POQUITOS (195 Prince Ave., 706-850-8706): Started by the folks behind The Grit and Ted’s Most Best in the former Go Bar, Poquitos is automatically in the position to have to justify its existence to anyone who remembers and misses two out of those three places (and perhaps would rather have them back). In addition, the Athens market is not light on good options for Mexican food, including ones that are pretty darn close to Poquitos.
What it does have is a lovely patio, whether it’s filled with awkward and beloved memories for you personally or not. The atmosphere is lovely, with food coming out speedily after you order at the counter, fun music and an overall feeling of cheerfulness. The food doesn’t always match up, although it does have some highlights. If you were to graph it, it would be a line with some high spikes.
Taquerias habitually charge for chips and salsa, and Poquitos is essentially a taqueria, so that’s no surprise, but the product is a real disappointment. The restaurant says it makes everything fresh in house, but the salsa is in the ballpark of marinara sauce. Better to opt for the two sauces that come to your table in squeeze bottles, one orange and one green, neither of which is especially hot, but both of which have good flavor. Or skip the chips (I know this is heresy to some) and go right to your meal. One of the best things on the menu is an absolutely delicious michelada preparada, made with your choice of Mexican beer and Clamato, served in a glass rimmed with chamoy and Taijin, and topped with a small cup of shrimp, cucumbers and corn nuts. It’s a snack and a drink at the same time, and the flavors are big and fresh and very well executed. Sangria isn’t bad either. If you wanted to treat Poquitos primarily as a low-key drinking destination, there’s grounds to do that.
The restaurant makes its own tortillas and sopes, and both are quite good, soft in texture and in taste. The tacos are fine, but they fall solidly in the middle of what Athens has to offer, which (again) is fairly rich. It’s great that Poquitos has two vegetarian options for toppings/fillings (sauteed mushrooms and zucchini, and a jackfruit version of tinga), but like many of the things on the menu, they tend to have a sweet, light flavor profile, without any low-end oomph. You can also get chicken tinga, carnitas, al pastor, birria and chorizo and potato, listed approximately from worst to best. None is embarrassing. None is a real standout. If you’re watching your salt intake, you could go here and skip the Taijin. Sopes beat out tacos because of the beans, cheese and crema that they add, although you’re either going to get your hands dirty or have a tough time cutting them with a plastic knife and fork in a plastic basket lined with waxed paper. On the shorter specialty menu, it’s nice to see a pambazo (a torta soaked in a gently bitter red sauce), something that’s rarer to find around here but will definitely require some wet wipes and a thorough hand washing. My napkin looked like a murder scene. The quesabirrias are good, with a rich broth. The pozole verde is too light, heaped with shredded lettuce and lacking zing. On the other hand, the tres leches cake, served as a fat, ice-cold slice in a plastic clamshell, is wonderful stuff. It’s not fancy in the slightest, but the cool, juicy cake may remind you of a treat from childhood eaten standing in front of the open refrigerator.
Poquitos is open 11 a.m.–9 p.m. Monday through Friday, until 10 p.m. on Saturday and until 8 p.m. on Sunday.
BADDIE’S BURGERS (1592 S. Lumpkin St., 706-850-8331): Yes, it’s another Joe Nedza project, taking over his former Nedza’s in Five Points right by Mediterranean Grill. Started as a pop-up, it’s now serving its extremely simple menu six days a week. When all you have is burgers (prepared basically one way), fries and banana pudding, your product had better be good. Fortunately, it is. The burgers are smash-style, flattened on the griddle to create a whole bunch of crisp, browned edges, then topped with cheese, caramelized onions, housemade pickles and “Baddie sauce,” which is jazzier than the usual Thousand Island. They’re small and very nicely cooked, staying away from sweet and favoring savory. Fries are good, but not Cafe Racer good, especially dunked in said sauce. I did not try the banana pudding, because bananas are the one thing I do not eat. Order at the counter and take your food to go or eat there. The dining room is relatively busy. The restaurant serves soft drinks only, does online orders for pickup, will cater events and is open Monday through Saturday 11 a.m.–9 p.m.
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