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Restaurant Review: Baja does superb job with chicken roll, nachos

BAJA SURF GRILL Address: 535 Yates St. Tel: 250-590-6693 Hours: Open daily. Lunch 11: 30 a.m. - 2 p.m.; dinner from 5 p.m. until late, nightly. Major credit cards and Interac accepted. Wheelchair accessible.
Baja Surf Grill at 535 Yates St. in Victoria, B.C.


Address: 535 Yates St.

Tel: 250-590-6693


Open daily. Lunch 11: 30 a.m. - 2 p.m.; dinner from 5 p.m. until late, nightly.

Major credit cards and Interac accepted. Wheelchair accessible.

Rating 4


Rating 1 Below bad

Rating 2 Below average

Rating 3 Average

Rating 4 Above average

Rating 5 Excellent

Step into the lobby at 535 Yates St. in midafternoon and there's little to indicate what takes place behind the closed doors at the far end. But visit during the hours noted above and you'll find attractive galleried space that's part sushi bar, part Mexican restaurant.

My friend Tammy and I wandered in on a recent Sunday afternoon to find someone has put a lot of thought into the interior, which is divided into sections perfect for groups, with walls swathed with saturated colours and fascinating bric-à-brac everywhere. Though it's dimly lit on the ground floor, things are brighter on the mezzanine -easily accessed by either staircase or elevator.

The menu is a mix of Tex-Mex items such as mex-pizzas, chimichangas and some things you might actually find in Mexico, such as fish tacos and stuffed chilies. Similarly, sushi offerings are more fusion than something you would find in an izakaya.

We shared the California tuna salad, with chunks of smoky grilled albacore, peppers and zucchini on a bed of those boring mixed lettuces that I wish would disappear, garnished with various raw vegetables.

Though good, it would be improved by a blend of more substantial lettuces; it was a bargain at $12.

We passed on burritos and chili to sample tacos, choosing pulled pork and battered prawns from the seven fillings available. They were halfway between the two-or threebite affairs filled with meat or fish you would find in Mexico and the super-sized North American versions filled with lettuce and other things; we liked the flavours but found the featured fillings a little skimpy. They were priced at $6 or two for $10; the days when you could pack a tortilla with lettuce and get away with it are gone. These sadly don't compete with local, more authentic versions going for a couple of bucks each.

Food was pretty good, but the room was too loud, especially for a place that only had one other table of customers. Though I am sure the people working were enjoying the indiechick jazz stuff that was blaring out of the speakers, it's a Mexican restaurant, not a coffee bar with poetry readings. When the volume lurched to such a degree that we couldn't talk, they did quickly accede to our request to turn it down.

Our server, though pleasant, clearly hadn't been trained. She brought the wrong salad dressing and disappeared, so we were more than halfway through our meal before this could be rectified. Coffee wasn't refilled after 20 minutes and our bill arrived before we could ask about dessert, so we paid and left with mixed feelings about the place.

We returned a few days later for dinner and arrived shortly before opening. The doors swung open and we were greeted by the kind of person you really want working for you if you have any kind of business involving customer service. Jason is part bartender, part server and human PR machine -and happens to make a fabulous margarita.

We still didn't feel like chili or a one-pound burrito, so we chose a combination of sushi and nachos.

Though we liked Jason's recommendation of the Tropicali crunch roll -a California roll (with real crab) with the addition of chopped mango, rolled in panko breadcrumbs, deep fried, topped with tobiko caviar and drizzled with chipotle mayo and a reduction of sweet soy -neither of us thought we would be able to finish a whole roll on our own because it's so rich. However, it makes a great appetizer when shared.

The Baja chicken roll was a good dish, stuffed with spiced breast meat and avocado and garnished with roast corn salsa. I would order it again, but not if I were craving sushi because it just didn't meet that description for me. Our favourite roll was the tuna caliente, featuring albacore, cucumber, avocado, chives and siracha mayonnaise.

Nachos were superb, fresh-tasting, loaded with vegetables, generously layered with cheese and plenty of chorizo, which we chose as an option. The bill with a couple of drinks was just under $50, but there was enough left over to feed another person, which it did.

Tammy's partner Dylan rated the sushi in exactly same way we had and noted that even as leftovers, these were the best nachos he had eaten in Victoria.

I couldn't agree more. I want more nachos and a bunch of those margaritas. We will be back -with cab fare.