Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Lobo Rey Brings Flavorful Food and Vibe to the Sloop

Lobo Rey has garnered a lot of attention from this here blog and rightfully so.  It took over a prominent spot on South Wabash and was being led by the crew behind The Scout - one of the Sloop's more popular restaurant/bars.  Additionally, they had a well respected chef who was bringing a unique concept of hibachi style Mexican to the hood.

Unfortunately for that chef, Daniel Esponoza, it wasn't meant to be at Lobo Rey as he left in December - a short stint that lasted less than four months.  We've heard that it was a function of creative control of the menu - namely Esponoza wanting a more creative menu vs. ownership wanting something that catered to the neighborhoods more modest desires.

Despite this surprising change in the kitchen, Lobo Rey seems well positioned for the future.  We recently had our first visit and overall had a good experience.  If you've eaten at Zapatista, the previous tenant which closed in 2015, the cavernous layout likely looks familiar.  However, you'll notice a much trendier, airy and updated feel.  Gone are the "rooms" that made the space feel intimate.  Instead you will find more open space:

On the Saturday night we were there, it certainly wasn't crowded, but still felt like the restaurant had a solid energy.  The one other thing that was noticeably different was that there are two bars areas.  One on the south side of the restaurant (where Zapatista had their bar) and an island bar (which you can see on the left side of our panorama pic above).  In the back there is the much ballyhooed about hibachi style grills.  On the night we were there, it appeared there was a private party so we didn't get a chance to check it out, but hope to soon.

Moving on to the most important thing - the food and drinks.  The menu was a single page and seemed like it could have been found at a trendier food neighborhood up North or West.  This isn't a knock on the restaurant, but just an observation - it's a fun menu, but not unique to the city (albeit a trendier one than you would typically find in the Sloop).

The table next to us was getting into some Mezcal, but that wasn't the type of night we were getting into - although maybe we should have.  We opted for their signature drinks - a unique version of a Paloma and a Margarita.  Both were fine, but won't have a rushing back for more.  There were some other interesting options, so we'll go that route next time.

Although the drinks didn't really tickle our fancy, the food exceed our expectations.  We ordered some pre-meal guac, which was delicious.  They also had some salsa that had a noticeable kick which we added to each bite of guacamole - yum on that one!

For the main course we did the taco sampler which consisted of 8 total tacos - 2x pork, chicken, steak and mahi mahi:

For us, the tacos were certainly the highlight of our experience.  The presentation was festive and the flavor was bold.  We over ordered for two people, but better to go this route than the alternative.  The steak and mahi mahi were my favorites, while my wife seemed to prefer the pork shoulder.  The chicken was good, but the peppers were beyond hot and frankly overpowered the rest of my bites. 

They also had "foot long" quesadillas which seemed to be a nod to The Scout's similar foot long grilled cheese dishes.  We didn't' check it out, but look to next time.

So what did we learn from our experience?  In the Sloop, Lobo Rey has the most flavorful tacos in the neighborhood!  The vibe is fun and more hip than most other options in the neighborhood.  Compared to other Sloopin taco spots - Flacos Tacos, Spanglish, Mago Grill  and La Cantina - Lobo Rey provides a differentiated "Mexican" approach.  Trendier, more flavorful and a better "going out" experience overall. 

If we had friends coming down who wanted Mexican, we likely would head here.

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