COLORBEARER OF ATHENS, GEORGIA LOCALLY OWNED SINCE 1987
April 4, 2018

Caborita Gives It a Go in Mitchell Bridge Space That Has Housed Many

Grub Notes

Photo Credit: Jessica Silverman

Caborita Cantina and Grill

PARTY TRIANGLES: It is a cliché that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results. That doesn’t have much to do with actual mental stability, but it applies to the restaurant industry fairly well. The space in the Arbor building on Mitchell Bridge Road that most recently housed Kumquat Mae has hosted a slew of restaurants since it was built: a second location of Harry Bissett's, the Iron Grill, Los Coyotes, Four Brothers Sports Tavern and now Caborita Cantina and Grill (1155 Mitchell Bridge Road, 706-850-7300). That’s a lot of restaurants, even by the standards of the industry, which is notorious for quick flame-outs.

Caborita seems like the kind of place that would do well there: full bar, plenty of space, non-threatening Americanized Mexican food, big laminated menu, waitresses who ask if you want “guac.” Maybe it will, and maybe it won’t; proximity tends to be the driving factor in making a decision about which restaurant of its type to choose. It has a lot of ingredients that it needs to succeed, but I’ve thought that before. Generally, the further it gets away from anything actually Mexican, the better it does. Your basic burrito supreme—covered with shredded iceberg lettuce, diced tomatoes, sour cream and sauce—succeeds pretty well. Ditto for the greasy but fairly tasty flautas, stuffed with shredded beef and chicken, and the fajita chicken nachos. The scoop of guacamole atop the latter is too cold to address very successfully with a chicken-and-cheese-laden chip, and the nachos are a mess, but a mess is sort of what you want from nachos.

The kitchen seems to rely on its frier more than it should, and fried yucca as an appetizer is too oily, although the chipotle-ranch dressing that comes in a ramekin for dipping is a totally solid cultural fusion. Sometimes this means dishes come out more slowly than one would expect—especially if one is spoiled by Taqueria La Parrilla, which always emphasizes speed. A chicken tortilla soup, for example, includes strips of freshly fried tortillas but seems delayed because of it. You can order more traditional Mexican-style tacos on corn tortillas (one, not two), dressed with cilantro, chopped onion and lime, but I’m not sure why you would. Some of the fillings are decent—the al pastor, for example—but cornmeal-crusted fried shrimp don’t seem to fit or have much flavor. You can also get a passable torta as a lunch special.

Is anything super exciting? No, but it has fried cheesecake, burgers, a wide array of margaritas, an extensive appetizer section that includes both samosas (described as “crispy small party triangles”) and wings, a lot of tables, live music some evenings and a regular “Taco Thursday” special. It does catering, delivers through Bulldawg Food and is open 11 a.m.–10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m.–11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

CHERRY TREES: Sakura’s original location, on Atlanta Highway, tucked away in the Academy Sports shopping center, has long been a delightful surprise, the general unpromising exterior giving way to a lovely and expensive-looking interior. The same is true of the new location in Five Points (1225 S. Milledge Ave., 706-850-2027), transformed from the former Half Moon Outfitters into a wood-covered, cherry-tree-bedecked space. It’s a very similar situation in that, once you walk in the door, you forget everything outside, and it explains why the construction took a long time.

The menu seems to be exactly the same, split among hibachi—a little more than half the space is devoted to big-hooded hibachi tables—sushi and sashimi, noodle dishes and a few other things. The lunch-special bento boxes aren’t the most exciting, and it’s always disappointing to get salmon in a chef’s-choice selection of raw fish, but generally the offerings are refined and well executed. You will likely leave hungry if all you order is the sashimi lunch (nine pieces of chef-chosen raw fish, soup and salad), but add on the age tofu (a beautifully arranged ziggurat of lightly fried squares of subtle, creamy tofu) and you may be more sated. Sushi is not an easy way to get full for a deal, unless you hit up Utage’s all-you-can-eat special.

As usual, you’ll probably have your best luck sitting at the sushi bar and having a conversation with the chef rather than relying on a faceless order, but the fish is nice and fresh, with the kind of sweetness you should expect. Sakura is open for lunch and dinner every day, but closes in between them on weekdays. On the way out, it offers a bowl of Dum-Dum lollipops to cleanse your palate.

WHAT UP?: Donderos’ Kitchen won the 2018 School Lunch Challenge, meaning its chicken fajitas and roasted sweet potatoes will be added to the Clarke County School District's 2018–2019 menu. Check out photos from the event here. Don’t miss the International Street Festival, featuring food from all over the world, plus cultural displays and performances from UGA and community groups, this Saturday, Apr. 7 on College Square.

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