Monday, July 20, 2009

Boca Fiesta

Boca Fiesta is a new Mexican restaurant located in the Sun Center, where the Pontiac used to be. The name translates literally to "Mouth Party," which you have to admit is pretty awesome. It recently opened and is the endeavor of a member of local band Against Me!


The owners of Boca Fiesta did a great job decorating the locale. The interior is warm, welcoming and comfortable. The decor is simple, but gives you a sense of what a great local-favorite restaurant on the Texan-Mexican border might look like. Even the menu design draws some interest as it has hand-drawn dinosaurs carrying giant tacos and drinking sodas.


The service is a matter of contention. They seem to organize their service the same way Satchel's does. That is, servers don't have assigned tables. They just walk around and take care of whoever seems to need a drink or looks ready to order. This method can work, but it has to be done right. Alex and I have visited Boca Fiesta 2 or 3 times. So far, we've had so-so service. On our first visit it took quite a long time to get our food. Maybe 30-40 minutes after we had received our drinks. Since then, their timing has improved. One thing the managers at Boca Fiesta need to work on is the friendliness of their staff. Some of them act aloof, as if you just happened to drop in on a friend's dinner party without being invited. If they happen to walk by they'll take your orders, but they won't be particularly happy about it. Sure, they say the typical "how are you" or "how was your food," but it's said is if read from a que card, with blank or irritated expressions. Of the times we've been there, only one server has been very nice and professional.

Unfortunately, I've been told horror stories about their late night service. Alex and I haven't gone later than 10:30 or so, but a few close friends of ours went later. From what I've heard, Boca Fiesta gets rid of their servers and cooks after a certain hour. At that point, the people taking orders, serving, AND cooking are just runners, which I find unnerving. My friends' runner accidentally gave one of their tacos to someone else at the table, who ate it thinking it was a part of their own meal. Once they realized someone was missing a taco, the runner brought another out, but instead of just apologizing and chalking it up to a dumb mistake, they charged them for both tacos! When they asked for one to be taken off their tab since it was given to someone else, the runner simply said "well, SOMEONE ate it." Ridiculous! So you got to keep a few bucks for the taco, but you lost a customer for good and a large portion of your tip, if not all. If I were the owners/managers of Boca Fiesta, I'd put a stop to this immediately and just keep your servers on for a few extra hours (and teach them to fake a smile).


While the Boca Fiesta menu doesn't have a ton of options, what they've chosen to include is interesting and original. As far as entrees go, there is only the burrito option or the taco option, but they have a decent variety of meats and meat substitutes to put in. You can choose from the usual, like steak or chicken, or you can be more adventurous and ask for gator meat or their TVP (texturized vegetable protein) chorizo. There is also a taco salad and something called a pizzadilla, which frightens me.


Boca Fiesta actually has a broad selection of beer! This was a great surprise. They have Blue Moon, Abita TurboDog, and plenty of others to choose from in varying price ranges. They also serve a delicious margarita sweetened with agave nectar and served on the rocks, and a refreshing, freshly squeezed limeade! The food is delicious and filling. The TVP chorizo is flavorful, and a steak burrito with Jalapeno Heat Wave sauce is always a great choice. One of their appetizers, the table-side guacamole, is one of the best guacamoles I've had. Honestly, it is second only to the fresh guacamole I had in Cozumel. Not enough restaurants do table-side presentations, and fresh guac is a simple way to make the customer feel special.


While all the food tastes fresh and delicious, I do think the guacamole is too expensive. Six dollars is enough to make 4 times as much guac as you get. You do get free chips and salsa that are crispy and well-seasoned, so you can skip the app altogether. I also think they should work on the pricing for their specials. Specials are supposed to be an out-of-the-ordinary option at a great price. They recently had a special that was a kangaroo taco, which really intrigued me, but a single taco is not worth $5 in Gainesville, no matter what it's made of. Still, you can get out of there for relatively cheap. One burrito or 2 tacos will run you $8-9, including 2 sides. Sadly, their side choices are limited to rice and beans, corn on the cob, or a salad. Their lunch special is a great deal- 2 tacos, a side and a soda for $6.


Boca Fiesta is a great addition to Gainesville dining. If they can sort out their service and late night issues, I think they'll do well and capture a lot more loyal local business. Overall, I would give them a 6. If they train their servers/runners a little better for consistent service, I'd bump it up to an 8. It's that good. Try it out!