5.27.11 Dinner. Bel Air Cantina (East Side. Milwaukee, WI)

From back end of the bar.
So, Jamie and I went out for dinner yesterday.  We ended up choosing the Bel Air Cantina (previously The Good Life) because we were down for some Mexican.  This was my second experience to Bel Air and Jamie's first.  We arrived around 8pm.  We had about a 20 minute wait.  We went to stand by the bar to wait. The space itself is awesome and oh so very  modern.  Lots of floor to ceiling windows.  The windows save this long narrow building from looking too cramped.  Christmas lights hung along the windows.  Surf boards, art and pictures decorate the walls.  The theme, to me, feels like a Key Largo, Florida type feel.  As always, Jamie and I were super indecisive about getting a drink that by the time we decided we wanted to get one while we waited, we were already being seated.  Surprise...

We were seated at a table by the window.  Some weird draft was present.  Was it from the window or a vent? Who knows, but it wasn't bad enough to complain.  Some decent music was playing.  We even discovered that one of Jamie's guilty pleasures is the movie Coyote Ugly.  It must have given her the happy-guilty-pleasure-feeling when the "one way, or another..." song came on.  Memorrrriessss.  Anyway, for a table of two, volume was good but I could imagine it would be difficult to hear someone at the opposite end of a 6 person table.  Drinks were ordered.  I had the El Cheapo lime margarita (frozen/blended with rail tequila) for $5.50.  When it arrived to the table I initially thought, "Did they bring me a tequila on the rocks without rocks.  Where's the ice?"  Blended, it was not.  Or, if it was, it was sitting for too long.  But, it was tasty for a rail drink.  Jamie, had a corona, $4.  If she knew that it came in a can, she would have passed on a bev.

From our table.
Chips, Salsa Trio, and Bevys.
Trio of salsas with chips were brought to the table (best part about mexican restaurants).  They include the following: roasted jalapeno (mild/red), arbol chilis salsa (med-hot/orange) and tomatillo salsa (med/green).  The salsas are oh so delicious.  For those that like just a pico de gallo (on menu for $2.29) type salsa or tostitos type salsa, may not be down for the trio.  Also, if you don't like spicy, this would also not be your cup of tea.  The trio has some bite... and I like it!  The tomatillo has a delicious garlicy flavor to it and it's my favorite of the three.  Then, I like the roasted jalapeno that has a nice smokey/roasted type flavor to it.  Last, was the arbol chili.  By no means is  it bad, but someone has to be last right? Right.  The chips were slightly stale. 

Let's get to the main course.  The menu is huge!  It can be overwhelming for those that cannot make decisions (like me) unless there is someone who is there to assist them in their decision making needs (for me, it's Jamie).  Tacos, burritos (bigger than chipotle), nachos, salads, oh my! We asked our server, who was a very friendly gent, for taco recommendations.  He recommended the Baja tilapia as his favorite.  The menu has tacos a la carte or a plate deal of order 3 tacos and get rice and beans included.  There are tons of options to the menu to choose from and for time and space sake, I will leave it to you to explore the menu. (FYI: The online menu doesn't match their updated menu.  Some new items were added to this original menu)

Jamie's Plate: (from left to right) taco 2, 3 and 1.
Rice and refried black beans.
Jamie's up to bat
Details:  3 taco plate.  Rice and she chose the refried black beans. 
1. Korean beef taco (spicy sweet marinated beef garnished with greens, jicama, carrot, lime and sriracha creama) with corn tortilla. $3.39
2. Pollo Yucatan (grilled chicken with achiote, pineapple, avocado salsa) tostada. $2.57
3. Baja Tilapia (breaded and fried, with jalapeno slaw and buttermilk avocado dressing) $3.19 with corn tortilla. 

