Babalu, tucked into an old school gymnasium, floored me with their delicious food and tableside guacamole.
They could have possibly been the best carnitas I ever had.
Well that's a bold statement for me to make. I love carnitas, invariably ordering them every single time I visit a restaurant that even remotely resembles mexican food. But these, on their little blue corn tortillas with their pickled red onion and freshly grated chunks of queso blanco on top blew me away. They were the best carnitas I had ever had.
Babalu, tucked in an old school auditorium in Jackson's Fondren District, matched the rest of the few blocks that surrounded us. It was unassuming with a simple retro looking neon sign glowing out front. The whole Fondren area is chock full of old buildings with vintage signs lit up with neon. It was like we had stepped back into the 50’s. Its marketed as a tacos and tapas bar with small and shareable portions but honestly that is selling them way short.
We stepped into a cozy, dark, very clean restaurant, with the servers wearing clean white shirts and burnt orange aprons. The kitchen is open to the restaurant and the dining room is full of tables and a few booths. Projected onto one of the walls are classic episodes of “I love Lucy” in black and white. Suddenly Babalu makes sense. The place was full, the lobby was full, and the bar was full. Good tidings for us. After short wait we finally had open menus in front of us.
We were told to come for the guacamole so that is where we started. It arrived tableside unmixed. Excitedly we watched as the guacamole was mixed right in front of us. Lime, cilantro, red pepper, and onions. We opted for traditional guac but options like bacon or jalapenos were encouraged. The guacamole was a good choice. Fresh and perfectly mixed.
Our entrees were small. The carnitas mentioned above came in a set of three on small four inch tortillas. The chicken enchiladas were in a pair, using what looked like six inch tortillas. They were perfect. The smoked chicken enchiladas packed so much smoky flavor they were practically screaming at us. The chicken itself was smoked, the pico had smoked poblanos, the onions were just strong enough. Everything was so fresh, so perfectly prepared. We ordered a few local beers and slowed down so that we could savor everything. For those who can’t be bothered with a beer, their signature drinks are just as high quality. The Baba-rita, a margarita with Patron, pomegranate, and agave syrup is their biggest seller. By the end of the meal we were unbelievably stuffed.
Settled up and settled down, we left behind Babalu and headed around the corner to Sneaky Beans, a house turned coffee shop. Whether its a simple Americano or something different like the Dirty Chai Tea, Sneaky Beans grinds and brews with the best of them. The giant chalkboard offering up their coffee and tea offerings reminded me of another type of brew house. The backrooms had games and sitting areas with plenty of room to sit back and get some work done or just laugh with friends.
The success of Babalu in Jackson has lead to its spread to both Birmingham and Memphis where those continue to get rave reviews. This was a great choice, thanks to the advice of Andrew from the Alumni House. He has been spot on so far and we look forward to the rest of his suggestions.
All three Babalu locations are open daily 11am to 10pm through the week, until 11am Friday and Saturday, and close at 9pm on Sundays. Sneaky Beans is located on State street and open daily 7am to 9:30pm.