurant, and initial impressions indicate that it was worth the wait. How Bracero will weather the intense glare of the current spotlight remains to be seen, but Plascencia, a true cook's cook, isn't new to the game. Since launching Romesco, the chef has gone on to open several high-profile restaurants in Mexico, including Mision 19, Erizo and Finca Altozano, that each feature different stylings from his culinary toolbox that are all represented here. The modern Mexican menu runs from cold seafood preparations to soups and salads, tacos and a range of shareable hot plates. At an early tasting, dishes ranged from solid to stellar; highlights included the albacore served two ways with lime salsa verde, crispy rice cakes and eggplant, burnt onion crème fraiche and jalapeno-infused leche de tigre and the ultimate in surf and turf, shrimp and bone marrow sopes.
Plascencia will rotate through the restaurant, spending time at the raw seafood station behind the downstairs bar and upstairs in the kitchen where his Planet Rooth-designed wood-fired grill-slash-oven will cook up meaty entrees. Open for dinner seven days a week, Bracero's current menu will be offered on both levels of the 4,800-square-foot eatery. The quieter upstairs dining room requires reservations and is not yet fully activated, with an outdoor dining balcony that'll still a few weeks from being ready. Plascencia told Eater that in a few months, he may also offer a chef's tasting menu to upstairs diners.
Designed by local firm Bells & Whistles to honor the Bracero farm worker program of the mid 1900s, the bar-focused first level is raw, handsome and hard-edged while the upstairs space, softened by plaster walls, plants and lighting, feels warm and lived-in. Dominating the center of the two-story restaurant is a custom motorized sculpture, dubbed the Mexican Labor Agreement, is made up of hand tools once used by the braceros in their back-breaking work.
The beverage program includes craft beer from Mexico and San Diego and agave spirit-centric cocktails from bar manager Christian Siglin, lead bartender Brian Prugalidad and company that include the tiki-ish mezcal and herbal liqueur-based Czech Yourself and the tequila twist on a Harvey Wallbanger, renamed the Javier Wallbanger, while Bracero's general manager and wine director, J.M. Woody van Horn, is showcasing labels from Baja and Alta California on his bottle list.