DINER | Mexi-Cali “Gringo” Set To Open Softly This Friday In Gastown’s Blood Alley
by Andrew Morrison | As Michelle mentioned in yesterday’s Scout List, a new restaurant is opening very soon in the heart of Gastown. We first broke the news about Gringo last month when it was announced that Sean Heather had sold his Judas Goat eatery in Blood Alley to a former employee, Shoel Davidson, and industry lifer Christina Cottell. I recently met up with them for a tour of their tiny, 28 seat Mexi-Cali joint. The paint was still wet on the chairs so it was hard to navigate, but from any vantage point it was pretty unrecognizable from what it used to be. The upside is that what was formerly the kitchen pass is now a bar top. The downside is the loss of one of my favourite pieces of local restaurant art, the Judas Goat mural by Robert Chaplin, the story and pictures of which I’ve included below for posterity…
Anyway, more tacos and Micheladas are coming to Gastown, so that’s a net gain. I’ve seen Karl Gregg’s menu – done in garish hot pink (like the neon “Gringo” sign that will replace Chaplin’s work) – and it’s a tidy soliloquy on the absence of gas burners and deep fryers. The corn tortillas will see either chimichurri-tossed shrimp, blackened cajun chicken with Ranch, your mama’s “taco” seasoned ground chuck, chili and vinegar braised pork, and a veggie option – so not exactly the authentic al pastors and longanizas that some taco fetishists might have been hoping for. But that’s the point of a Mexi-Cali restaurant. It’s not supposed to be what you find street-side in Querétaro or Guanajuato, but rather the stuff that sells in the strip mall across the street from the Walmart in suburban Sacramento. Accordingly, one can expect single servings of “Stadium Nachos”, mexi-dogs, mexi-rice, bar rail Long Island Iced Teas, and so on. If you want to eyeball the complete menu, have at it here.
It’s pretty cheap, unthreatening stuff, so I don’t expect they’ll go wanting for customers at lunch or dinner, which might prove a bit tricky considering how hamstrung the kitchen might get at capacity with some turnover (open until 2am on Friday and Saturday). Like Judas Goat before it, the concept seems like a buy-in to the notion that most visitors to Gastown check out more than one place during the course of an evening, and it’s clear that Gringo isn’t aiming to be the number 1 draw. Rather, I suspect they’ll see lots of people popping in and out prior/post hockey games, before and after suppers elsewhere, or simply for a quickie bite and a margarita after a shift (I trust they’ll see a brisk late night industry trade). They seem to bask in their limitations, even listing their tequila options as “crap” and “ok”. Such a lack of pretension is refreshing (even in a taco shack), which is to say that it won’t be hard to exceed people’s low expectations. It sounds fun to me.
The soft opening is this Friday night [UPDATE: opening delayed until Tuesday]. Bonus: six seat patio in Blood Alley.