Santefeciños probably all know that Bumble Bee (if you live in SF, you probably know him) finally got his new restaurant opened on Monday, March 10th. My wife and I went there for lunch yesterday, and I wanted to report back to y'all.
Bumble Bee's Baja Grill is located just east of Guadalupe on Jefferson (going north from San Francisco, it's the third street on the East side of Guadalupe - easy walking distance of the Plaza and REAL close to my SF office). There is a dedicated parking lot that was completely full (with three cars waiting vulture-like to snatch up our space the moment we pulled out) by the time we left at 12:30, and about half-full at 11:30.
It's a Mexican grill in a totally new building where La Bell's used to be. They claim to use no lard (not sure how that's a selling point!), in preparing "skinless chicken breast, lean steak, tender Mahi-Mahi, White Tiger Shrimp and homemade salsas." They have salads, quesadillas, nachos, tortas (authentic Mexican-style sandwiches), plates of one to four soft steak/shrimp/fish/chicken tacos, rotisserie chicken, burritos and huge family platters for at least six people. The prices are quite reasonable for Santa Fe - after having eaten there, I would say the place is quite a solid value.
The place is hopping in its first week. It opens at 11 (hours are 11-9, M-Sat, phone 820-2862), and by 11:30 (when we got there) it was well-filled. By noon, there was a thick queue trailing out the door, and not much seating available inside (though plenty of patio space remained in the gorgeous NM weather). The (new, as I've mentioned) building (the literature claims it's adobe, but that doesn't explain the cinder blocks that I watched being used to form its walls . . .) is done up nicely in the southwestern style with saltillo tile floors and wood ceilings (which unfortunately makes it a little loud inside). Nice music playing. (And the bathrooms are clean and well-appointed.) Bumble Bee has tons of polite staff working - you're taken care of quickly, and your food is fresh. There are bussers eagerly standing by to clean up after departing customers. No tipping is allowed, although these workers sure warranted it.
I got a torta with chicken ($5.90, served with chips) and a mini steak quesadilla ($3.60 - comes with beans and rice) that I planned on splitting with my wife. My wife got two steak tacos ($4.90, comes with beans and rice). It took about five minutes to prepare (you can stand and watch the grillers, but I was happier to spend time with my wife), and the staff calls your number out over an audible but not intrusive loudspeaker. We hit the terrific salsa bar (the set-up was terrific; the salsas themselves were merely good: milder roasted tomato/chipotle salsa, hotter tomatillo salsa, hot chile and oil salsa, pico de gallo, cilantro, lime wedges), grabbed our drinks from the fountain (the busser assured me in Spanish that refills were free), and dug in.
It was a lot of food. The torta was on a good-sized Mexican roll that was split and then toasted in some sort of fat (Hey, I thought it was lard, but the literature says not . . .), slathered in decent guacamole, "Bumble Bee's Special Sauce" (spare us, Lord . . .), and covered in lettuce, fresh ripe tomato slices and a pretty darn goodly amount of cubed marinated and grilled chicken breast. The chicken was flavorful and no fat or gristle was evident anywhere. Just like every other authentic torta I've had, the cubes of meat wanted to slip out, and the sandwich required some care in eating. It was excellent. I used tomatillo salsa on the torta, and enjoyed the (SALTY!) fresh chips with the other salsas.
The steak in the quesadilla and the tacos was also cubed into 1/2" chunks and totally lean and trimmed (I'm fairly picky about this, and I throw away what my mother-in-law considers to be a scandalous amount of food when I'm trimming at home - I was quite impressed with the meat in our food). It was charred on the outside and red on the very inside, and very tasty. I used some of the milder tomato salsa and some of the tomatillo salsa on the quesadilla (my wife wound up not eating any of the quesadilla - she got too full to even finish her two tacos). The black beans (you can pick black or pinto beans - the "no lard" claim made me loath to try the pintos) were mildly flavorful - again, I thought I tasted lard (but I guess not . . .). The rice was prepared with cilantro and lime juice, and was an excellent side - infinitely better than the horrible tomato-soup "Spanish" rice that I get served at so many places here in NM.
My wife couldn't even finish her two steak tacos - the were the standard double-soft-mini-corn-tortilla Mexican kind, but they had a pretty darn respectable amount of steak on them. Gina hosed them down with lime juice and salsas, and I got a couple of bites out of the deal myself. Again, excellent.
We left, unbelievably full, at 12:30. Customers waiting in line asked what we'd had - I guess we looked happy. I was still full at 5 p.m., driving home from work. Our total bill, for way too much food for the pair of us, was $17.92. I think one can eat/drink well there for around six bucks. I ran into three friends later who'd eaten lunch at Bumble Bee's after we did - they were all schlepping leftovers. Bumble Bee's Baja Grill is quite a value, and I'm sure it will become a favorite of those who know about it.