Of course, there were the questions. Could a food truck — no matter how popular — make the transition to brick-and-mortar and compete with the big boys? Even further, could a food truck from the wilds of Saline County do it? It certainly wouldn’t be the first time that a Benton eatery made the jump to Little Rock and found success, just ask Dizzy’s Gypsy Bistro. But Dizzy’s was already familiar with the brick-and-mortar set-up when it moved downtown, so the doubts remained: could Baja Grill make it happen in the Heights? After all, leaving the fancy food truck they owned on Military Road also meant leaving a devoted following — the sort of following that helped them rack up multiple Readers Choice awards in both 2013 and 2014. Could this upstart Mexi-Cali taco joint really compete in Little Rock?
Well, after having dinner at Baja Grill’s new digs on the corner of University and Kavanaugh this evening during their soft opening, the short answer is and emphatic “yes.” The menu is as good as ever, offering a diverse selection of tacos, burritos, and quesadillas that are unique on the dining scene, even in a town as taco-crowded as Little Rock. Fresh ingredients, large portions, and well-balanced flavors have always been the hallmark of Baja Grill’s food, and not a single bit of that has changed in their new location.
There are quite a few things that set Baja Grill apart from other taco joints, but their true ace in the hole is owner Craig Roe’s mastery of pork. I always go for anything on the menu marked “Cuban,” because those dishes are packed with tender, succulent smoked pulled pork the likes of which even our best barbecue joints don’t offer. Add to this a selection of freshly made slaws, salsas, and creamy avocados and you’ve got the makings of one heck of a meal.
Don’t stop with the Cuban items, though — pork lovers will also find a lot to like about the honey-chipotle pork, a sweet and hot protein that is surprising in its subtle heat and flavor. Chicken is also well-done, and my wife swears by the juicy shredded chicken stuffed into a massive burrito and covered in Baja Grill’s thick, creamy queso. We’ve enjoyed these dishes at the picnic tables outside of their old food truck, and I’ve eaten the food half-cold from carrying it home, and I’ve got to say that it was a pretty great moment when my quesadilla and tacos came from the kitchen piping hot and fresh, ready to be enjoyed in the comfortable dining area. It really made for a great dinner, and with owner Melissa Roe’s signature eclectic selection of tunes being piped into the dining room, things really didn’t feel that much removed from the great atmosphere they created in Benton. Plus, given that the menu prices are the same as they ever were, the move didn’t hit my pocketbook hard at all.
Baja Grill opens for keeps starting tomorrow, so if you’re still wondering about if this gutsy upstart has what it takes to make it in Little Rock, don’t take my word for it: go and see for yourself. You’ll understand why the people of Benton were so sad to see this food truck leave their city, and why Little Rock just got even better in the taco department. The crew is ready to serve you some of the best food you’ve ever eaten — and there’s no better time to be a taco lover in Central Arkansas than right now.