Earlier this winter, when beloved no-frills Bay View steak taco institution Guanajuato assembled its ever-present army of fruit flies and moved a couple doors down Howell Ave., the corner property didn’t stay empty for long. Shortly after GTO celebrated its re-opening, nearby Mr. Webo’s brought its decidedly different take on Mexican fare back to the house Guanajuato built. No stranger to the building, The A.V. Club stopped by for an early bite.
The space: Gone is the massive plant, whose leaves touched every corner of GTO’s ceiling. Also gone are the water-stained ceiling tiles, which the plant was woven between. Knocking out both gives the abbreviated space a roomier feel. With the extra space, Mr. Webo’s southern wall is used for a smattering of vibrant, (borderline gaudy) paintings of skulls, flowers, cacti, and muertos. The restaurant claims to be “more modern, hip, and upbeat than a standard Mexican place,” and the décor underscores this.
Hoping to maximize its limited square footage, a host of black table settings (predominately two-tops) are crammed inches apart, putting two separate tables where a single booth once stood. Though refurbished, the same old bar is still in place.
The service: Amidst what would qualify as a “late night rush” for the new and far-from-spacious restaurant, our cheerful server, Betty, navigated the storm admirably. She seemed to have already mastered the nuances of the days-old menu, offering more in-depth descriptions of dishes to help ease our decision. Later, when we were among the remnants of the once-full house, she surprised our table and another straggler with a tasty blended banana margarita on the house—because the bartender made too much and she thought we’d like to try it.
The A.V. Club’s food: We began with the standard starter: chips and salsa. However, Webo’s offers two types of salsa with its chips, a spicy orange habañero salsa and a sweet, chunky variety with peppers, black beans, and tomatoes. Sadly, the chips only came in one type: flimsy, under-salted, and oil saturated. But between the versatile salsa pairings and the fact that they’re free, we let it slide, as we chomped sparingly between sips from our half pitcher of on-point lime margarita ($14).
Per Betty’s assurance, we opted for a trio of Mr. Webo’s Fish Tacos Baja Style ($12.95), as the cornmeal breading was an enticing variation to the usually baked tilapia tacos. The cornmeal crust was as zesty and flavorful as we’d hoped, and the warm flour tortillas, along with the crunch of purple cabbage and creamy avocado sauce, made good on our gamble. The fluffy cilantro rice was surprisingly good in a supporting role.
In all, there are 15 entrees on the menu, ranging between $9.95 and $18.95. While the vast majority are staples like tacos, burritos, rellenos, and enchiladas, Webo’s gives an Epicurean take on otherwise-routine dishes with small differentiating touches like chipotle aioli, tequila and lime vinaigrette, avocado crèma, and jicama radish slaw.
The verdict: Those who swear by the previous tenant’s charming simplicity and affordability will hate Mr. Webo’s. Others will enjoy the new kid on the block’s culinary flair, late hours (open until 3 a.m. Thursday through Saturday), delivery option, and distinct interior. No matter if you’re team GTO or Team Webo’s, there’s enough room on the block for both, so long as they remain drastically different from one another.