Bandito Bodega opens, thrills

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There’s a rule that food writers are often taught early in their careers which states that you should wait about a month after a new restaurant opens before you review it. It’s only fair to allow the team to train up its staff, find its rhythm with cooking and ordering food, and work out any kinks in the system that might arise.

Bandito Bodega needed no such generous lead time.

It’s true that there are still a couple of things that could stand to change at the small restaurant near Mad Hatter on West Friendly Avenue in Greensboro — namely, the counter is so deep that it’s a little awkward to reach across and pay your check. A window cut into the wall, directly to the right of the cashier, could ease ordering in the future.

But other than that, Nick Benshoff’s restaurant is ready for customers and reviewers alike as of Jan. 17.

I showed up on Day 1, flagrantly disregarding the industry rule I’d been taught, in part because I trusted Benshoff to execute but primarily because I already knew I liked his food.

It’s been several years since the redheaded and ponytailed Benshoff launched the Bandito Burrito food truck. He’s been a regular at events, and I remember the first time I ate his Asian-style soft tacos with Korean soy glaze, cabbage, bean sprouts, radish, jalapeño and Thai peanut sauce as I sat at a table in Center City Park. Damn, I remember thinking, these are incredibly satisfying. And I remember first trying Bandito’s Big Ass Burrito, a vessel featuring more traditionally Mexican ingredients that lived up to its name, outside College Hill Sundries late one night.

Bandito Bodega is his brick-and-mortar shop, a move that foodies mused would happen more with the city’s relaxation of food truck laws a few years ago but a trend that has yet to materialize.

The side walls of Bandito Bodega are lined with framed pieces of tattoo flash, and several matching men showed up on opening night. It’s a small space, with just a couple tables and a short row of barstools facing into the open kitchen — what did you expect from a restaurant with “bodega” in the name? The venue is big enough that it’s more than just a takeout spot, but small enough that it’s easy to overhear conversation about recent Friday the 13th tattoos or to catch Benshoff remarking that he’s glad to be in a bigger kitchen than the one on his truck.

The menu at Bandito Bodega is split between little and big options, though in the case of the “small” kimchi quesadilla, the label is a misnomer. (No complaints from me though, and it’s delicious.) The standby Asian-style and baja tacos are there, at $3.50 a pop, as well as a few apps including age dashi tofu, pan-fried gyoza (a dumpling) and nachos with house spicy pickles, queso fresco, chipotle crema and guac.

The Big Ass Burrito is still here, joined by a more Mediterranean option in the Kafta Burrito featuring seasoned beef and lamb, tzatziki, tahini buttermilk rice, crispy chickpeas and fresh cilantro. Knowing that Benshoff could pull off Mexican and Asian flavors based on prior experience, I went for the Kafta. Here too, Bandito’s proprietor and head chef proves no less adept, delighting me and the two friends I came with (who I only let try it because they graciously offered to share with me as well).

The rest of the menu leans Asian, with one dish featuring Vietnamese pork, the NC catch starring Korean Gochujang sauce, and a list of sides that includes cold sesame noodles and bok choy. But there’s a southwest pimiento burrito and carne asada fries as well, not to mention a veggie quesadilla that utilizes roasted beets, mushrooms and goat cheese.

Bandito Bodega is dimly lit enough at night to provide a relaxing environment, so much so that my friends and I didn’t realize that more than two hours had slipped by as we sipped Coke from glass bottles and caught up over food until a staffer turned off the “Open” light in the front window. But during the day that same large window would allow ample sunlight to pour in, much more than Benshoff is likely used to on his truck.

Hopefully Bandito Bodega means more people eating his food too — Benshoff is one of Greensboro’s more popular yet still underrated chefs, and it’s nice to see his business growing.

 

Visit Bandito Bodega at 1609 W. Friendly Ave. (GSO) or at banditobodega.com.