Loco for Poco Loco
You may have noticed that a place called Poco Loco has appeared in the former Cinema Taco spot at the Jefferson Theater, complete with an outside tiki bar, the only one on the Downtown Mall. Poco, which means "little" in Spanish, is the offspring of Mono Loco on Water Street, and debuted on the dining scene quietly with a soft-opening at the end of June. Last week, Dish stopped in for lunch and devoured some perfectly-fried cod filets over sweet and savory coconut rice topped with fresh pineapple salsa and lettuce–– not a grain of rice was left on her plate, and nothing about the portion was “poco.”
Michael Lewis, chef/owner of Mono Loco (Poco's papa) has a long history in the Charlottesville restaurant scene. He learned to cook from chef-power-duo Tim Burgess and Vincent Durquenne (of Bizou, Bang!, The Space, and the now-closed Métropolitain), when they opened Métropolitain. His old bosses still have high praise for him.
"Michael is artistic and creative," says Burgess. "Also, as Anthony Bourdain said of a good cook, 'he has moves,' which means he can actually handle himself on the stoves. That's a big deal to me in the restaurant world. It's one thing to be able to cook, a whole other thing to do it under pressure when 100 people are in your restaurant."
Lewis also worked in the kitchen at Bizou in the 1990s, where he helped create the menu and adorned each booth with a tiny jukebox, and when Coran Capshaw bought Mono Loco from restaurateur Barbara Shifflett in 2005, Lewis became part-owner and went to work making the space “approachable and personal.” That same process is underway at Poco Loco: inside, he’s added some art to the walls and painted it a lively shade of sherbet-green and has plans to eventually create a bar with seating; outside, of course, there's the tiki bar.
One inspiration for Poco is a San Franciso joint called Nopa, which opened offshoot locations called Nopalita, based on the staff meals made by the employees at Nopa. That's what happening at Poco Loco, where some of the menu items are suggested by Mono Loco staff— many of whom also now work at Poco Loco. In addition, Lewis rewards customer loyalty with a few Mono Loco dishes and drinks named after long-time customers.
Poco Loco is open for lunch (11am-3pm) and dinner (5-10pm) Monday through Saturday, and only on Sunday evenings with a limited menu if there’s a show at the Jefferson. The drink menu includes skinny, spicy, and fruity margaritas, beer, sangria, and mojitos. The food menu includes many permutations of fish tacos, enchiladas, tostadas, and an intriguing baked rice pudding dish topped with crispy pork, fried egg, tomatillo ranchero sauce, and queso fresco.
“What we’re doing [at Poco Loco] is a great opportunity," says Lewis, "to bridge music and food and infuse a little bit of what Mono Loco has brought to the community: great food and fun times.”