Jamie's Thoughts (She was much more verbal on this visit.):  [Taco 1] The srirach adds good spice.  Not too spicy but spicy enough no deter the spice wimps out there (Jamie was downing water like a fish while eating this one and she likes spicy).  Tender meat and the jicama/carrot added a great crunch for texture.  [Taco 2] Good grilled chicken flavor to the meat (similar to Chipotle and Qdoba's chicken).  The pineapple added a good sweet/tart level to the taco.  Avocado was barely a factor.  [Taco 3] Bland.  But, that's tilapia for ya.  For being the only breaded fish on the menu, somewhat a let down.  Little breading.  Needs more flavor. Jamie's rating for the three tacos: 1, 2 and then 3.  Liked both the pollo and beef but prefers spicy over sweet any day. The rice is ok.  If she paid attention and new that they were refried beans, she wouldn't have gotten them.

My Meal
Details:  3 taco plate. Rice and I chose the pinto beans (he said it had bacon and beer in it and I said "Bacon?!? of course... I'll have that!" Bacon makes everything better, fo sho!)
1. Spicy Tuna taco (grilled tuna with soy glaze and sesame...some other stuff too but I neglected to write down the details and it's a new menu item...fail.) with corn tortilla. $3.something
2. Pollo Verde taco (shredded spiced chicken, salsa verde, queso cotija, onion and cilantro) with corn tortilla. $2.57
3. Barbacoa taco (BBQ beef slow cooked with Modelo, Orange Soda, Coca Cola, garnished with raw onion and cilantro) with corn tortilla. $3.39

My Plate: (from top to bottom) taco 3, 2, 1.
Rice and Pinto beans.
 My Thoughts: [Taco 1] Asian sweet and sour fish in taco form.  Very tasty.  Fish overcooked for my preference for Tuna but overall was very flavorful.  [Taco 2] Chicken is very tender.  Could be considered salty for some folks but me, bring on the salt!  Also, huge fan of the cilantro and onion combo for tacos.  The salsa is most likely the tomatillo salsa from the trio which was my fav.  [Taco 3] Tender meat but oh so very very bland.  Really just tasted the tortilla.  Disappointing.  Added salsa for more flavor.  Did the tasty salsa's as a started kill my buds? Who knows... but I almost wish I didn't eat it first and take up stomach space.  (Chronic dilemma:  To eat my favorite part of my meal first or last? Really, I have solved this and should eat it first but, I still eat it last.  Creature of habit. Lame.)  Taco rating: 2, 1, 3.  Beans... So good.  Bacon and beer have never failed me.  So full of flavor.  FYI, the pepper, if present, is not a green better but a jalapeno.  Learned that the hard way. Rice...nothing all that special.

Other factors to keep in mind:
-Brunch menu... future reference as Brunch is one of my favorite pastimes.
-Big ass tequila menu for those that enjoy it.
-Vegetarian friendly (similar to sister restaurants Comet Cafe and Honey Pie)
-Street parking only.  It's the East Side.  Plan for this.
-Diverse crowd: dad and daughter, family with younger kids but majority in 20-30s.
-Other food thoughts: Corn tortillas come with 2 tortillas/taco, which is common, but theirs were thicker and overbearing.  Sweet plantain pieces on the rice were super delicious.
-Service was good.  Frequent water checks (important when dining with Jamie.  Jamie = Fish).  And perfect number of quality checks.
-Pricier for Mexican food (along the lines of Cempazuchi pricing versus south side restaurants)
-Garage door type windows will have great summer appeal (especially since Milwaukee lacks some rooftop options).

For my second time around, it was ok.  Obviously my first experience made me want to come back and so does this second one.  I really like the space and vibe so will most likely check this place out again.   Might go on a Taco Tuesday to check out the other tacos as a cheaper price ($2/taco). 

Bel Air Cantina
1935 N Water St
Milwaukee, WI 53202

Weekdays: 11am-2am
 Weekends: 10am-2am
Happy Hour: Regular M-F 3pm-7pm
Late night: 11pm-1am (except Tues)

1 comment:

  1. love me some 2$ taco tuesdays! hey gurl, find me on facebook (use my email address fatdanno@gmail.com, since i think there are like a billion danielle bailey's)