OUT TO LUNCH
By Richard Eber
Surveying the culinary scene in close proximity to the Veranda LUXE Cinema & IMAX, in Concord, one question comes to mind, “Are patrons willing to pay more for a finer dining experience?” The place is inundated with upscale dining options one expects to see in Walnut Creek, Danville, and even San Francisco.
My question was answered with a resounding “Yes!” Puesto opened in Concord on November 13. Recently, I rounded up my party to give this Mexican artisan kitchen and bar a try.
It was well attended, packed with eager diners already aware of this small San Diego restaurant group’s reputation. Puesto is a three-time winner of LA Weekly’s Tacolandia in 2015, 2016 and 2017 and deemed “Best Tacos” by San Diego Magazine year after year.
Puesto’s General Manager Jesus Trevino contributes its success to serving “a cuisine that can be described as Mexico City style street food using better quality ingredients.” This is not your usual enchilada, burrito, tamale, rice and beans combination #5 faire.
Once seated inside this colorful, postmodern art deco eatery, there are a wide variety of starters to select from including three types of guacamole; a classic variety, the classic plus Parmigiano-Reggiano, and our favorite, the Nogada-style creation which includes pomegranate seeds, chile de arbol, and candied walnuts.
Sharing different dishes is an intricate part of the Puesto experience. From their Snacks & Shares menu, they offer a melt-in-your-mouth Esquite which is a mixture of fresh corn, chile, lime, queso cheese, and cream. Also noteworthy were the pork rinds (Chicharrónes), an ideal partner for the guacamole dips.
The Mexican Street fruit bowl of mango, pineapple, watermelon, cucumber with a Chamoy sauce provides an excellent contrast to offset any spicy selections. The Ceviche Acapulco with white shrimp, lime onion, pepper, avocado with a little squid thrown in reminds one of prime Baja “beach food”. And the Spicy Shrimp Cocktail features perfectly blanched large prawns and, of course, avocado. It too is a recommended winner.
By the way, Puesto has a full bar offering tropical drinks with top shelf liquor and fresh juices, a convenient temptation to kickstart your festive mood before ordering Puesto’s signature tacos. We shared a couple margaritas including a Cadillac and a Puesto Perfect model. However, if one prefers not to drink the hard stuff, they offer a large selection of wine, local craft beers and nonalcoholic fresh fruit drinks.
When it becomes “taco time”, Puesto offers handmade, maíz azul stone-ground tortillas with sustainable meats, local produce and scratch salsas.
Each order is individually prepared in an open kitchen. Watching the production line of 10 cooks through a glass window is a culinary adventure of its own.
My party shared eight types of tacos. Trying to determine which one was the favorite became a subject of controversy. The Baja fish taco with beer-battered wild cod reminded me of beach vacations from a different time. Puesto’s popular filet mignon tacos and Maine lobster tacos are both off the charts with delicate flavors. I really liked the Tamarindo Shrimp with crispy shrimp, tamarindo, guacamole and cilantro – delicious. This was also the confided favorite of Concord’s new Mayor, Carlyn Obringer and her husband Justin who have already visited Puesto twice.
Vegetarians can enjoy their vegetarian combination Verduras taco or a grilled portobello mushroom offering. If one prefers a non-taco format, Puesto offers different bowls that feature similar ingredients.
Ala carte sides include black beans and herbed lime rice, each prepared as if they are the featured entre. One thing is for certain, Puesto’s chefs make choosing a favorite taco a difficult decision.
Should there be any room for dessert, trust in their pastry chef Erik Aronow. We tried their Mango Cremeux that consists of a ball of a mango coulis. It is covered in dark chocolate with a mixture of chocolates, nuts, candies, potato chips, and dried fruit. We also sampled a Coconut Crème Trifle, a Bavarian kitchen sink concoction of devil’s food cake with layers of a peanut butter crunch bar and Mexican chocolate gelato. Yum!
Puesto is open seven days a week 11AM to 9PM, and until 10PM Friday and Saturday. GM Jesus Trevino and Chef de Cuisine Joey Lavada have instituted a special $3.00 Taco Tuesday, half priced bottles of wine on Thursday, and a 3-6 PM Happy Hour Monday thru Friday. Reservations are recommended to be made on line or at (925) 334-7794. Puesto is located at 2035 Diamond Boulevard.