Pablo y Pablo (hereafter referred to as “Pablo”) (1605 N 34th St.), located in the NorthEdge building (Tableau HQ) and next to Acadia, is the newest restaurant addition to lower Wallingford. Pablo is owned by the Heavy Restaurant Group that runs other well-known restaurants such as Thackeray, Purple Café & Wine Bar, Barrio, and Lot No. 3, to name a few.
From the Heavy Restaurant Group:
“Pablo y Pablo is a Mexican restaurant & bar that pulls ingredients and techniques from around the world. With a name inspired by the deep friendship between Chilean poet Pablo Neruda and Spanish painter Pablo Picasso, Pablo y Pablo is an eatery with an atmosphere of friendship, hospitality and camaraderie. We invite our guests to enjoy a restaurant & bar that pulls influence from across the Latin world.”
Based on its Heavy Restaurant Group pedigree and the description above, it should come as no surprise that Pablo is not a typical Mexican restaurant or taqueria. They are clearly aiming for customers who want dinner and drinks with a side of upscale and trendy.
My wife, Ana, and I recently went to Pablo on a weeknight after work where we met two friends for dinner. First, I must say that the space is beautiful. The entire front of the restaurant has floor-to-ceiling windows and the bright, evening sun flooded and warmed the space. The interior is modern industrial and is just what you’d expect from an exterior that boasts steel, concrete, and rust panels. As an aside, I find the building’s architecture really interesting and think it’s great aesthetic fit for something sandwiched between Gas Works Park and the transfer station. However, this is not an article about architecture or the development of Southern Wallingford. Let’s talk about the restaurant!
For appetizers, we ordered the chips & guacamole and fried hominy (corn kernels) with chipotle salt. The guacamole was creamy, flavorful, and surprisingly spicy. The fried hominy, a first for me, was a standout. The kernels are a crispy, delicious snack that reminded me of mini tater tots. The appetizers are on the small side and difficult to share among four people. I’d recommend sharing them between no more than 2 people.
The drink menu and liquor selection is impressive. The beer and wine lists are modest which emphasizes the agave-based liquors (tequila and mezcal) and specialty cocktails. Along with standard cocktails, Pablo offers several house margaritas with interesting flavor combinations like strawberry & basil, papaya & jalapeno and tamarind & ginger. In classic fashion, I played it safe with my drink order and decided on a blood orange margarita. The margarita was definitely good, but $11 feels steep for a drink that’s pre-made in large quantities and served on draft. Next time I’ll go out on a limb and try a rich, smoky mezcal.
Between the four of us we tried 6 different tacos, chicken enchiladas, and the carnitas. I went with the chicken enchiladas (again, played it safe) and they were delicious. Noticing my indecisiveness when asked about red or green sauce, the server suggested I order my enchiladas “Christmas style” with both red AND green sauces. This is an idea so simple, so brilliant, that it should be printed right on the menu! The enchiladas, served in a small cast iron pan, were smoky, spicy, flavorful, and were topped with just the right amount (a lot) of cheese. Everyone at the table was quite happy with their order and had positive things to say about the food.
Ana tried the pineapple & bacon, bahn mi, and salmon tacos. The salmon was a daily special. She had high hopes for the bahn mi. Ultimately, this creative fusion was good, but not a favorite. Ana’s favorite taco was the simplest of the three – grilled pineapple & bacon. Our friend ordered the baja fish, spiced steak, and jalapeño corn & potato croquette tacos. I heard no complaints and she seemed to enjoy all three.
For dessert we had churros with dipping chocolate. The side of chocolate is served in a tiny ceramic mug. The churros, instead of being chewy, are very light, flaky, and nearly melt in your mouth. This take on churros was fun and it worked. Who doesn’t love to dunk sugar-coated pastry into a mini mug of melted chocolate?
Our water glasses stayed full and the server checked on us regularly enough during the meal. Most notably, our server offered up the creative “Christmas style” recommendation for my enchiladas. Unfortunately, the service stalled out towards the end. We spent about 20 minutes waiting for and then paying the bill. I’m not particularly critical of table service and would say that, overall, the service was just fine.
My only complaint with Pablo is the price point. Instead of the usual combination plates you’re used seeing at Mexican restaurants, almost everything here is à la carte. Chips and salsa are not on the house. Tacos range from $4.5-7.5 each so ordering 3 tacos is easily the same price as a large plate. Side dishes like beans, rice, or a fried jalapeño aren’t included with either the tacos or large plates. They all cost extra. The lunch menu includes a taco combo, but the dinner menu does not. The happy hour menu (3-6 pm) takes a couple bucks off some of the items but we missed that window.
Pablo takes a notoriously inexpensive, casual style and makes it upscale. I get that Heavy Restaurant Group runs higher-end restaurants and Pablo is no exception. Given the fresh ingredients, creative menu, and quality results, most people will probably be fine with the premium. Based on the buzz I’ve read online and how busy the restaurant appears every time I’ve driven past, I think they’re onto something. Wallingford seems willing to pay up for more expensive “concept” restaurants and bars. Overall, we had a great dinner and I can definitely see myself going back to Pablo for a special occasion or to focus on the bar and try some premium mezcal.