After my initial visit to Nada, a new upscale Mexican restaurant in the Arena District, I was flummoxed by its name - which is Spanish for "nothing." Considering this place scored high across the board in food, service, drinks and atmosphere, I figured a more fitting title would be "Todo" - Spanish for "everything."
After my initial visit to Nada, a new upscale Mexican restaurant in the Arena District, I was flummoxed by its name — which is Spanish for “nothing.” Considering this place scored high across the board in food, service, drinks and atmosphere, I figured a more fitting title would be “Todo” — Spanish for “everything.”
The Cincinnati import is part of the Boca Restaurant Group, whose stylish Queen City eateries (including the original Nada) have earned wide acclaim. This second Nada is doing its part to replicate those accolades in Columbus.
It’s pretty inside. Inviting lighting leads through dramatic and distinct spaces, beginning with a curved bar with liquor bottles twinkling in front of glass grids, and first-come-first-served communal tables — a notable option as Nada has been booked solid lately.
The open and airy main dining room is bifurcated; one side features a banquette, the other offers booths. Both make judicious use of red, gold, tile, floral patterns and curvilinear forms. There’s also a semi-private back room and a patio.
All are served by a courteous, knowledgeable and superbly trained staff. When they take your drink order, target my new favorite cheap margarita (Nadarita, $7). If you’re more ambitious, the Suprema margarita ($13) is well-named. But from the vibrant pink grapefruit ($10, enriched by small batch sorbet) to the lively chile-mango ($10), every margarita iteration I sampled exhibited a rare balance between sweetness and tart citrus.
They also provide righteous lubrication for the Salsa Tasting Trio ($5). Unlike free watery salsas at cookie-cutter Tex-Mex joints, these are pulpy, fruity and nuanced. Ranging from rich roasted tomato-ancho (mild) to tangy tomatillo (medium, and my favorite) to vinegar-ignited habanero (fiery!), they’re all terrific. Nitpicking, too many of the good warm chips were in small pieces.
Nada’s fresh Guacamole ($7), served with wheels of jicama, cucumber and radish in a lovely painted bowl, outpaces most others. Still, my favorite starter was the Short Rib BBQ Sopes ($8).
Two little discs of fried masa offering intense, toasted corn-flour flavor were piled high with juicy strands of tender beef bearing unusually aromatic seasonings. Pickled onion, cilantro, squiggles of crema and a “push” of zesty salsa complete the attractive presentation.
At three for $14-$18 (or $6.50 apiece), Nada’s a la carte tacos cost a lot more than those from the spate of newer taco places in town — but Nada’s are so much better, they’re worth it. Because instead of chilly and indifferent shells enveloping unfocused fillings, they’re first-rate hot and springy corn tortillas jammed with tongue-tingling, fresh and compatible ingredients.
The overachieving pork belly was a thick, crisp and meaty slab whose richness was countered by cilantro, pickled peppers and onions plus guajillo chili salsa. Those same garnishes — minus the pickled peppers — enhanced spicy-and-sweet, chorizo-like chopped pork Pastor tacos.
Generous planks of perfectly cooked, good fish distinguished the grilled salmon tacos. Squeezes of lime helped fine-tune a sweet and heavy-handed corn and chipotle crema layer.
From the entrees — called “Platos Fuertes,” (strong plates) — Tinga Poblana with Fried Egg ($13) delivered potent, harmonious flavors. Served in a skillet, the medium-cooked ova was a lush touch atop a salty and spicy shredded chicken and chorizo stew with pleasant cinnamon and bay leaf accents. Al dente rice beneath supplied ballast.
For something lighter and less spicy, try the crispy-skinned Yucatan Chicken ($17) with charred green beans, salty chayote, seared cauliflower and orange-kissed salsa.
During dessert on my last visit — Butterscotch Flan with boozy notes, crunchy tuile and coconut-y real whipped cream ($5) — a waitress explained Nada’s name meant there was “nothing” like it in town. Smiling at the custard and the pretty room, I completely agreed.