Público opened more than a year ago in the Delmar Loop, and it didn’t take long to gain a reputation. I read reviews and updates from other local food blogs like Whiskey and Soba and Feast Magazine and began daydreaming of crudo, street tacos and tequila cocktails.
In what will go down as an all-time dining blunder, I didn’t make it to Público until recently. Frankly, there’s no reason it should have taken so long. I actually work in the area and smell the wood fire grill every day going home.
Apparently, I possess super powers because I was able to walk through that smoky ether every damn day and not duck in to gorge myself on carnitas.
However, I can say with certainty that the praise is more than warranted. I headed there on a dreary Saturday night with my girlfriend, and we were greeted by a lively interior. It’s sleek and modern but simultaneously homey—thanks to the warmth (figuratively and literally) emanating from the wood fire grill.
I had a reservation, and the hostess sheepishly asked if we would mind sitting at the chef’s pass. She honestly couldn’t have offered a better seat as far as I was concerned. I jumped at the chance to see pros work the line.
Near the chef’s pass there were numerous dog eared Latin American cookbooks—some that looked decades old or like garage sale finds. It was a good sign.
If you haven’t put the pieces together yet (in which case, come on), Mike Randolph’s latest venture focuses on upscale Latin fare. While the food might be slightly updated, it’s not too fussy. The dishes are simple, focusing on a few key ingredients, and they stand alone in terms of flavor.
We started with some cocktails, which could be another post entirely. The El Diablo (a classic tequila cocktail) caught my eye immediately. It includes Espolòn Blanco tequila, lime, cassis and ginger beer. I’m all about ginger beer (in pretty much any cocktail), and I have a fondness for Espolòn even though it’s not exactly Patrón. My drink was tart, refreshing and had just enough kick.
Of course, the real star at Público is the food.
For an appetizer, we ordered grilled oysters. My girlfriend has been obsessed with grilled oysters since we had some at Acme Oyster House in New Orleans last fall. There was really no point in suggesting anything else.
The oysters are grilled with green chorizo and cornbread, which, buddy, I AM ON BOARD WITH. The thing I really loved about the dish was how the cornbread was charred just so. I mean, charred breadcrumbs are good, but there’s something entirely different about charred cornbread.
After the oysters, we moved on to the main event, tacos.
In the months preceding my visit, all I heard about were the smoked white fish tacos. Obviously, I knew I had to try them. If you go, the best plan of attack is to get an array of tacos. We went with the pescado blanco (the aforementioned white fish), carnitas and barbacoa.
Listen, there are a lot of bad fish tacos out there. The most common culprit is dried out fish topped with gobs of slaw in an attempt to rectify the first problem. These tacos are not that. Not even close.
The white fish was so full of flavor I couldn’t believe it. A little jalapeño cream cheese perfectly countered the smokiness of the fish, and the crispy shallots were another nice touch (one that I’ll be stealing). It was unlike any taco I’ve ever had.
The carnitas was also intensely flavored but different (in a good way) than most I’ve had. Some Americans are familiar with beef barbacoa (or a version of it, the best is made from beef cheeks, not chuck roast Chipotle). However, Público offers lamb barbacoa, which is traditional in central Mexico. The barbacoa was good, but the white fish and carnitas outshined it.
In fact, we got another order of whitefish tacos because I was still a little hungry, and they were goddamn delicious.
Overall, I was very impressed with Público. The warm atmosphere and Mike Randolph’s take on Latin cuisine make a winning combination. I’ll definitely be eating there again, and I absolutely implore you to eat there if possible.
Order the pescado blanco and take in the wood smoke. You won’t regret it.