Bulevar Offers Terrific Latin American Cuisine and Stunning Views at The Arboretum
Guy Villavoso and Larry Foles — the restaurateurs behind Red Ash, ATX Cocina and more — opened the new concept in August
Some guys have all the luck. But some have all the talent. And skill. And know-how. Guy Villavaso and Larry Foles are those guys. As longtime entrepreneurial partners, they’ve created some of Austin’s most successful restaurants — and luck has nothing to do with it. They just flat-out know what they’re doing. And since they’ve been doing it for over 30 years, they innately understand what Austin diners want: places like Red Ash, Eddie V’s, ATX Cocina, J. Carver’s, Roaring Fork, Hopdoddy, Salty Sow and Tumble 22. Their newest venture is Bulevar Mexican Kitchen, and, unsurprisingly, they’ve knocked it outta the park. Again.
Open since August, Bulevar has quickly become the place to be. As soon as the doors open for nightly happy hour, it’s packed with diners clamoring for its potent margaritas and elevated Mexican cuisine. The crowds continue throughout the evening, and for good reason: the food is terrific, the energy is electric and the design is stunning, inside and out.
Ironically, Bulevar is located in the former Arboretum outpost of Z’Tejas, Villavaso and Foles’ first restaurant concept. Decades later, they’ve transformed the space into a chic hacienda illuminated by flickering candles, dramatic chandeliers and roaring fireplaces. The sprawling dining room features soaring vaulted ceilings and a lively U-shaped bar in the center. High-end finishes include dining chairs upholstered in supple leather and banquettes covered in colorful Mexican textiles. Backlit nooks carved into the limestone walls showcase Mexican handicrafts. Local artist Anne Ducote painted the mural of a Mexican agricultural landscape, as well as the cheeky life-size portrait of Zoro that hangs above the fireplace (and whose model just happens to be Bulevar co-owner, Guy Villavaso). Smaller, more intimate dining spaces line the perimeter of the main dining room, which opens onto an expansive, stylish patio offering spectacular sunset views and an outdoor fireplace and heat lamps for cooler evenings.
The menu by Executive Chef Kevin Taylor, who’s also an operating partner at Bulevar’s popular downtown sibling restaurant, ATX Cocina, is inspired by his frequent Mexican travels and combines traditional flavors and practices with modern approaches, including a 100% gluten free kitchen. In addition to premium grilled meats, seafood and vegetables, corn takes a staring role in the kitchen, with fresh masa made daily with grain grown by small family farms in Oaxaca.
The Salsa Tasting is a wonderful way to start your meal at Bulevar. A basket of homemade chips accompanies four vibrant salsas in flavors like roja asada, salsa verde, salsa árbol and smoked bean. The bite-sized sopes de trompo are masa cups filled with diced pork belly, flank steak, fresh pineapple, guajillo peppers and roasted shallots — with flavors reminiscent of Puebla’s al pastor. Machete tacos, stuffed with lamb cheek, smoked jalapeños, caramelized onions and queso mixto are grilled until warm and melty. Other enticing starters include duck carnitas huaraches, bean and goat cheese empanadas and hamachi sashimi.
The open grill is the centerpiece of Bulevar’s kitchen, and most entrees are cooked over live coals. The Pollo a las Brasas is fantastic. Brined for 48 hours in smoked chipotles, lemon and honey, the chicken is then basted with smoked chipotle butter as it roasts. Finally, it’s finished with a pasilla chile rub and served on a bed of fresh corn kernels drizzled with au jus made with chicken stock, butter, lemon, serrano chilis and peppercorns. The result is incredibly flavorful and succulent chicken, perfect for tucking into a warm homemade tortilla. Other top quality grilled meats include Berkshire pork chops and massive prime steaks from the famed Chicago beef purveyor, Linz. For seafood lovers, there’s a variety of fresh grilled fish, scallops and shrimp.
But what really steals the show is a humble side dish upgraded to superstar status: a roasted sweet potato. Instead of the traditional sweet spud, Chef Taylor uses a Japanese variety, which has a pale flesh and nutty flavor reminiscent of roasted chestnuts. Inspired by cochinita pibil of the Yucatán Peninsula, it’s seasoned and wrapped in banana leaves, then slow roasted over hot coals. To finish, it’s brushed with smoked chili butter and topped with a tangle of charred cebollitas onions, crispy pickled peppers, shaved red onions, a generous dollop of smoked jalapeno yogurt and a drizzle of lime vinaigrette. It’s unlike anything else in Austin and it’s spectacular. For dessert, there are hot and crunchy churros and an olive oil cake infused with orange citrus.
Bulevar takes its drinks seriously, offering over 150 Mezcals. Traditional margaritas are on point, but don’t miss the specialty cocktails, like the lip-smacking La Serina made with tequila, amaro, blueberry, cardamom and lemon. The bar also features a wide variety of spirits, beers and domestic and Mexican wines, including a terrific rosé from Valle de Parras and a Fiano-Viognier blend from Valle de Guadalupe.
Service at Bulevar is top-notch, and everyone on the cheerful staff pitches in to keep diners satisfied and happy — which isn’t a stretch at a place doing everything right. Once again, Guy + Larry Restaurant concepts have captured Austin’s current dynamic of casual yet stylish, playful yet refined — and always delicious. Lucky for us, this talented team keeps cranking out the hits.