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Baja Cafe - Finally Some Good Mexican in North Asheville!

This place just opened in the old Curras location just north of Beaver Lake. We tried it tonight and have a good report...

The inside is still bright and cheery, now with a little more kitsch on the walls, and the patio is still open and lovely. Apparently the owners own another Baja Cafe in Boca Raton, so while they don't have a website for the Asheville location that I could find online you can view a similar menu if you Google the BR location.

Service was very attentive and friendly...maybe even a little too attentive as at times we felt like we were rushed to order, pay, etc. They were trying really hard...and I think that's a good thing.

The food is moderately priced (I'd say a rough average of $11 or so?), so it's not quite as cheap as Papa's and Beer...BUT I'd say the food is in line with the same concept (Cali-Mex, highlighting tacos, overstuffed burritos, fajitas, etc.) and the ingredients are, IMO, much fresher. Everything is supposedly prepared in-house and we thought you could definitely tell - they start you off with complimentary bean dip and salsa and we thought both were much better than P&B's, not to mention our meals were of higher quality (I had fish fajitas and my husband enjoyed a stuffed quesadilla). The portions are large so you can definitely get two meals out what you are served.

I wish they had a few higher-end margarita options or a tequila list - right now all they offer is a Gold for $4.99 and an Ultimate for $6.99 - we had an Ultimate which wasn't terrible but there was a slight syrupy sweetness to it due to too much sour mix - but other than that we really didn't have complaints. It's not Curras or Limones, but it's no sloppy Mexican either. If you like Papa's and Beer and are willing to pay a few dollars more for better quality ingredients and preparation, I think you'll like the Baja Cafe.

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  1. It is with heavy heart that I have to respectfully disagree with your review of this restaurant. This is the first time in my forty years I've felt compelled to write a review, if that gives an indication of the degree of my dissatisfaction. I honestly always go into every restaurant with the upmost positivity, hoping for the best- but what I got just now from Baja Cafe was one trainwreck after another.
    From their seeming inability to make a simple dish of nachos (burnt chips, some sort of cheap greasy velveeta-like cheese), to their cluelessness on how to slow roast pork, this place clearly has no passion for food.
    I wouldn't, however, be writing this mini-review if it weren't for the fact that everything is grossly overpriced, with barely any range of entrees to be found for under 13 dollars. Bad mexican food is pretty common, let's just admit it. But when you're paying 13 dollars for a doom-infused burrito, where is the justice? I should mention that for less than that you can eat at Salsas for crying out loud.
    So, please think twice before supporting this mistake of a restaurant. I don't know what they're doing in their kitchen but serving quality food is very very low on their list.
    Just embarrassing.

    12 Replies
    1. re: maeve23

      maeve23: Just as a benchmark, have you tried Papa's & Beer on Brevard Road? (The epitome of good, cheap, and, yes, sloppy, Mexican in our area, IMO.)

      1. re: Jeff C.

        it's important to know the P and B on Brevard is NOT the same as the others (different owner, same family) it remains the benchmark for Mex in WNC

        1. re: jbyoga

          You are correct re the ownership question, jbyoga. However, by "benchmark," what I meant was if maeve23 HAD tried Papa's Brevard and hated it, too, then the rest of us would know that cheap, sloppy, Mexican just was not his/her, uh...thang.

          1. re: Jeff C.

            And that's why I was making the comparison between the two...to set the expectations. I wouldn't really expect a place like this to have a "passion" for food necessarily. What we found what good, fresh, inexpensive Mexican...in my neighborhood...which also makes it a huge plus. I wouldn't drive across town to eat here by any means, but for a weeknight dinner that will give me leftovers the next day for lunch, it works for me!

            The other stipulation I will tag onto my review is that we were there the first week of opening. So it will be interesting to see if they stay consistent. Who knows, maybe we just got lucky.

            1. re: miss piggy

              out of curiosity - Have you been to the Brevard road P and B? I'd be curious to know your thoughts regarding the two side by side...

              1. re: miss piggy

                MP~ My husband wrote the review immediately upon returning home from our misadventure.
                seems like they may have fallen a bit in execution after opening week. If you go back, we would be very interested in hearing about your experience.

              2. re: Jeff C.

                YES! we were able to fit an early dinner into our saturday. (We have only been back in Asheville a year now~ excited to (re)discover Asheville's finest food alchemists) I will say first that having lived in San Diego, Santa Fe, and San Francisco consecutively, I am, happily, no stranger to the 'cheap, sloppy, Mexican' :)
                P and B truly satisfied our craving for good cheap mexican!!! thanks so much for the rec, we really needed it! The menu was diverse and very well priced. We left stuffed and 14 dollars richer than had we gone to Baja.
                Your next challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to reccommend a GOOD Thai place :) we have been to orchid, noi's, and thai citrus.
                thx Jeff!

                1. re: maeve23

                  A GOOD Thai place is Little Bee Thai on Sweeten Crk Rd. It is in a gas station so don't be scared off. It's amazing. It is very fresh, quite affordable, and the portions are generous but not overwhelming.

