Everyone knows the Princess Street building downtown. It once housed Phun Seafood Bar, where Catch superchef Keith Rhodes rocked out savory noodle bowls and Vietnamese specialties. The storefront has finally been reinvented under the guidance of Dixie Grill’s Brian Mayberry and restaurant pop-up master Chef Jeffrey Porter. I did a little digging into Capricho’s story and learned how, after years of working his way up from dishwasher at a handful of local eateries, it’s hardworking Santos Martinez at the helm of the ship.
Aye aye, Captain. Morale is high!
I had a taste of Capricho several months back when a friend suggested it for a random Taco Tuesday outing. They had recently opened and were still sans alcohol permit. Luckily, we were able to take our tacos to-go right around the corner to Tavern Law where we could get our bubbly fix. Don’t worry, though: Capricho now doles out reasonably priced cervezas (cans for two dolla’ dolla’ bills, yo) for last-minute taco-and-booze emergencies. The restaurant itself is colorful, yet modest: several small tables and a handful of seats at the counter. It’s fitting for snagging a quick lunch or impressing a date with knowledge of where to find the solid hidden eats in town.
Keep in mind, however, Capricho isn’t a standard, oversized, Mexi-American restaurant where an appetizer comes right to the table. Actually, chips and salsa are an add-on to the meal and well worth the extra few bucks. The chips, thick-cut yellow cornmeal triangles, freshly fried and dusted with savory seasoning hooked me immediately. The house salsa was mild, though erupted with acidity of juicy tomatoes, cilantro and sharp chunky bits of white onion. Meanwhile, the guacamole was light, creamy and superbly fresh.
Next up from the antojitos (little cravings) menu were the platanos: fried maduros with mint-agave yogurt. Capricho slices their golden plantains into thick diagonal wedges, and the heartier centers of the plantains have a soft, chewy interior while the outer edges (particularly when dipped into the tangy, slightly sweetened yogurt dip) are crisp and boast a hint of sweet and savory.
From fluffy to crunchy came the earth-shatteringly perfect chicharrones. I hate to admit, but pork rinds aren’t something I typically go out of my way for. I appreciate chefs putting an elegant spin on an ingredient most people are used to eating out of a plastic bag, but they rarely make their way onto my table. Since Capricho was out of the one dish I heard so much praise over (Mexican street corn), chicharrones made a stand-in. One bite of a puffy fried curl led me to becoming a believer. The fragrant, crackly skin is perfumed with Mexican oregano with a robust flavor. With a pop and crunch, the salty, fatty rind was gone. And I was onto the next one. Addiction at its finest.
The only item that didn’t seem to align with the rest was the veggie tamale (a chalkboard special). I’m going to blame the to-go box for this one. The tamale (out of its protective corn husk casing) didn’t make it home in one piece. Flavor-wise, it was also the least impressive. The masa shell was so thick, it overwhelmed the delicate veggies inside. Seeing as the majority of the Mexican meal was authentic and tempting, I would give the dish an in-house do-over with no questions asked.
Now, let’s talk tacos.
Between the thin, delicately charred, handmade corn tortillas and generously plump fillings, nearly every taco here was a hit. I started with the carnitas: a blend of mojo pork, salsa verde, fried onions, radishes, and cojita. The meat had a perfect mix of textures; big chunks were juicy and thin wispy shreds had a gentle crunch. The tangy tomatillo salsa was an ideal partner for the fatty pork. The fried onions offered a garlic note, and the cojita’s saltiness brought together every ingredient.
For a lovely, simple spin on fish tacos, the Veracruz scored a win. Thin filets of well-seasoned grouper were tucked between crispy cabbage, pickled red onions, radish, cilantro, and lime sour cream. The refreshing combo just needed a squeeze from the fresh lime placed beside it and a few dashes of hot sauce to make it a home run.
Just for shits and giggles, I ordered the soft shell street tacos. I’m almost embarrassed to say, out of a kitchen serving up such authentic Mexican street food, I couldn’t help but bury my entire face into these Americanized beef tacos. Served on a flour tortilla, the handheld was stuffed with ground beef, lettuce, cheddar-Jack and salsa. Sounds like something from a chain restaurant, right? Wrong. The ground beef had so many fabulous, complex spices running through it that, when combined with the chewy tortilla, crunchy lettuce shreds, and bright salsa, it tasted like a really good version of something my mouth found surprisingly familiar.
My only quarrel came with the chicken quesadilla: The bottom was clearly a bit burnt. But I don’t have a doubt if I had seen it in person and sent it back, the friendly young woman at the front would have remedied the problem without a second thought. The corn, pepper-and-chicken-packed quesadilla was just as flavorful and delicious as everything else, and the “circle what you want” paper menu made customizing my order a breeze.
I was a big fan of Phun (try saying that five times) and was worried that after all this time, a new restaurant stepping foot into its giant shoes might fall short. But so far, Capricho is towering over the downtown taco scene and I’m all giddy with guacamole and glee.