Let me start this review with a disclaimer… I am not extremely versed in Mexican or Southwest-style cuisine. Many of the ingredients are unfamiliar to me, though I recognize them and generally know what they are, I don’t personally use them very much in my own cooking. That said, I will stand on the fact that I can recognize good food, service, and ambiance when I experience it, so I don’t think I’m at all unqualified to offer my opinions about the relatively new addition to the “Mexican restaurant scene,” Las Bugambilias, located between Front and Second Streets, on South Street.
First of all, you may want to note that they do not take reservations, so if you’re thinking of going there on a peak evening (i.e. a weekend), you should plan accordingly and show up expecting that there may be a bit of a wait. My friends and I went on a Tuesday and it was surprisingly crowded, this may have been because it’s the holiday season and means that more larger groups of people are getting together to enjoy festive meals. I would say that the kitchen seemed a little slow that night (though not unbearably so) and this may have been because of the full dining room.
So now to the restaurant itself. Tucked away in a little house on South St. the ambiance is bright and sunny, with lots of yellow tones that certainly liven up the general feel of the place. I particularly liked the life-size figurine on the sidewalk outside, it seemed very Mexican folk art / Day of the Dead inspired. There’s a separate bar area immediately as you come in where you can just have a seat to order if you want to have a more casual meal. Their drinks menu includes both your standard tequila-based cocktails and bottles of wine. There are a large cocktails to choose from, all of which sounded fabulous, but I can’t vouch for their actual taste, we went for the wine.
We started with thick and crunchy chips served with two kinds of salsa, a pico de gallo and a spicy salsa picante. We also ordered some of their house guacamole, which came in a lava bowl. I thought the serving was a little small for the price, but it was definitely fresh and refreshing. The salsa picante was a great condiment to add to the other two dips, upping their intensity and bite, but it was also great on its own.
The food we ordered was all delicious and well presented. I apologize if the descriptions are not entirely accurate, but you should be able to get the general feel and the pictures will help as well. I had the pork tenderloin which was stuffed with whole almonds, roasted red peppers, and olives, served with fried plantains, in a tomato-based sauce, alongside some rice (though I do believe it was supposed to be sweet potatoes according to the menu) and corn on the cob which had lime juice and some chile sprinkled on it (delicious). The flavors in this dish were powerful and well-matched to each other. I think it’s unusual to find the saltier olives and peppers with the sweeter plantains, but this was a great success!
One friend ordered the salmon with sundried tomatoes, lime, cilantro, and scallions, served with whipped sweet potatoes that had a hint of coconut in them from coconut milk (ingenious!) and corn on the cob.
Another friend had a filet mignon, cooked to absolute perfection, in a dark brown sauce, and here’s where my vocabulary will really fail me. The sauce was similar to what I think of as a mole, but I don’t believe that’s what it was called on the menu. The filet was served with rice, corn on the cob, guacamole, pureed refried beans, and tortillas.
I have one friend who makes it a habit of ordering a couple of appetizers rather than an entrée, following the trend of many restaurant-goers these days (see the recent New York Times article here). She had a crepe filled with “Mexican mushrooms” and guacamole topped with cheese and a salad with strips of cactus served on a trio of little tortillas. Both of these were extremely flavorful and generous portions for appetizers.
For dessert we had one of their tres leches choices, this one was a chocolate and Amaretto version served swirled with fresh whipped crème and strawberries, parfait style. We also tried a custard with Grand Marnier topped with caramel and fresh fruit. Where many restaurants seem to fall down on the dessert offerings, Las Bugambilias definitely did not. These two options were both light and sweet, the perfect ending to a relaxing and satisfying meal, and the other choices on the menu were worth going back for.
Overall, though the restaurant is new on the scene, the food they are bringing out of the kitchen is wonderfully on point and the service, though a bit lagging at some points (I would attribute this to the rush on a Tuesday night) was both friendly and helpful. I would highly recommend this place to anyone looking for a night out on the town with a bit of Mexican flare, you’ll find it in spades at Las Bugambilias!