Sol of the mall
One of our city's newest burrito purveyors, Baja Sol Cantina, has recently unleashed its extended salsa bar et. al. on the Lennox Town Center mall.
Replacing the late and unlamented Don Pablo's, this Baja Sol is a member of a chain of restaurants that started in that hotbed of sun, surf and sultry Mexican culture, Minneapolis, Minnesota. That aside, considering this eatery occupies prime movie-time real estate, I decided to give it a try.
The Lennox Baja Sol is the type of place where you're taken to your table by a bored high school student and then waited on by an energetic college student. Its vast two-story space is corporate and cavernous, with a concrete floor, airport-hangar high ceilings and multi-colored "land of the sun" painted walls. Other decorations come via garish factory-produced "art" celebrating, say, fruit and the place's margaritas.
So how was the food? Well, probably better than you'd expect, given what I've described.
After being seated, Baja encourages eager eaters to dig right into the unlimited self-serve chip and salsa bar. It's a pretty good gimmick. When I was there, said bar offered nine kinds of interesting dips, all of them fresh - this was guaranteed by a diligent and apparently full-time attendant.
Verdict: Baja Sol offers more varieties of salsa of at least equal quality to that of Baja Fresh (how many Bajas are there?)
Since it was happy hour, I opted for a muy barrato house margarita, figuring at $3 a pop, how could I lose? And you know, the thing was better than most house cocktails from ostensibly more authentic, locally owned Mexican-ish joints. Surprisingly potent, it was filled with plenty of Sauza blanco plus a semi-industrial grade limeade which resulted in a drink refreshingly more tart than sweet.
I decided to roll the happy hour dice again, as all appetizers - there are lots of them at about $7 to $8 - are half-priced every day between 3 and 7 p.m. I went for broke with the bite-of-everything Fiesta Sampler Platter (the most expensive appetizer, but $7.50 at happy hour).
Big enough to fire up at least four hearty eaters, the giant platter featured: tangy and crispy tequila honey-lime wings; spicy avocado empanadas (more like quesadillas); steak quesadillas (a half-step up from Taco Bell); crispy, almost convincing chicken taquitos; and a few not-bad dipping sauces. Nothing on the platter was a knockout, but the stuff was about as good as chainy grub gets.
Entree-wise, Baja Sol got points for even trying a Chicken Tinga ($9). In Mexico, it's a wildly delicious stew served on tostadas. Baja Sol's version was far less spicy and complex, and came on a sort of soft and sweet polenta cake with tired rice and soupy beans.
The Peach Mango Tilapia ($11) was a healthy winner. Though not artfully plated, it was two huge, simply pan-fried filets of decent fish next to a big, crispy, crunchy and zesty salad of chopped romaine, mango, tomatoes and lime.
My overall take: Baja Sol is your new best bet for a pre or post-movie drink and/or snack.
Baja Sol Cantina
1803 Olentangy River Rd.,
11 a.m.-11 p.m. daily
3-7 p.m. daily