Mucho Mouthful 

Food Review: Boka Kantina just can’t stop feeding Richmond.

click to enlarge Boneless braised short ribs and butternut squash hash make a tasty taco at Boka Kantina, the brick and mortar version of the popular food truck. - SCOTT ELMQUIST
  • Scott Elmquist
  • Boneless braised short ribs and butternut squash hash make a tasty taco at Boka Kantina, the brick and mortar version of the popular food truck.

It isn't really a taco. Spelled phonetically — tako — it's more of an elaborately constructed stunt on a doubled-up corn tortilla. More traditional tacos might have meat, cilantro and perhaps some onion. But at Boka Kantina, the new brick and mortar spot of Patrick Harris — the man behind the Boka Tako trucks and Grate Pizza — traditional isn't part of his loony but tasty vocabulary.

It feels like a regular taco joint with chipper yellow walls and black-and-white tile floors. A laminated menu runs through the exhausting grab bag of food, sauces and genres: pasta, pizza and tacos, described loosely as Asian-American-Mexican fusion. And if that isn't enough for the taste buds, an everlasting-gaunt-stopper burrito ($12) boasts all of those flavors packed together.

Fusion pick-your-own tacos (one for $4 and three for $10) are the great constant on my visits. Each takes on the nationality of your choice with the meat you choose. Ordering the crazy takes a provided instruction page. Consuming the crazy is just fun. The Asian pork taco is excellent with crispy pork, a zippy kimchi, a few white and black sesame seeds and herbs. It's also exceedingly messy, covered in an exorbitant amount of an in-your-face sesame aioli. A fork definitely is necessary.

The chicken Mexican is a little on the dry side but is significantly perked up by habanero-lime vinaigrette and chipotle crema. American beef is decent with caramelized onions but pales when compared with the well-combined flavor profiles of the other two. A shrimp and grits premium taco ($5) is an odd surprise. A big portion of shrimp and rich grits is improved by bacon and sharp white cheddar that add creaminess to the grits. All of this Southern-inspired food is piled high on a corn tortilla, weird but somehow comfortable. An appetizer of crab rangoon flautas ($8) is smart and well prepared. A bit more cheesy than crabby, in fat, crisp shells resembling chimichangas, they're light and complemented with a sweet, ginger-forward soy-dipping sauce. Bacon and onion empanadas, a special, are divine. Crumbly and piping hot, they're close to bursting at the seams. The pepperoni and mozzarella empanada is flaky and leaning toward sweet. Boka mac and cheese ($6 for a half-bowl, $12 for full) overwhelms — the six-cheese-covered penne is blended with bacon, mushrooms, sherry, caramelized onion and herbs. It's almost too rich and too much — almost. It absolutely should be shared.

Beer is available — and apparently in mass quantities. Taps aren't visible but mentioned, and a blackboard-covered wall names at least two dozen other selections. The décor is average, with books and beer bottles on white shelves, and seemingly too much happening in too many places. Each visit, the place is packed when open, but make sure you call first. Hours seem to be variable but there are intentions to expand into the adjacent space and open on Sundays.

In such a tiny dining room, most of the service issues could be avoided. On one visit, servers spend time chatting with each other instead of with the patrons, almost as if they're still in the truck format as opposed to a room with tables and chairs. Another time, the wait for food borders on too long primarily because of this same socializing. Once this kink is ironed out, this won't be just the place to get authentic tacos. It will be the place to get good beer and great tacos. S

Boka Kantina
1412 Starling Drive
Monday-Thursday 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Friday and Saturday 11 a.m.-10 p.m.


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