la urbana – atlanta, ga

urbana

***author’s note:  since our visit last fall that prompted this post, la urbana has unfortunately closed its doors.  do read on, though, to hear about how we enjoyed this local joint.

we brought nrw back this week and took it to the westside of town at la urbana, a spot that came highly recommended from my coworker batkinson.  now, i already have my favorite mexican place in town at bone garden cantina, so i was looking to be impressed.

la urbana opened in march of this year, and considering their peripheric location, i’m sure they were thrilled to have nine people come in for dinner.  their spot took over some pizza joint that used to be there a couple years back, and they’ve certainly made it their own.  the large space isn’t too crammed with tables and chairs, and i think we were all comfortable at our tables that were pushed together.

we were warmly greeted by our waitress as she dropped off menus and welcomed us and thanked us for coming in that night.  it’d already been a long week for most, and considering that adex was a couple of drinks in ahead of us, we all had some catching up to do.

at la urbana they’ve got a high-quality tequila menu while also boasting several mezcal creations.  we placed our orders for some spirits, and after deciding on the negroni blanco, i started wondering what the heck mezcal even is.  according to wikipedia, mezcal is “a distilled alcoholic beverage made from the maguey plant (a form of agave).”  well, that seems like a pretty simple explanation.  oaxaca, mexico could be considered a mezcal capital, which is where most of the stuff is made by small-scale producers.  heck, they even sponsor the international mezcal festival in their capital city!

mezcal is typically served on its own, without any cocktail mixers or flairs of garnishment.  well, i’d say that’s completely accurate, because when mine arrived, it was in a squatty tumbler with an abnormally large cube of ice and nothing more.  the negroni blanco, a drink of la purtita verdad mezcal, breckenridge bitters, m&r bianco, and lemon oils was potent and strong;  i could smell the stuff even before it was placed in front of me.  i took one swig and knew that a couple rounds of it would certainly put hair on my chest, and considering i’m a lady, that outcome certainly is not something i would want at all.  it was a sipping drink that lasted me the whole meal, and after the cube watered it down a touch, it went down smoothly.

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as i sat nursing my mezcal, i noticed clark was sipping something out of a ramekin, which i assumed to be a personal bit of salsa.  it struck me as a little strange, and when i asked him what he was drinking, turner chimed in to mention that it was a sampling of the jugo de carne.  ooh, a little bit of soup to start?  i just had to say yes!  the seasoned beef juice with cilantro, fresh onions, and lime was so warm and flavorful and perfectly salted that i could have had a whole bowl of it for dinner and probably been quite happy.

mm, soup!

mm, soup!

a few of the ladies at the table had the el clasico margarita, which seems like one of those drinks that cannot be a bad choice at a mexican restaurant, right?  well, the reviews were a tad mixed from the crowd.  kari felt it needed something, perhaps a little more lime?  adex loved the drink and all its salt, and turner felt the same way.  oh, and did i mention that this one is wonderfully strong?  a few of ’em and you’d be on the floor!

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clark was ready to kick back and relax also, so he went with the oaxacan sling, a very beachy choice that was thick like a juice.  the presentation was great, especially with a pineapple spear, and after having a taste myself, i concluded that it would be even better if served in a coconut, on the beach, under an umbrella…ah, that would be divine!

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since it was gregory’s last night in atlanta before returning to chicago, he did not hesitate in splurging.  he started with the spicy margarita, and after urging me to try it myself, i was convinced that it might actually be one of the better selections on the menu.  the spice isn’t overwhelming and is more present at the end of a sip.  it actually reminded me of a bloody mary, and considering i’m not the biggest bloody mary fan and that i really liked this drink, well, that’s something!

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appetizers, as always, were in order for our group, so we went with an order of guacamole and an order of queso.  the guacamole con chicharron de queso really was just wonderful with the housemade chime churri.  the tomatoes, onions, and avocados were very fresh and crisp and chilled and made for some of the best guacamole i’ve personally ever had.

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fried cheese chyyppsss.

queso is always a good starter choice, and the queso fundido with chorizo rose to the occasion.  that little skillet may not have looked like much, but its bubbling and cheesy goodness had us all reaching to grab a chip.  the cheese was sharp and biting, and the generous amount of chorizo was spicy-flavor, not spicy-hot, if you know what i mean.  kari was so crazy about it that she was peeling off the bottom crusty layer of cheese with her fork.  no shame, my dear!

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a few folks around the table ordered plates of the serranos con tocino, a dish that had come highly suggested by batkinson.  i mean, don’t bacon-wrapped serrano peppers stuffed with queso fresco and served with avocado habanero dipping salsa sound hard to pass up?  we thought so, too.  as the waitress set ours down in front of me, i commented, “oh, these look intense,” to which she responded “they’re fun!”  well, then, i just need to try one right now!  gregory took his, and then nathan did, too, and i picked one from the bunch and had a bite and, after finishing it, thought my face was going to melt off onto the table.  they were definitely spicy as you would expect them to be, so i do not know why i was caught off guard.  if i have anything to say besides it being spicy, i’d comment that the bacon could have been a little crispier; it was a little too chewy for my liking.

kyle and gregory both really loved these starters, and they were especially fond of the avocado habanero dipping sauce.  there were generous stuffings of cheese in each of those little guys, a welcome idea according to us all.

