If one joint in Bay View defied all burgeoning hipstamatic, forward-thinking yuppification and commercial progress, it was the lovably down-home Lincoln-Howell corner perch of Guanajuato. So when reports surfaced that the owners were scouting a new location, we were struck with anxiety: Would they leave the neighborhood? Go all farm-to-table on the menu? Where could we score chilequiles on the cheap? How far might we have to drive to imbibe such charmingly bad and cheap margaritas? Fingers crossed for the same, we checked out the suddenly popular-enough-for-a-table-wait, not-so-new guy two doors down.
The space: A few new bar stools, a smattering of Ikea-esque light fixtures, many coats of the brightest oranges and reds to be found at your local Sherwin-Williams, and the new Guanajuato has the typical vibe of “the grass is greener.” If you’ve ever had a down-the-street friend with a slightly bigger house, and thought about pimping out your colorful style with just a bit more space, you get the idea. This and the halfway-legit bar, replete with actual shelves and some wood, left us yearning for a simpler time when a cardboard sign above the GTO formica bar-top stated in handwritten Sharpie: “Shots $5.” Still, kudos are in store for the owners, Julio and Carolina Lopez, for slinging enough carne to step up their square-footage game.
The service: With some knowing nods to our old cohorts and guardians of the guacamole—and some mucho gustos to a few new faces—we were back in the groove. Minus a few points to our fresh tag-team of servers for making us ask for the taco exclamation-pointing, ketchup-bottled hot sauce; but much more love, and big tips, for the smiles, care, and pinpoint accuracy on the flan endorsement.
The A.V. Club’s food: Our first dive into the Guanajuato 2.0 salsa: a tad watery, almost imperceptibly, but, yes, less zinging with spice. Still, so close—enough that we can chalk it up to the kitchen struggling with the increased ingredient proportions that go with more tables. We still polished two bowls and got on our knees for thanks.
To appease our doctor—always with his cholesterol charts—we switched up our queso fundido order ($5.75), trying green sauce instead of the usual chorizo. Apparently, health food can be fun: The goo-ified globular white cheese was swimming in a tomatillo-green sea of garlic. Scoop some onto warm flour tortillas, straight from their happy, ensconcing home in the tortilla-warmer, add some of the goopy refrieds, and you’ve got entrée-forgetting appetizer gold.
Yet, there’s the Bistec Ranchero ($8.75)—strips of thinly cut steak, smothered with spicy brown, black-pepper-flecked thin gravy, and topped with sauce-soggy peppers, tomatoes, and onions. Not only did it feel like old times, leaving a warm, spicy grease trail running down our hands and into our hoodie sleeve, but it was gluttony the bank account would hardly even notice.
Before Guanajuato got real signage, a simple banner shouted from the Bay View rooftops announcing its existence, as well as its supremacy in dishing out the Steak Taco ($1.50 with corn, $1.75 if you want flour—and gringo status). We know that boast is a close call. Either way, the double-wrapped crispy cow nuggets of protein came out onion-ed and cilantro-ed (we’ll skip the tomatoes and lettuce, gracias), same as it ever was. Dab a spoonful of the popping salsa—no, a bit more—and there’s little need or intestinal space for competition.
Aside from the addition of parrilladas (really, just a combo platter served on a Futurama-worthy warming tray), and, curiously, cheese fries, it’s the same menu and flavor spectrum as much as it is the same vibes. Even the margarita ($2.75 Monday-Thursday, $5 otherwise), over-strong and lacking subtlety, took us back to high school and the days of swiping drinks from a parent’s liquor cabinet. Ahh, the comfort of an old—if tad grown-up—friend.
The verdict: Same folks, identical asada, similar cramped seating, and, within a negligible margin of error, the same brilliant salsa. So, welcome to the neighborhood, Mr. Webo’s. You’ve set up taco shop next to a revamped, recharged edition of what was already, and still is, as good as it gets for Mexican food in Milwaukee.