By now you’ve probably heard of Bracero Cocina de Raíz in Little Italy. Helmed by Mexican superstar chef Javier Plascencia, the eatery has been a buzzed about in foodie circles since before it opened. Along with winning numerous awards and titles, Chef Plascencia has been featured in The New York Times, The New Yorker and appeared on ABC’s The Taste as a guest mentor alongside renowned chefs Anthony Bourdain, Marcus Samuelsson, Nigella Lawson and Ludo Lefebvre. Clearly, our expectations were already high when we ventured over to the newly-opened restaurant a few weeks ago.
This summer, the establishment started welcoming patrons into its 4,800-square-foot, two-level space boasting indoor and outdoor seating. The rustic yet modern design aesthetic pays tribute to the braceros that helped shape California’s agricultural landscape in the 1940s-1960s. Hanging from the center of the venue is Tijuana artist Daniel Ruanova’s “The Mexican Labor Agreement” sculpture which is encased by glass and can be seen on both levels.
From the moment you walk in, you’re met with really stunning design elements and yet, a very home-away-from home feel. Even on a Sunday night, the place was busy with patrons, a sign of any good eatery. Plascencia’s Baja-inspired menu is filled with seafood, a crudo bar, and a bevy of classic Mexican dishes (with a twist). While there are larger entrée items available, to really get a taste of his creations, consider sharing a number of dishes since many are served tapas style.
To begin, we chose the Albacore Two Ways and Baja Hiramasa Crudo. The former dish features slightly seared tuna as well as a tartare version paired with crispy eggplant, burnt onion crème fraiche and jalapeño ponzu. The combination works well together (although maybe a tad on the salty side) and is definitely a dish we’d order again. The Baja Hiramasa Crudo is also a nice starter made with coconut aguachile, tomatillo, cured pineapple, avocado, chiltepín and serrano. The pineapple is an added bonus here and really brings the whole thing together.
We eventually moved onto the Wood Grilled Octopus with meyer lemon, olives, crispy garbanzo, yuzu roasted peanuts and jalapeño. Being a lover of all things seafood, this was my favorite dish of the night. Resting on black bean and squid ink sauce, the tender entrée was full of flavor, had great texture and was beautifully plated. Possibly our least preferred dish was the Shrimp & Bone Marrow Sopes, which were good, but not incredibly memorable.
Bracero offers Happy Hour Monday to Friday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. which includes $3 street tacos, ceviche and house guacamole. The restaurant is home to 12 San Diego and Baja craft beers as well as handpicked wines by Sommelier J.M. Woody van Horn. While not on the happy hour menu, the Chilaquiles Rojos would definitely pair well with a good glass of wine or cocktail at the end of the day. Topped with a Suzie’s Farm fried egg and dressed in Taj Farm crema, chipotle seasonings, avocado and pickled red onion, they will definitely hit the spot after a long day at work.
So did it live up to the hype? It did. But not just because of its food selections. Its warm ambiance, lively mood and unique dishes all played their part to enhance the evening. It’s no wonder that after under six months of its opening, it’s already one of San Diego’s best restaurants.