                  Thai Orchid is okay, they seemed to be better when they were on Tunnel Rd. I have had some VERY good meals there and some very bad ones. I am baffled by the love of Noi's as I have never had an enjoyable meal there- weak and thin curries, no heat to speak of, gummy rice... Even the tea is lackluster. I love Thai Citrus and recommend it to people unwilling to get out of central downtown Asheville, but I don't think it is the best. A personal favorite Thai joint of mine is on Patton Avenue, Thai Cuisine Xpress. It is very small, with only two people working at any given time. The ingredients could be fresher, but for the portions, the heat, the cute little Thai eggplants (haven't seen them at any other Thai place), and the coziness makes it my favorite.

                  Ok, derailing over, I just really, really, really love Thai.

                  -----
                  Thai Orchid Restaurant
                  4223 Providence Rd Unit 7, Charlotte, NC 28211

                  Thai Cuisine
                  1580 E Main St, Duncan, SC 29334

                  1. re: maeve23

                    I will second cbwilson's Little Bee rec., at least for take-out. Other than that, I am sad to report that (unless I've missed one) there really isn't a top-notch sit-down place for Thai.

                    1. re: Jeff C.

                      I do think Doc Chey's (downtown) makes a pretty good Thai Red Curry, however.

              3. re: Jeff C.

                My comments probably do not apply to readers of chowhound.com or to serious Mexican foodies. However, La Carreta IMO is the best place to eat for Mexican food that is, how to put it without offending--Americanized. I generally avoid Americanized ethnic food; however, I'm not crazy about Mexican; thus, LC is a good fit for me. More important, atmosphere is v civilized without being stuffy, & quality of ingredients + freshness are noteworthy.

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                La Carreta
                100 Merrimon Ave, Asheville, NC 28801

              4. re: maeve23

                This type of pricing is exactly why Curras failed, athough, i admit that(Baja) is not so high priced

                Good mexican food should never be this expensive

                I also thought the menu is not very creative like White Duck Taco

                I will try it anyway to see if it comapares

                to others

                Did the asheville area really need another mexican restaurant?

                How about good seafood, italian(excempt Nona Mia), Jewish Deli or C

              5. I haven't tried Baja Cafe, but I contest that Taqueria Fast is not only good Mexican food, but it's great Mexican food, and it is authentic to boot.

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                Bajas
                385 Highway 29 N, Newnan, GA 30263

                1. Can't reccomend it
                  Just ate there Tuesday evening, very, very dissapointed. Food was ok at best, very over priced, $12.99 for a ground beef Burrito with rice and beans, nothing huge, nothing to bring home... which I didn't eat all that was on the plate just wasn't able to look at the offerings again. Nothing with shrimp offered as a filling option. Way too many other Mexican restaraunts in Asheville with at least somewhat better food not to mention much better and cheaper food.

                  Does anyone know what happened to Cancun that used to be on Tunnel Road?

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: krolling1

                    Well dang...looks like we just got lucky at Baja. Sorry!

                    I agree with you about Taqueria Fast...it is good. There's just NO ambiance to speak of in that place so I never think to go there for dinner. But it's great for a Saturday lunch and a cold beer.

                    1. re: miss piggy

                      Miss piggy, thought you were spot on with your review of Baja Cafe. The food was fresh, great quality, & great value. They must have read your comments & added 10 more tequilas. My wife & I have eaten there for lunch & dinner & found our experience to be just what we expected. So nice to have a high quality Mexican restaurant that is consistent & affordable. Tks for your recommendation. V B

                  2. The original comment has been removed
                    1. Another mediocre Mexican restaurant.

                      I ordered the enchiladas senesce (or something like that). As well, I requested a spicy sauce.

                      What I received was two enchiladas with so much cheese that I had to scrape most of it off the top or the enchiladas just to experience the cheese-stuffed tortillas. I was treated to, at best, a few tablespoons of sauce.

                      This was quite awful and I'm surprised that they can survive.

                      1. re: garysanta

                        totally agree
                        mediocre food that is overpriced
                        Curas ,which closed, was far better food but even more expensive
                        I give them 6 months, at best

                        1. re: Nunzio2

                          Yes, they cAme with cheese. Lots and lots and lots of cheese. And they came with, at best, a tablespoon of sauce. I typically don't really enjoy a plate of melted cheese. Perhaps you do. If so, then you've found the right place.

                      2. I LOVE this place!

                        I’ve been there for dinner three times since they’ve opened (around the second week of September) and each time was a home run on my scorecard.

                        Each visit my food came out hot, fast, and BIG, and was really, REALLY good. Each time I ordered one of their burritos and couldn’t finish it. There was actually enough for lunch the next day. The byline of this place should be, “The Home of the Seven Pound Burrito!”

                        A great surprise occurred during my last visit (10/14/11) when I discovered they substantially dropped their prices across the menu. It was a good value before now it’s a TERRIFIC value!

