El Tonayense taco trucks have been discussed here previously with the one parked at 22nd and Harrison having been singled out for quality. The indoor version of the truck offerings has been given a face lift in both decor and menu, and is now Cafe Bella Vista. Having felt hunger pangs at reading 'Hounds reports on the truck offerings, I jumped at the chance to visit Bella Vista with friends who live in the neighborhood.
The vista is not all that bella, looking out onto the street corner, but the interior has been made as pleasant as that space could be. It is dimly lit, which makes the bright light from the open kitchen a bit harsh--so face the other way. The warmth of the service will help soften the glare. Our group decided to try some of the menu regulars and some of the specials.
Our starters included a soup that was called, in its English translation, sole cod and potato soup. I assumed that bacalao meant salt cod and the English was translation error. But there was none of the fine salt cod funkiness in what was a pleasant but rather bland soup. The salad had nice greens with a slightly sweet dressing and generous chunks of warm breaded goat cheese. We also tried mushrooms that were braised with a nice hit of garlic and some chili heat, fried calamari which were perfectly fried but with a less than perfect breading along with a very forgettable aioli, and a great sauteed spinach with lemon juice adding zip to raisins and pine nuts.
Our main courses included two menu regulars and two specials. The specials were rabbit and sea bass, and each were presented as a large piece resting on a bowl of saffron rice. Both were overcooked and for my taste dry, but the diner who ordered the rabbit loved it, especially its sauce. The two standard menu items were a paella, which was perfectly fine but not outstanding, and a beef stew which I loved.
There is a brief but suitable wine list as well as draft beer, and the corkage is only $6.
Our group had a good time, service was very attentive, and we were almost alone inside on a Friday night. I noticed as we were eating that the taco truck was being regularly patronized. When we left, I looked at the truck menu--tacos al pastor, cabeza, lengua. If I had not just finished dinner, I would have ordered from the truck. I hope the Bella Vista patronage grows and I think it is admirable for the Tonayense people to want to expand their offerings. Next time, I may need to order tacos from outside to bring in and finish with some of that spinach.