With crisp and fresh flavors, along with certain spices and textures, Latin American food finds a level of flavorful satisfaction that is very difficult to replicate.
As the former owner of a taco restaurant in Moscow, Idaho, I watch new places serving such dishes with great enthusiasm and curiosity. Seeing Mala Luna open this spring at 624 W. Idaho St., where Dharma once was – Mala Luna is a brainchild of Boise Fry Co. – delighted me to try it.
Upon entering the new space, I was impressed by the total transformation from what existed before. The room is dark and bright at the same time, welcoming and exclusive, classic with modern elements.
My table mate and I were informed after sitting down that the staff were in training that day and were familiar with the new menu and new bar listings. This showed when our waiter forgot our order and had to return to the table.
The menu, however, was easy to digest, not too long, and divided into simple sections. Mala Luna offers two variations of nachos, three types of Torta sandwiches, three choices of empanadas, a salad and fried bread tacos – in addition to four sides and a plentiful drink menu. We decided to go with the pork torta, breast empanadas, side salad, and Navajo Fry-Bread tacos.
For drinking we tried the homemade Mango Agua Fresca, as we sat by the side of the street and watched Boise come to life, which was exactly what I wanted to see.
The empanadas were beautifully crispy, their little pillow pockets enclosing a meaty flavor and exhibiting a sweet, slightly spicy, and smoky aftertaste. I could easily have eaten them alone as a meal. They were accompanied by a chimichurri sauce, which is a cilantro sauce made from vinegar and spiced with a little jalapeño and shallot. It’s a perfect match. The herbaceous flavor of the cilantro contrasting with the richness of the brisket and green olive was honestly perfect.
The side salad was grilled corn, greens, jicama, avocado, and salted Cotija cheese, with an avocado cream dressing. It had a light and subtle flavor, but its crushing and earthy character was a refreshing palate cleanser to the depth of empanadas. We washed it down with the mango drink, which was sweet, refreshing, and flavorful. It was a good start.
The next items to be released were the Cochinita Torta pork and the tacos. The first thing that struck me about these dishes was the size – the portions were large! The sandwich was very bulky, maybe too much, as it was having a hard time standing. The topping was falling off the sides, like condiments dripping from a burger in an advertisement, and it was messy. Accepting the neglect and taking a bite, we noticed that the flavor was pleasant, with characteristics similar to empanadas, but the meat was inconsistent and downright inconvenient compared to the overall presentation.
Some of the meat was tender and well-executed, for example, but it was marred with nasty and disorienting little bits of cartilage and fat. The fat in the sandwich was also a bit too much, and while the coleslaw was a nice attempt to make up for the heaviness of the dish, it didn’t quite strike the right balance. This sandwich has a lot of potential, but it’s not quite there yet.
The tacos were unfortunately in a similar category. The meat was inconsistent and almost identical to the torta, except there was lettuce instead of coleslaw. The mashed black beans were a bit thick and had no effect on the texture or flavor. The highlight was the shells themselves. They were sweet and tasty, really well cooked, light and salty. The amount of topping was overwhelming again, spilling out as we ate. I was disappointed, but I also think there is potential to reform the compilation with the given ingredients.
Overall, Mala Luna is worth a visit. It’s new, and every new restaurant has growth issues, from staff to food. The concept and ambiance are worth welcoming to downtown Boise. It’s a fun menu – the prices are $ 11 to $ 12 for the tortas, $ 8.50 to $ 9.50 for the empanadas, $ 12 for the tacos, $ 10 for our nachos – and I can’t wait. explore the cocktail menu further, as well as find dishes as good as empanadas.
Amos Rothstein is an independent restaurant critic for the Idaho Statesman.