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: Nunzio2

                          I grew up in Santa Fe. Baja is, at best mediocre. Indeed, I would argue that it is not even mediocre.

                          I will never go back to that restaurant.

                          However, if you like it (and the restaurant survives), I think it's great that you've found what you consider to be a good Mexican restaurant.

                          Keep in mind, though, that Asheville doesn't have a genuine Mexican restaurant. It has a number of adequate Tex/Mex restaurants. Unfortunately, from my perspective, Baja is not even an adequate Tex/Mex restaurant.

                          Apparently, one criterion you have for good food is that it be "BIG." And they can do that. Indeed, "The home of the seven pound burrito" is not a very compelling argument for quality food.

                          -----
                          Bajas
                          385 Highway 29 N, Newnan, GA 30263

                          Santa Fe Restaurant
                          707 Turner McCall Blvd NE, Rome, GA 30165

                          1. re: garysanta

                            Hi Gary,

                            Thanks for your comments.

                            You’re right of course, “Big” is certainly not a measure of good food. I only made that comment because there was some mention above of their pricing (since reduced) and I was making the point that the portion controls were generous enough to make two meals out of many of their servings.

                            However, I also used the descriptor, “Good food.” But I think we obviously part company on this point and that’s ok, because it’s not as though either of us are professional gourmands writing a review for Gourmet Magazine, but rather, just two guys giving our personal opinions about what tastes good to us.

                            None-the-less, I appreciate your experience with Santa Fe food however, to me that’s an off-point comparison as Santa Fe style (or Tex-Mex) is not the style emulated at this place.

                            I may be in over my head giving a conflicting view point to yours, as I did take a moment to read all eleven of your reviews. I saw that they were ALL negative, and I thought, how unfortunate that you’ve not had ONE good dining experience going back to early 2008, so I’m sure your palate must be much more discriminating than mine.

                            However, I did grow up in San Diego and have plenty of experience with California-Mexican and I’d say, CA-Mex (like “genuine” Mexican) is a little more pedestrian, a little more, everyday-family-food. (I mean, come on, it’s tacos and burritos we’re talking about here.) CA-Mex is not sophisticated as Curras was, nor will CA-Mex (or Tex-Mex) style ever win awards. If I were to compare CA-Mex to a US style, I’d call it kind of a meatloaf, or beef stew style; not prime rib or roast lamb.

                            CA-Mex food is a localized, REGIONAL Mexican food with California influences, and a romantic story. Let me tell you a brief one -

                            South of San Diego, across the border, below Tijuana about 35 minutes, take the Rosarito off-ramp off the toll road and travel past the Rosarito Beach hotel about another 10-15 minutes south on the free road, to a dirt road marked only by a large concrete archway. Turn west there, toward the ocean, until you reach the cluster of ten or fifteen restaurants on the cliffs above the beach.

                            You have arrived at Puerto Nuevo, the home of deep fried lobster, served family-style, with rice, beans, and flour tortillas (all the restaurants serve relatively the same thing). You can sit inside or out, but for the most fun, pick one of the long wooden picnic tables outside where you'll probably join others already at the table. The waiter immediately meets you with a bowl of chips hot out of the oil, and a bowl of salsa. A few minutes later, you’re holding an ice cold Negro Modelo, or Tecate beer.

                            A few minutes after that, the Senora has delivered your food in bowls along with a pile of fresh flour tortillas. As you sit there in the hot Mexican sun building your lobster burrito, you hold a few dollars in your hand and wave the leader of the mariachi band over to your table where, with a bite of your burrito, and a swig of that ice cold beer, and the mariachis singing the love ballads of old Mexico … you don’t have a care in the world!

                            (In the states, a lobster or shrimp taco or burrito would be a representation of California-Mexican style.)

                            And in MY view, this new Baja Café emulates that feeling (and the food) better than any other similar place I’ve been to around here. You missed the ROMANCE Gary, the ROMANCE, when you visited the Baja Café!

                            True, it's NOT sophisticated food, also, it’s NOT Santa Fe or Tex-Mex style … It IS California Mexican style and to my taste, it is deliciously good, fresh food, served at a fair price, reminiscent of my trips to Puerto Nuevo!

                            And that’s ONE man’s opinion.

                            (Thanks for the interchange.)

                            :-)

                            1. re: Nunzio2

                              Actually, Santa Fe Mexican (actually Northern New Mexican) food is not really Tex-Mex. It is its own distinctive style. And you're quite right that expecting Santa Fe food anywhere is not realistic.

                              It is also true that I have been profoundly disappointed by the restaurants in Asheville. I lived in New York City for many years which, arguably, has the best restaurants in the country, so, of course, I did have high (apparently unrealistically high) expectations for Asheville.

                              I do have one restaurant that I very much like in Asheville: Curate.

                              -----
                              Santa Fe Restaurant
                              707 Turner McCall Blvd NE, Rome, GA 30165