Tortuga y Chango
The Mexican state of Oaxaca is sometimes referred to as the capital of mezcal. The smoky spirit is produced throughout the country, but Oaxaca’s many species of agave—the desert plant from which mezcal is distilled—lend a great diversity to the types of mezcal that can be produced there. Speaking of a great diversity of mezcals: That’s what you’ll find lining the bar of this new “mezcaloteca y parrilla,” courtesy of the cast behind nearby El Tesoro—owners Alan Raines and Samantha Eaves and chef Hugo Suastegui, whose Pacific-coast cooking reflects Oaxaca as well as his native Acapulco, in the neighboring state of Guerrero. The seeds of this restaurant came from a series of mezcal dinners hosted at El Tesoro, but the scene couldn’t be more different: You sit down to order, for starters. And Tortuga y Chango sticks to a tighter menu of gorgeously plated dishes, like a dramatic whole grilled fish marinated in adobo and served with a shower of herbs and veggies (jicama, cilantro, purslane, et al) and an entree of velvety scallops served over a mildly sweet corn-jalapeño puree. (The house drink also makes its way over to the edible end of the menu, in a delicate, pudding-like corn dessert with mezcal caramel and raisins.) Bartender Orestes Cruz mixes up a few classic and signature cocktails (e.g., the mezcal-based El Corazon, with fino sherry, Cynar, ginger, and more), but you may also opt to take your spirits neat, aided by the intriguing tasting notes provided by the menu: Bozal Chino Verde mezcal, for instance, is said to be redolent of “dried herbs, burlap, soft ancho chile smoke, charred meat, slightly sweet finish.” Decatur
Wylie & Rum
Okay, so it’s actually at the corner of Wylie and Moreland, located in a funky midcentury shopping center rather than on some beachfront property. But this place has got a pretty irresistible pitch: It’s a rum bar with Floribian—that is, Floridian-Caribbean—vibes, a colorful dining room with big murals on the wall, and picnic tables for eating and drinking outside; part of the host stand is the front bumper of an old Ford truck. The bar element takes up just a small corner of the spacious dining room, but turns out solid versions of cocktails like daiquiris and rum old-fashioneds; the kitchen, under Cuban-born chef Jose Lopez, offers fun, easy-to-like island fare such as jerk chicken, Cubanos (with bread shipped up from Florida’s La Segunda Bakery), ribs with guava barbecue sauce, and jackfruit in places where meat might not be preferred—such as a “big-ass burrito,” also available with jerk chicken or mojo pork. This venture is a reunion of sorts for Lopez and restaurateur Tony Lewis, who previously worked together at the Little Five Points Caribbean restaurant Bridgetown Grill; they’re joined by Lewis’s son, David. Reynoldstown
This may be a brand-new Vietnamese restaurant but, as a description on its Instagram page reminds us, it’s got some pedigree: Owner Alex Kinjo opened a forerunner, Nam, in Midtown way back in 2003. That one closed in 2011, but in the intervening decades, Kinjo has grown a lively stable of pan-Asian eateries around town, including MF Sushi and Kinjo Room. Tucked into the pleasingly bustling intersection of Virginia and Highland Avenues amid various other newcomers—Pielands across the street, Virginia Highland Books next door—Mai Kitchen serves upscale Vietnamese in a stylish dining room with big windows opening onto the sidewalk and a bar at the center of the action. No liquor license yet when I visited, but there’s much to like on this menu. For instance, shaking beef—so called because of the constant motion the pan is kept in as the dish cooks. Whatever technical skill is required, they’re pulling it off ably here: The generously cut cubes of filet mignon were perfectly cooked and almost liver-like in their richness. Other highlights: spring rolls and imperial rolls, papaya and mango salad, shaken yellowfin tuna, and pho made from a broth that’s simmered for 24 hours. Virginia-Highland
This article appears in our November 2022 issue.