Tacos Get a Southern Kick at Babalu’s


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Guacamole served tableside

Written by Jan Walsh

Photography by Beau Gustafson

 

Babalu Tacos and Tapas opened in late 2014 in the 29 Seven retail and residential development in Birmingham’s bustling Lakeview District. This Latin-with-a-Southern-accent restaurant is open for lunch and dinner Mondays through Thursdays, plus late nights on the weekends. 

 

The Place 

Located at 2808 Seventh Avenue South, at the corner of 29th Street and Seventh Avenue South, there is a valet in waiting for our dinner tonight, though parking on the street is also an option. The Birmingham location is the third of this Babalu concept, part of the Eat Here Brands, which also include Table 100, Interim Restaurant and Bar, and Five Guys Burgers and Fries. Retractable walls open when weather permits. Inside, episodes of I Love Lucy play on a wall between the two dining spaces and in front of the open kitchen. The ambience is industrial and roughhewn. People don’t wait for food here because there are no heat lamps. So the food comes out as it is cooked. This lends itself to sharing what arrives as it arrives. The restaurant appeals to the younger crowd and families, who enjoy group dining and sharing food and don’t mind close encounters with neighboring tables.

 

The People

Eat Here Brands executives include Bill Latham as president and Al Roberts as managing partner and executive company chef. Chef Eric Bartholomew is the executive chef of the Birmingham location. Prior to Babalu, this Huntsville native was executive chef with a national restaurant chain. And general manager David Soreano has a background with upscale chain restaurants.

 

Favorite Fare 

I am delighted to see hormone-free proteins, homemade sour mix, fresh produce from Heron Hollow, McEwen and Sons’ grits, and fresh seafood on the menu. We start with Babalu’s tasty, seasonal drink, the Roasted Red Pepper Margarita, served in a low ball on the rocks with a salty rim. We pair our cocktails with an appetizer of guacamole, served tableside. Our server makes an enormous bowl of guacamole using Hass avocado, sun-dried tomato, red and green onion, cilantro, and lime juice. For an additional cost, we could have added fresh sliced veggies, bacon, or fresh jalapenos. We nibble on the refreshing guacamole and crisp chips until another round of margaritas arrive.

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Pollo tacos

For our main course, we share pollo (chicken) tacos, carne en palito (steak on a stick), fierce shrimp, crab fritters, and a side of black beans and rice. Three small tacos arrive on fresh, blue corn tortillas filled with a colorful and flavorful array of house-smoked, Joyce Farms dark meat chicken, smoked corn pico de gallo, mole sauce, cotija cheese, and goat cheese crema. Next, a skewer of tender, juicy, bite-sized tenderloins by Aspen Ridge Natural Beef is served atop tasty rostï potatoes, broccolini, grits, and a braising jus and topped with pico de gallo. Our next plate is filled with Gulf shrimp, which are breaded and flash fried and surround a serving of crunchy cilantro slaw. A red chili butter sauce adds heat to the dish and balances the acidity of the slaw. The crab fritters are the favorite dish of the evening followed closely by the comforting bowl of beans and rice. Three enormous golden fritters are bursting with succulent fresh lump crab and a delicious piquillo pepper relish. They are served in a tower with a taste of remoulade swirled on the plate.

For dessert, we have the cayenne chocolate truffles on a bed of chantilly cream, dusted with crushed pepitas. But unless you like it hot, I would recommend the dessert sampler instead, which includes one truffle, along with cheesecake and cinnamon bread pudding to balance the heat.

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