From the outside, Bandita Brighton might not look like much. The San Diego-style taco and tequila bar is located in the basement of another restaurant: Article 24, an American-style place owned by the Neighborhood Restaurant Group. Bandita, the group’s latest concept restaurant, features a space that is as dark and sexy as it is colorful and cozy.
It is one of those spots that is so underground—aside from quite literally being underground—that when you find it, you are stuck somewhere between wanting to be the first to tell all of your friends about your discovery, and wanting to keep the secret all to yourself. According to general manager Michael Keenan, it’s a “diamond in the rough.”
But the secret seems to be getting out. This restaurant-within-a-restaurant has been gaining traction since its opening in June 2016, even though all of the marketing has been in-house.
Keenan explained that most of the guests come for Article—the spot they know and love—and upon discovering the hand-painted Mexican skulls at the host stand, decide to switch things up a little. Instead of taking a seat at the artistic, garage-like restaurant upstairs, they venture down to a dimmer, quieter space with a slightly unconventional allure.
Situated on Western Ave., right before hopping on Soldiers Field Road toward downtown Boston, the location of Bandita is deceiving at best. Amid some medical buildings and an auto shop, a new visitor cannot help but ask him or herself: a Mexican restaurant, here?
Keenan explained that Henry Pariseau, president of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, not only considers what a neighborhood is missing when he designs a restaurant, but anticipates how he can get ahead to create a unique physical space that will come to define the fledgling restaurant.
“This is the last unpainted palate in the Brighton-Allston area,” Keenan said. “Establishing ourselves before we are at volume is a huge opportunity because it allows us to get our feet wet. Competition breeds buzz. In five years there is potential for this to be a trending spot. The area itself will become the destination.”
And by the looks of it, Pariseau and the rest of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group are onto something. Bandita alone is already about more than just food and beverages. The restaurant hosts a wide range of events in an honest effort to attract a diverse audience. Keenan works with a promoter to bring in local bands and comedians. He also has events where even guests can highlight their hidden hobbies. These events include everything from trivia night to open mic Karaoke—an occurrence which supposedly garners a legitimate singing crowd, where nine out of every ten performers are quite pleasant to listen to. And on the second Monday of April, Bandita will resume hosting its cornhole tournament during dinner service, an extravaganza where a local brewery puts their beers on tap and comes with prizes for guests. For guests in need of even more excitement, Bandita also houses an industry night, an EDM brunch, and of course Taco Tuesday, which honors the restaurant’s true speciality.
When it comes to the fare, there’s no junk at Bandita—a true differentiator among taco bars in Boston. In addition to smaller plates, such as decadent nachos, or a filling rice and bean bowl topped with lobster, Bandita offers eight tacos, sold individually and which can all be made into quesadillas. The tacos range from the more traditional options such as Al Pastor, a grilled meat topped with the bright flavors of pickled onions and grilled pineapple, to unusual flavors, such as the Thai Chicken taco topped with a crunchy house-made slaw, creamy avocado, and a spicy soy-chili sauce. Another popular choice in the restaurant is the Carne Asada fries loaded with beer cheese, guacamole, pico de gallo, sour cream and scallions sprinkled on top—a perfect side for cheap, Mexican beer.
Even the tequila that Bandita serves offers an equivalent amount of transparency. Each item on the restaurant’s long list of tequila is 100 percent Blue Agave liquor, an authentic choice that is environmentally sustainable.
Keenan obviously spends the majority of his days in Bandita, but it is obvious that he never tires of being there.
“I am lucky to have the freedom to express myself through the restaurant,” Keenan said. “I am encouraged to come up with ideas and run with them.”
His creativity and enthusiasm is apparent, as Keenan has created many mini communities through the inclusion of diverse forms of entertainment at Bandita. His industry knowledge stretches far beyond the kitchen, and speaks to what it means to be a gracious host overall: hands on, and creative ways to ensure that everyone around is completely satisfied and content.
He has clearly led by example. Preparing brunch at 8 a.m. on a Saturday, the wait staff, bartenders and “super talented” chefs—many who have been cooking Hispanic style food their whole lives—revealed the innate drive Keenan seeks to exemplify. Everyone was smiling and hustling to prepare for brunch. Keenan appeared confident that his team would take care of guests, make guests have fun, and have a good time while they are at it.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Henry Pariseau was the founder of the restaurant. David Rosenberg is the founder and self-made real estate mogul, while Pariseau is the president of the organization.