Staci Davis knew there was going to be pushback when she decided not only to move her restaurant, Radical Eats, from its Northside home, but also to add meat to the menu in its new Montrose location. The famously vegan taqueria transformed almost overnight when it opened its doors in the former Roots Bistro space. Gone are the low ceilings, cramped kitchen with malfunctioning appliances, and menu of Mexican-inspired vegan dishes that defined Radical Eats. The new restaurant has plenty of space—both for Davis's kitchen as well as a bar and adjoining coffee shop, which Davis plans to use in the evenings as a private dining room (the coffee shop is open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.).
Radical Eats now looks downright palatial compared to its old digs, where mismatched ceiling tiles held court over help-yourself pitchers of aguas frescas and wonky tables.
And although some customers are thrilled by the lovely new space, Davis says others still haven't been able to reconcile themselves with a menu that now includes boudin balls and a kimchi burger alongside the fried avocado tacos and butternut squash tamales which made the old Radical Eats a destination for vegans across the city.
I am not one of those customers. I love the fact that Davis has added meat to her menu, mostly because I love the fact that vegans, vegetarians, and carnivores alike can sit down and enjoy a meal together in a restaurant that takes all three diets seriously. Davis is careful about where she sources her meat, cheese, and eggs from, taking pains to only purchase from farms and ranches she knows and trusts. She hasn't eliminated her vegan menu, but has enhanced it with dishes that will draw other diners in.
Despite the fact that my boyfriend and I are avowed omnivores, we found ourselves ordering nearly all vegan dishes one recent night for dinner at Radical Eats. We had to have one of Davis's famous fried avocado tacos, of course, on tortillas so soft you'd never know they were vegan. I couldn't resist trying one of her fresh corn tamales, which was tender and sweet and scattered with roasted chiles that gave it an earthy depth. We were both drawn to the black eyed pea cakes, which were given a crunchy texture on the outside with the playful addition of Rice Krispie cereal, then topped with wonderfully fresh, cornmeal-battered fried okra.
But the biggest surprise of all was the salmon crudo. "I just want to see how it compares to Cove," my boyfriend said as he ordered. "That's not at all fair," I grumbled back. "Crudo is what Cove does." It turns out I should have had more faith in Davis. The creamy pink fish was perfectly accented with fruity olive oil, crunchy red onions, and soft chunks of mango and papaya. Was it a Jean-Philippe Gaston creation? No. Was it excellent on its own merits? Yes, and I'd order it again in a heartbeat.
All of our food, in fact, was as good or better than all my meals at Radical Eats' old location. All that kitchen space is clearly doing Davis some good, although I've heard from at least one friend that her Wagyu chicken fried steak at brunch one morning was sub-par. I think this is to be expected as Davis reacquaints herself with the proteins that were absent from her kitchen for so long. Other than the lovely crudo, I didn't order any meat-based dishes, but look forward to finding out how Davis is doing with them on my next visit.
I'm also looking forward to her other plans: a vegetable garden on the patio, for example, and a growing wine list. "I want to add more Pinot Noirs," Davis told me of the list which currently bears two Pinots by-the-glass along with several good beer options. She's also working on making the space more comfortable and lived-in, adding books to the bar area and hanging local art on the walls.
If you ask me, however, the space is already far more well-utilized than it ever was as Roots Bistro, or its predecessors, Cafe Moustache and So Vino. All three spaces were stuffy and overly upscale for the neighborhood. Davis has done away with the forced valet parking, lightened it up inside, and made it feel more welcoming overall. I was pleased to see the restaurant almost half-full with an assortment of diners from all walks of life.
"This is the most 'Montrose' restaurant I've seen open in a long time," my boyfriend noted of the pleasantly diverse crowd. I had hoped Radical Eats would bring that pleasantly low-key, take-all-comers attitude with it from its old location, and am glad to see that even if everything else has changed, that warm embrace has not.