Posted by: Sienna Howarde in: Restaurant Quotes
Anyone who wants to open a restaurant in today’s hyper-competitive market had better seize on a niche, and halfway through my visit to Cuatro Burrito and Taco Bar, I figured out where this spot fits in: This, diners, is where you’ll want to go for inexpensive late-night dining if you’re in the mood for something besides pizza.Who/What?: The new spot resides in what was once-upon-a-time the Kirkwood Corner Café and, more recently, Zen Sushi and Noodle Bar. Sean Wilson, who was recently named Des Moines’ Top Chef in a competition hosted by DSM Magazine, is the chef; he also oversees the kitchen across the hall at the Kirkwood Lounge.
Ambience: Currently, the stark, hard-edged milieu seems a better spot to end a night (when you’re already happy and suddenly hungry), than begin one. Though the spot offers little by way of décor on its mustard- and brick-colored walls, the windows give generous views of Fourth and Walnut streets. Late-night diners will appreciate the oversized booths – they seem tailor-made for piling in with the new BFFs you’ve just met on Court Avenue. The kitchen stays open until 2 a.m. weeknights and 3 a.m. weekends.
Menu: Find tacos, burritos, tortas and quesadillas, along with rice and noodle bowls and a few specialties. While you can fill your tortilla with south-of-the-border standards (carne asada, marinated pork, beans, guacamole, cheese), you can add Asian-fusion touches if you wish. These include Korean short ribs, Kung Pao Chicken, Thai Shrimp, pickled veggies and kim chee (fermented veggies).Food – first impressions: The Kim Chee Fries proved an inventive take on “loaded fries,” with crisp fries mixing it up on the plate with chunks of Korean short-rib beef, cilantro, onions, cheese and – the clincher – a bright and tart kim chee.
While a traditional taco (pork and caramelized onions) wholly satisfied, our fusion choice (fried tilapia, pickled veggies and cilantro-onion relish) brought an energetic, party-in-the-mouth appeal. And our server steered us right in recommending the Cuatro Noodle bowl with the Kung Pao Chicken option; it was a Pad Thai meets Kung Pao Chicken dish that, to my surprise, totally worked.Bottom line: Purists – don’t turn up your nose too soon: This Asian-meets-Italy idea worked for pizza at Fong’s, why shouldn’t an Asia-meets-Mexico concept work for tacos, burritos, et. al. – especially when you’re in the hands of a committed, experienced chef.