Every Thursday night I have dinner with one of my best friends from college. We started this tradition when we graduated in May 2006. In those early years, we'd pick up take out and watch "Grey's Anatomy," but as we've gotten older, we love using our weekly catch up to try new restaurants.
Back in June 2016 we had dinner at one of Brighton's new additions, Article 24. We were super excited to have a great new spot in the neighborhood, especially since the restaurant is located at the half way mark between our two houses.
A few weeks ago, Article 24 announced on their Facebook page that they had transformed the basement into a Mexican concept called Bandita. My Thursday night date immediately sent me the post with a note that said "For dinner this week?"
Article 24 does take reservations, including tables at Bandita. We arrived and the hostess walked us right downstairs. The signage as you descend has a Dia de los Muertos vibe.
I love the look of the redesigned space. It reminds me of the sultry vibe at Lolita in Back Bay.
The far wall is lined with a caramel leather, tufted banquette. Each table has a red candle holder in the center, providing a warm glow and romantic ambiance. This is definitely a great date spot, in fact, we were seated next to two people on a first date (yes, we were eavesdropping).
The Bandita menu is small and simple. It's two pages - cocktails on the left, food on the right.
We began with two of the signature drinks - the Pepino (on the left) and the Señor Rojo (on the right). The libations come in glassware with the shape and texture of a pineapple, which will have you feeling like you're on a tropical getaway in no time!
The Pepino is Don Julio Blanco, elderflower, lime, basil, cucumber and mint. After a few sips my friend shared, "This drink is super refreshing. I really like the combination of the elderflower and the cucumber. A lot of tequila-based drinks can be sour, but this wasn't at all." The Señor Rojo is named for the restaurant's manager, who has red hair and a red beard. The drink is tequila, ginger liqueur, lime, strawberry, rosemary and rhubarb simple syrup. I really loved the taste of the ginger and the lime. If you like Moscow Mules, this is your drink.
To begin, we decided to share two appetizers - the rice and bean bowl and the queso fundito (if you can resist queso, I salute you).
The rice and bean bowl is topped with guacamole, pico de gallo and sour cream. You can also add chicken, steak or lobster. Our waitress was kind enough to let us know the beans in this dish are cooked with pork and said it wouldn't be a problem at all to serve the beans on the side. Bandita is definitely a vegetarian-friendly place!
This is a delicious dish. The rice is cooked perfectly and is an excellent vehicle for all the classic Mexican toppings. The pico de gallo is fresh as can be. The tomatoes and red onion really shine. The bowl is great for sharing. If you topped it with a protein, you could absolutely make this your entree.
The queso is 100 percent real cheese, served bubbling hot in a rectangular, cast iron skillet. There is no artificial, orange goop from a jar here. This is the real deal.
My friend commented, "This dish isn't fussy at all. It's just real cheese, served at the perfect, piping hot temperature."
The queso comes with a generous basket of salty corn chips. I hate when you order queso or guacamole and have to ask for more chips when you're only one third of the way through the dip. Bandita totally gets the chip to dip ratio.
For the main course, Bandita offers a list of eight specialties that can be made as either a taco or a quesadilla. Love the crunch of a hard taco shell? No problem. Prefer the soft texture of a tortillas? You got it.
My dinner date ordered the Baja fish taco which was piled high with lightly battered fish, guacamole, pico de gallo, pickled cabbage and spicy mayo.
Half way through she commented, "This fish is really light and crispy. The kick from the mayo is great. I appreciate that it's all resting on not one, but two, crunchy taco shells. I know none of these goodies are going to fall out!"
I decided on the papas (potato) quesadilla. It came with four triangles, packed with cubed potatoes, corn salsa, avocado and spicy mayo.
This tasted like a potato latke stuffed inside a quesadilla, especially if you took a bite topped with sour cream. Why have I never thought of this mash up? Portion-wise, this quesadilla is way too much for one person. If you shared it and each had two triangles, that would be more than enough.
Now, at this point, we probably should have called it quits, but we found out they have dessert (which was not on the dinner menu). Of the three choices our waitress rattled off, the one that appealed most was the waffle ice cream sandwich. On the night we went, we could choose vanilla or pumpkin spice latte ice cream for our filling. Of course we went with the pumpkin.
While the ice cream was super creamy and had the PSL flavor you know and the love, the waffle left a lot to be desired. It lacked the crunch of an expertly toasted waffle. My friend said, "I hate to say this, but it tastes like a defrosted Eggo."
When we had dinner at Article 24 we were also underwhelmed by the dessert. When it comes to either of these spots, save your calories for a second round of cocktails.
Overall, Bandita is a winner. The cocktails are festive and refreshing, the queso is to die for and all the taco / quesadilla choices are fantastic (we saw many other varieties at neighboring tables).