Brick-oven pizza, tomato sauce and red wine have been replaced by tacos, salsa and tequila in West Hartford's Bishops Corner. Ocho Cafe is now open in the former Bertucci's space at 330 N. Main St.
Partners Edgar Brambila, Hector Brambila, Rudy Brambila and Noe Ruelas opened the Mexican restaurant on June 5. Edgar and Hector Brambila also own and operate Rio Bravo restaurants in Fairfield County and Larchmont, N.Y.; two Frontera Grill restaurants in Chicopee and Fairhaven, Mass., and Zapatas Cantina in North Carolina.
THE ATMOSPHERE: The ambiance at Ocho Cafe evokes "vacation in Mexico" — a bright, festive 180-seat space with vibrant colors, carved stone, painted tiles, blown-glass chandeliers, pottery and sculptures.
FEATURED/NOTEWORTHY DISHES: The extensive menu covers all the favorites, like tacos, quesadillas, enchiladas, fajitas and chimichangas. Appetizers include guacamole, prepared fresh tableside (and available with customizations); "ultimate ceviche" with scallops, shrimp and tilapia; "raja taquitos" stuffed with roasted poblanos, corn and potatoes and queso fundido.
Tacos are top sellers, Ruelas says, served on housemade corn tortillas with classic preparations like al pastor, carnitas and beer-battered fish. Others boast more unusual fillings: crispy calamari, Korean-style short rib, fried chicken "Milanesa" and the popular Marco Polo tacos with bacon-wrapped shrimp. Fajitas feature requisite chicken and steak, a lemon garlic salmon, and there's also a colorful vegetable version with spinach, tomatoes, mushrooms, broccoli and cauliflower.
"South of the Border" entrees include carne asada with green onions and guacamole; "square knot" achiote and lemon-seared salmon with roasted pineapple and vegetables; and shrimp emboscada, bacon-wrapped shrimp over sauteed vegetables with Oaxacan cheese and finished with roasted poblano crema.
The restaurant also has a self-serve salsa bar, with nine different options.
THE BAR: Tequila naturally takes the spotlight at Ocho, with about 60 different offerings of blanco, reposado and añejo selections and plans to add more, Ruelas says. The restaurant also plans to add tequila flights.
Margaritas run the gamut from house-style ($9) with Luna Azul Blanco and housemade sour mix to the $16 Torero, with Don Julio Reposado and 100-year premium Grand Marnier, which features a hollowed-out lime half filled with 151-proof rum and set aflame. Flavored margaritas, from classic strawberry and mango to exotic tamarind and guava, are $10.
Happy hour runs Monday through Friday from 3 to 6 p.m. in the bar area, with specials on well drinks, draft and bottled beer and wines; and $6 appetizers like quesadillas, nachos, chicken taquitos and tacos. Other daily specials, available throughout the restaurant, include Mucho Mondays' half-priced margarita pitchers; $3 bottled beers on Tuesdays; $8 Ultimate Margaritas on Wednesdays; $3 domestic beers and $5 house margaritas for Rio Grande Thursdays; and half-priced bottles of wine and $3 Coronas on Siesta Sundays.
PRICING: Appetizers are $6.50 to $13. Soups and salads are $7 to $13. Quesadillas are $9 to $13; taco plates with rice, beans and slaw are $9 to $16. Enchiladas are $9 to $17; fajitas are $10 to $24; chimichangas are $11 to $18. Entrees are $11 to $22 and combo plates are $9 to $25. Desserts like churros, tres leches cake, flan and fried ice cream are $6. (Some pricing reflects lunch portions.)
HOURS: Ocho Cafe is open Sunday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Ocho Cafe is at 330 N. Main St. in West Hartford. 860-310-3063, facebook.com/OchoCafeTT.