Some say that most of America’s cultural trends begin on the West Coast and sweep east, eventually catching us up to the latest coolness. Such was the modern premium food-truck movement that originated circa 2008 in Los Angeles. Richmond has chef Patrick Harris to thank for ushering it into the new age when he rolled out his Boka Tako truck two years later.
Boka Tako likes to say it makes food for our “mouf” — and it comes in a variety of iterations — truck, bar and restaurant. We set out for Harris’ 2015 venture on the South Side, Boka Grill & Growlers. You could have a tough time finding it, tucked behind the Aldi and beside the Lowe’s in the shopping center off Sheila Lane and Forest Hill Avenue.
We’re seated in a booth right away, with the small eatery about half full of couples and families at tables on both sides of the divided space. The casual decor is mostly brown — chairs, booths, walls, tile — with a few distinctive wall sculptures made of shiny metal and chalkboards featuring specials. Atmosphere may not be a strong point, but other aspects of the experience make up for it.
For one, service. Our drink orders are taken pronto and delivered quickly while we peruse our options. The server is cheery and enthusiastic, offering tidbits of information about items we’re considering — the shrimp and grits taco was voted best in the city, she proudly tells us.
The menu features lots of choices and combinations, providing a challenge for the indecisive, but enough variety to keep a whole family happy. Special to this entry in the Boka lineup is the grill’s craft beer and house-made beverage selection — we end a hot summer day with a Bold Rock pear draft from an extensive row of taps and a strawberry lemonade.
Boka’s make-your-own signature tacos are on the menu, and the selection of special house tacos lets Harris’ talent shine as he presents five equally interesting options. For those seeking slightly more, there are burritos and bowls, also varied and friendly to the gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan and paleo crowd. And, as if to say, “Folks, we’ve got it all,” there’s also a category full of burgers and sandwiches. Everything is priced $12 or less.
We choose to start dinner by sharing an appetizer of the night’s special empanadas. As crispy cousins of the Asian dumpling, these Latin American delicacies are steaming hot and stuffed with wild boar accompanied by chutney, Amish mustard and cilantro. They’re the perfect savory start to the rest of our meal.
We order an array of Boka’s premium tacos: The shrimp and grits are worthy of the server’s accolades and loaded with tasty bacon and cheddar. There’s the grilled fish, which our server explains is swai, an Asian alternative to American catfish with similar mild taste. And a taco dubbed “market fresh” is a veggie option featuring fresh zucchini on this night. Drizzled with sweet aoli and topped with cilantro, all are deliciously satisfying.
But entrees are this Boka’s focus. We dive into a bowl — the Tijuana chicken tinga. More exotic than bowls served by ubiquitous franchises, this one is traditionally Mexican — slightly spicy shredded chicken, plus guacamole, black beans and cheddar, all dressed with a bonus of avocado ranch. The components are a warm and gooey mash-up, sized generously enough to provide for the next day’s lunch.
True to its promise of fusion flavors, Boka Grill & Growlers delivers on nearly every front. The only exception is the lemon and ginger crème brûlée, which sounds too tempting to pass up but isn’t the velvety smooth delight that we expect. But it won’t keep us from returning to Boka at any of its locations, because we still need to try the honey truffle tater tots. And the spicy Baja shrimp. And a growler to go. S
Boka Grill & Growlers
Mondays-Thursdays 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sundays 10 a.m.-8 p.m.
2557 Sheila Lane
Style is re-reviewing restaurants that former food critic Elliott Shaffner wrote during 2014-2015.