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The Early Word On Bracero in Little Italy

Does San Diego's most eagerly anticipated eatery meet expectations?

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Mike Newton

Since its debut last month, San Diego diners have been going gaga for Bracero, executive chef Javier Plascencia and his modern Mexican cuisine. Primetime weekend dinner reservations are sold out through late September while hopeful walk-ins looking to score a seat in the ‘first come first served’ downstairs section line up some nights before doors even open.

Touted as one of the most anticipated restaurant openings of the year, it seems Plascencia is once again winning fans and influencing foodies with his creative Baja-inspired plates. Even internationally-renowned chef Rick Bayless dined there this week. The early adopters of the handsome Bells & Whistles-designed split-level eatery have been devouring tacos, oysters and other cold bar items from the first floor kitchen, larger entrees and hot dishes from the upstairs kitchen, and expertly-crafted drinks from both bars. Plascencia isn't in the kitchen every night, but things seem to be humming along smoothly.

With only a handful of small-scale gripes, early reviews of Little Italy’s hottest new see-and-be-seen dining destination have been nothing short of glowing. Can Bracero keep living up to the hype, and will the recently launched lunchtime service help ease the crush for coveted evening tables?

For our latest installment of Good News/Bad News, we parsed the Internet to find out what the bloggers, chowhound foodies, Yelpers, critics, and more have been raving, or ranting, about Bracero Cocina de Raiz.

The Plascencia Group Fan News: Zagat reports that, with fideo tacos and the Tijuana-original Caesar salad as standbys, "those familiar with Romesco won’t be disappointed in the menu." Diners should also "be on the lookout for Plascencia’s take on wood-grilled octopus with black bean and squid-ink sauce, huitlacoche tamal in a banana leaf and butter-fried escamoles." Bracero was a "must visit" for a "big fan of Romesco's in Bonita" on Yelpwho outlined the Sea of Cortez callo de hacha, grilled octopus and shrimp and bone marrow sopes as "meal highlights." While simple, tasty and elegant is how one Facebook reviewer described Bracero, reassuring readers they will find "several outstanding newer concoctions of earlier iterations from Villa Saverios, Casar’s and Romesco."

The Small Plate News: One Yelper appreciated that the small plates menu "makes it as affordable or elaborate as you choose" while another felt "the portions are pretty small and slightly overpriced for what you get." However, Borderlines Food & Travel countered that diners should not be dismayed if they can’t get a seat upstairs as "the small plates served downstairs still satisfy in a big way."

The Escamoles News: One Chowhound diva writes "you owe it to yourself to try this menu item" describing the ant eggs served with plushy corn tortillas as "rich and very satisfying," and promises "you won’t even think that you're eating insects." Zagat also advocates the seasonal ant larvae dish, which – fried in butter and epazote with dots of smoked avocado on top ­­­­– are "reminiscent of soft Rice Krispies."

The Albacore News: According to Borderlines Food & Travel, the mini stacks of albacore tartare, crispy eggplant rounds, lime salsa verde, burnt onion crème fraiche, and jalapeño-infused leche de tigre topped with pieces of perfectly seared albacore "are a complex, yet lighthearted, textural and flavorful celebration", and have quickly become a house favorite. One Twitter user can't stop thinking about the dish "which is just as delicious as it is stunningly beautiful." And a Chowhound foodie advises to try it, "if for no other reason then the charred onion crème", while another says the dish was quite possibly one of "the best bites of the evening."

The Behind The Bar News: The Agua Chile cocktail went down well with one Yelp reviewer, who stated it "was sweet, spicy, and refreshing", while another praised the "intense wine selection" from Valle de Guadalupe. Proving you can’t please all the people all of the time, this Yelper felt "their drinks were overrated stating that, "the margarita was just average". But there was "plenty of Baja wine and cocktails to round off an exceptional evening" according to one write-up on Chowhound.

The Not So Great News: It took one reviewer on Trip Advisor three telephone calls, placed two weeks in advance, to secure a reservation for their birthday, only to be informed of a strict time limit on the night - "everything was great until 10 minutes after we sat down" they reported, when the hostess "told the table they would have to leave after two hours." An unhappy Yelper also reports "it took forever to get our drinks, our appetizers came out at different times and we had to ask for our waiter three times because he was nowhere to be found". When their entrées finally arrived "one had to be sent back", by the time a correct entrée was delivered the rest of the party had finished eating. They mused, "maybe it was just a bad night, but first impressions count."

The Party Of Five News: A less than enthusiastic Yelp reviewer was informed upon arrival that, "a five person party is against the rules at Bracero" while according to a manager "parties of six or more can only make reservations by phone, after 5 p.m." Disappointed after "much wasted time trying to eat at a place that could figure out bone marrow sopes", but was seemingly "not able to accommodate five people" they decided to move on.

The Vegetarian Friendly News: One Chowhound regular noted Bracero was "incredibly vegetarian friendly", and that if you eat eggs they had "counted 17 vegetarian items on their menu." A Yelper championed the Tijuana original Caesar salad, which they declared "lived up to its origins" and was "fabulous with its lemony creamy dressing and lots of fresh Parmesan cheese."

The Caja China News: Following the recommendation of an attentive server named Rafael, one Yelper who ordered the Caja China Lamb Roasted Asado declared "it had so much flavor and was so tender" that it was "easily one of the best lamb dishes" they had have ever had. Another claimed "intense, rich, tender and plentiful, the lamb was highlight" and that "the accompanying tortillas were also perfection." One Chowhounder enjoyed the somewhat "exotic stew of unusual vegetables, accompanying tortillas and transcendent house-made habanero salsa" eater with the "excellent caja china roasted lamb."

The All-Around Vibe News: The consensus on Facebook is that Plascencia and his team have truly made something special here; one reviewer writes that "the drinks were refreshing, the food is out of this world delicious" and says "the atmosphere is exactly what Little Italy has been needing." A review describes the restaurant as "physically beautiful with lots of glass and openness, yet retaining a classy modern rustic Mexican vibe." One Yelper who will be visiting often and "loves the Baja focused beer and wine list and the traditional mezcal in copitas" also writes, "so excited to have a culinary vision from chef Javier Placencia in SD." Another declares that a reservation at Bracero is certainly "worth fighting for."

King and Queen Cantina

1490 Kettner Boulevard, , CA 92101 (619) 756-7864 Visit Website

Bracero

1490 Kettner Boulevard, San Diego, CA 92101, USA

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