Wayyyyyyy back, five whole months ago, when Cielo Rojo opened, I had spent months stalking them online and waiting for their grand opening. I called and asked for a reservation. “Um. We’re a fast casual* restaurant,” said the clearly annoyed hostess on the other end. So I deleted Cielo Rojo from my to-eat list, never to be thought of again. Kind of. Not really. But I’m here to tell you, I was wrong. SO WRONG.
.Fast casual is a misnomer. Casual, okay. But outside of the prix fixe staples, name a place you can’t get away with wearing shorts. Fast? Kinda, I guess. You order at the counter and then they bring the food to your table. It’s also pricier than your typical counter-service place. I don’t really get it. Royal does the same thing, and it’s a nuisance. If you’re going to pay people to deliver the food to my table, and you have a host manning the door to seat people efficiently, and there are people paid to bus the tables, why have your customers order at the counter? It turns out, though, that there’s a loophole and that loophole is sitting at the bar. So that’s what we did.
I ordered the paloma on the left, my husband had the basil-jalapeño margarita on the right, both ordered with mezcal. They were serious–dangerously serious–and also dangerously refreshing. I had to use a lot of willpower to prevent myself from downing the entire thing. The margarita, maybe at the fault of mezcal, didn’t have much of a basil flavor, but I can’t be mad.
My husband ordered three tacos–chicken tinga, chicken mole, and the drunken mushroom.
Tinga: lightly spiced, tender shredded meat, and perfect with one of the house sauces. Mole: Heinously rich, smoky, and cocoa-y. Definitely a must-eat. Mushroom: Take it or leave it. I like mushrooms so it was fine. It didn’t have the liquor-y bite that I was promised. If you didn’t notice the beautiful house-made tortillas, you should. They are sturdy enough to only require one per taco, but still thin enough to act as a mere vehicle for the delicious goodies inside.
The real treat of the evening was the cochinita pibil. I walked into Cielo Rojo believing that I was going to order a salad with some chicken on top and be sooooo healthy. No, cochinita pibil is life, and this was no exception. It was dripping with flavorful, oily chile sauce and packed with flavor. The pinto beans were well-seasoned. The guac is fresh. And it came with three more of those beautiful tortillas.
We were on a roll. And being at the bar allowed us to see the enormous pieces of tres leches cake that were pouring out of the kitchen. Plus I know I’ve mentioned my number one rule of life here before, but it bears repeating. Where there is tres leches, thou shalt order tres leches.
This looks like the tres leches cake I make at home–sopping wet on the bottom, thick layer of whipped cream on top. People, if a tres leches doesn’t look like this, it’s wrong. I’ll be honest, my ultra-moist, ultra-spongy homemade tres leches is marginally better than this one, but I appreciated the effort and it paired well with the real dessert…
You forfeit the right to call yourself “fast casual” if you offer mezcal flights. We ordered the Derrumbes flight and received generous pours of each of the three. My favorite was the cheapest one, my husband liked the most expensive one best, a fact that he is a little too proud of.
*Turns out I misunderstood and they actually call themselves “fine casual.” I don’t know what that means but it’s at least accurate. I still think they should just have regular table service.
Price: $50 per person for a really good time; $35 per person for a normal good time.