Short Orders: Bongos Cantina
3625 W. Northwest Hwy.
No apostrophe in the name, as far as I can tell. The new-ish spot draws its moniker either from the string of bongos doubling as bar stools or the rhythm of a Latin American beach or...something.
Maybe the owners just like the name.
I should have asked, as they were there on Saturday afternoon tightening the bolts on a misting system for their patio--I know because they introduced themselves while one clung to a ladder and the other supervised. Could have thrown in a more important question, too: why set up camp on the wrong side of the Lemmon/Webb Chapel tracks.
There's an independent tire shop next door, for example, which may come in handy given the rutted parking lot. Yet they've gone to a lot of trouble making a worn down building look like a shack--one with a beachfront theme. Surf boards and other junk nailed to the walls and strewn around the room give the impression of age, of stuff accumulated over decades, and a relaxed, beach bum attitude toward things orderly.
For authenticity, the patio fronts along Bachman Lake. Granted, there's several lanes of Northwest Highway in between, but...
More authentic--or at least more interesting--is Bongos food service. For instance, the tacos al pastor features tender pork (small chunks rather than shavings) braced by earthy chili and the sweet, acidic residue of pineapple. Served with the usual cilantro, onion and lime, the combination provides rustic simplicity and intricate, hidden details.
No rotisserie evident from my vantage point. Still, it's good enough to draw a largely Spanish-speaking crowd.
Camarones a la diabla is not so much fiery as spicy, burdened nicely by a warm, grounded heat that emerges slowly from the ochre-hued pool spreading underneath the shrimp. It's a little disappointing, in that both the shellfish and side of rice are sometimes overcooked, but at least the latter carries a noticeable taint of tomato juice. The guacamole is on the oily side, but a pico-style salad counters with sharp, fresh flavors.
So it's on the edge, geographically and in terms of cooking--which in my mind makes it well worth a 'let's see if we like it' look.
Chances are you will, especially if you order with an eye toward the simpler fare of a beachside shack. If the kitchen works out some kinks, it may even rise to cult status, like Fuel City only better...and with a menu, seats and beer.
Oh, and if you live in the area but don't want to venture out, they claim to deliver food and beer.
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