Carlos’ Poco Loco is exactly that.
A little crazy.
A savory collection of Cuban/Mexican recipes brings unique tastes to the region, not just its UpTown Toledo digs on the socially bustling Adams Street corridor. From maybe Toledo’s best version of the Cuban Sandwich ($8) to entrées for which there simply is no competition like the Drowned Torta ($7, lunch) and Don Charly (starting at $15.50, dinner), the cantina boasts large portions, hearty vegan offerings, and late night libations and tacos on the weekend ranging from authentic Mexican street to American table style, each outstanding (from $2).
Carne asada and al pastor and carnitas all may be more authentic, but it is worth noting the ground beef has nothing to envy here. It’s hard to make a memorable ground beef, and Poco Loco has mastered the simple ground beef taco.
The Drowned Torta has a dark tomato sauce with oregano and onion dousing crusty bread that blankets pork carnitas. But it does not conjure Italian flavors. It’s like a red sauce that was invented before Spain brought tomatoes to Italy in the 1600s. A must-try for any sandwich aficionado.
Address: 1809 Adams St.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays to Wednesdays; 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. Thursdays to Saturdays; closed Sundays
Wheelchair access: Yes
Average price: $-$$$
Credit cards: AE, DIS, MC, V
The Don Charly you may recognize from Carlos Mendez’s other locations. The owner operates Cocina de Carlos Mexican restaurants in Perrysburg and Waterville and they each serve the eccentric but surprisingly easy eating dish. Named after the family patriarch, it is a grilled halved pineapple filled with mushrooms, onions, cheese, and your choice of protein — all employed to build tacos with accompanying tortillas. It remains a gem.
Succulent “Ropa Vieja” ($10), a traditional Cuban-style slow-roasted shredded brisket, and Queso Fundido ($6), a rich appetizer of melted cheese and chorizo with cactus, are also fabulous.
Just to remind you Cuba is an island, Poco Loco also offers a Shrimp Ceviche taco.
But on all trips, we never were able to try it because it was not available at that time.
This is where Poco gets more Loco than it may want. I wish this review could even have an old style buzzing sign for the stars, so they could sometimes light up five, but then also dim back down to three.
Is Poco Loco a five-star restaurant for what it does now? No. Could it be? Absolutely.
It has only been open since March, so some bumps are to be expected. Nevertheless, visits felt more like a restaurant in its first weeks. The only menu to be found online remains the “soft opening” dinner menu, which does not accurately reflect the three menus actually in service at Poco Loco. There are also dueling Facebook pages (the “official” one has been referenced here).
Mendez may have a wild child on his hands with his third store, where the front-of-the-house service and back-of-the-house assemblage need some team-building exercises. Though the staff was always genial, it was almost as frequently listlessly chaotic and sometimes sadly inconsiderate to kitchen errors and the fuzzy hospitality Poco Loco itself is designed to engender.
Each visit sat us in vibrant, talkative rooms perfectly enjoyable for this festive cuisine. But the excellent atmosphere and menu concepts were undercut often by inattention: From fried plantains (“Maduros” sweet plantains, $2) where two of the four were cold to the buffet serving heat-lamp and/or microwave destroyed Cuban sandwiches, a little this-or-that was off each time. Small oddities cropped up like the dining room lights not being turned on for lunch. This apposed more significant errors like being given someone else’s dinner entirely.
Not someone else at our table, someone else in the restaurant. Maybe. It’s hard to be sure.
Getting the late-night tacos can almost be a staged comedy. You take the pen. You write your own order. Somehow it still transforms to something else by the time you get it. But you eat it anyway because a second reckoning would be fool-worthy.
But this is what is incredible about Poco Loco … you won’t be mad about what you end up eating. The plates still hold great tacos and distinct entrées that could make this cantina a neighborhood anchor for a decade at least.
The lunch buffet ($10) could be one of the best in the city, as theoretically you could eat mini Cuban sandwiches and build tacos and salads to your heart’s content. But Poco Loco has to fill the cheese bin, replace old taco shells, and offer more than one round of Cuban sandwiches, which are much better not stale. Buffets get a handicap for freshness because of their nature, but if you can’t deliver something then don’t offer it.
The growing pains of any new restaurant are to be taken with a grain of salt. And perhaps Poco Loco’s maturation is just more prolonged than is typical. We hope. Because the flavor and ambiance are there. But it can be tough in the long run to be a restaurant that on a scale of 1 to 10 is all of them.
Contact Bill of Fare at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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