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our dinners arrived just as we were finishing up the appetizers, and everyone’s meals looked great, and i mean it.  it didn’t seem there was a bad order by anyone at the table.  we’ll start to my right with kari, who went with the crepas de pollo, a dish i was actually considering having myself.  i mean, it’s pretty hard to say no to chicken filled crepes | salsa verde | queso oaxaca au gratin | parsley.  these crepes were light and flavorful, cheesy and heated, and everyone who tried it themselves wish they had ordered it.  good call, kari!

okay, very quickly i would like to pause here and say that photographing the food at la urbana was a lot of fun.  it’s colorful and bright and contrasting, which has made for great pictures, don’t you think?  let me also say that a lot of restaurants are now using the vertical bar | to separate the ingredients when describing a dish.  i think it’s very hip | i like it a lot.  hehe, i can be hip, too!

kyle had a small feast at the head of the table, with his serrano peppers and pastor tacos.  he raved that the pastor tacos were “solid” and could have been easily messed up by an inexperienced chef.  he would gladly recommend both of his dishes without hesitation.

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up next was adex.  she had a plate of the taquitos dorados and a steak taco.  the steak tacos were awesome, and she, like many others, appreciated the double-tortilla wrapping of the tacos; they helped keep things a little less messy, which really was a smart idea.  the taquitos were crispy and tastefully topped with whatever that spicy sauce was.  to quote adex, she “hearts” them.  pretty good review if you ask me!

clark, nathan, and alison were all excited for the empanadas with chicken tinga, which did look irresistible.  the baked puff pastry was “fluffy and killer,” as someone put it.  the garlic pesto pairing was odd, they felt, with the chicken, but nathan welcomed the “weird” combination.

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p.s. i apologize for the horrible clarity on this pic!

turner was a little full from some food pre-gaming, but she wasn’t too full not to try one of the shrimp tacos.  she liked it just fine but felt it was a little spicy, which could be due to what looks like is the avocado habanero salsa on top.

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okay, folks, strap yourselves in, because we are about to tell you all the fabulous things about the molcajete, the most exciting food we were served all night.  as the waitress described it, the molcajete is like “fajitas on steroids,” which sounded like an awesome thing to share with gregory.  also, when it is described as being cooked in a volcanic stone mortar, you know it’s an experience you cannot miss.

it was obvious when the molcajete was being brought out because, well, because we were the last ones to be served and because it was smoking liquid hot magma!  okay, it wasn’t magma, but it was red enchilada sauce that certainly went along with the dish’s theme.  we had steak, chicken, shrimp, green onions, cactus, and queso fresco swimming in that salsa rojo.  the steak and shrimp were a delicious combination when rolled up in a tortilla with some avocado and queso fresco.  is your mouth watering yet?

gregory and i were the last ones to finish, which is no surprise considering we had to construct the fajitas/tacos as we ate.  even though a little bit of personal labor was involved with the molcajete, i didn’t mind nearly as much as gregory.  it helped me pace my meal and kept me from getting overwhelmed.  once you are finally finished, here’s what the plate looks like after you’ve massacred the molcajete.

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just because dinner was over doesn’t mean we were ready to leave just yet.  the little dessert menus came out, and a couple of orders were placed.  first, gregory had the empanada de curez con leche, which he declared was the best part of his meal.  since i also had a taste, i could possibly agree.  the rice pudding was perfectly cinnamony-sugary and had the delightful complement in the coconut gelato.  i don’t think a morsel was left on the plate!

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alison went a different dessert route with the crepa de fruta fresca.  the tres leches sauce was just sweet enough with the strawberry mezcal salsa, and the crepe was soft and chewy, which was totally fine.  i sometimes forget how nice fruit can be in a dessert; they don’t always have to be laden down with copious amounts of chocolate, although that’s never a bad choice either.

at the end of our meal, jayson from the la urbana management team came over to thank us for our business and invite us back again.  he and his staff were very appreciative of our visit, and they seem like the kind of folks who will always be happy to serve you.  if this kind of experience seems like one for you, then what keeps you waiting?  make the quick trek over to la urbana for a new and authentic mexican meal.  their unique takes on traditional favorites are welcome, and the innovative and unusual dishes will pleasantly surprise you.  there’s a chance to be more communal as you dine with tapas that are easily shared, but you can also be a bit selfish in ordering your own entrée to enjoy.

my final bit of this review?  la urbana, please, please, please put tamales on your menu.  they are my favorite mexican dish, and if you can do them right, you’ll certainly have me coming back for more.

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