One of the most interesting new restaurants I’ve visited this year is called Niño Viejo, which is located at Farmington’s Station Park in the location that previously was home to the short-lived Tortilla Union. If my Spanish serves me, Niño Viejo translates as “old boy.”
The Niño Viejo website clarifies … sort of: “The Niño Viejo Story: Old Boy. Old Soul. Young at Heart.” It goes on to explain the Niño Viejo philosophy: “Remix of a classic. Whatever you want to call it, we believe the old world methods of making food – making things by hand, from scratch, cooking meat low and slow, using real foods rather than processed – is the proper way. So we’ve perfected these traditional ideas and applied our unique, young spin into every one of our recipes – focusing on flavor pairings rather than the status quo – to bring you our own, signature experience we call ‘Niño Viejo’.”
Chef/Operating Partner Brandon Price heads up the kitchen at Niño Viejo which is “led by the creative direction of celebrity chef Marco Niccoli.” It would be a terrific, festive spot to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. I’ve enjoyed Price’s cooking at restaurants such as Oak Wood Fire Kitchen, Trio, Blue Lemon and elsewhere, but I think he is especially well-suited to the contemporary Latin cuisine offered at Niño Viejo, which ranges from tacos, tostadas and enchiladas to ceviche and entrees like whole sea bass, and a combo platter that features steak, shrimp, chorizo, chicken and more. There is also a brunch menu with huevos rancheros, chilaquiles, carne seca and tortas.
There are remnants left from Tortilla Union, but by and large Niño Viejo is a new restaurant with eye-popping decor and ambiance. I really like how Price’s team remodeled the bar area, which is gorgeous. The bar menu features a vast selection of tequilas and mezcals, as well as craft cocktails, sangria, wine, beer, margaritas and more. There is something for everyone and every budget, from a $90 shot of Clase Azul Añejo to a 2-buck Coronita.
You’ll enjoy the handmade tortilla chips and salsa – which are on the house – as you peruse the Niño Viejo menu. The homemade salsa, by the way, is exquisite. Tempting tapas at Niño Viejo include carne asada steak fries ($12); queso poblano – melted cheeses with chorizo, poblano and serrano peppers and crispy tortillas ($10); chicharróns with salsa verde ($5); roasted pork tamales ($8), and more.
Solar de Randez Rosé from the Rioja region of Spain is a great wine to accompany many of the dishes at Niño Viejo, including the chorizo tacos ($12), which is two large homemade corn tortillas topped with delicious chorizo, spicy pickled red onion, queso fresco, and pico de gallo. I also really liked the earthy flavors of the carnitas tacos ($12), with crispy roasted pork, corn salsa, queso fresco, verde sauce and local microgreens.
Ceviche at Niño Viejo is made fresh daily using sustainably sourced seafood which is marinated in a mix of citrus juices, chile peppers and onions, then topped with chefs’ accompaniments and tortilla chips. The ceviche is served in generous portions and the bold flavors could be shared by two to four people.
I loved the zippy spiciness of the shrimp ceviche ($18) which is citrus-marinated shrimp with cucumber, serrano peppers and pico de gallo. Equally delicious was ahi tuna ceviche ($20) with citrus, cucumber, avocado, pico de gallo, microgreens and garnished with radish. Additional ceviche options include salmon with cilantro and yellowtail.
Among the interesting beverages at Niño Viejo are the palomas – tequila-based cocktails with grapefruit, soda, lime juice, agave and fruit. My stepson very much enjoyed his guava paloma ($12). One nice surprise: I don’t think I remember ever eating in a (mostly) Mexican restaurant that served French press coffee ($5)!
During a second visit to Niño Viejo, we tried some different tacos, including vegan tacos ($10) with julienned jicama and apple, plus avocado, radish and chile oil. The salmon tacos ($12) are also excellent: spice-rubbed salmon with shredded cabbage and homemade crema.
Desserts at Niño Viejo include creamy Mexican hot chocolate with whipped cream and cocoa dust ($5). But my favorite is the addictive churro doughnuts ($8). These were scrumptious made-to-order vanilla bean doughnuts rolled in cinnamon sugar and served with dulce de leche. Equally delicious are the Mexican wedding cookies ($7) – peanut butter cookies rolled in powdered sugar and served with a marvelous Mexican chocolate sauce.
There are times when I just want a street cart-style taco or a chile verde smothered burrito. And then, there are times when I want to indulge in upscale, contemporary Latin fare with top-notch service in a place that offers killer ambiance and “adult” beverages. For the latter – and certainly for Cinco de Mayo – my choice is Niño Viejo
Photos by Ted Scheffler
Culinary quote of the week:
“The only thing I like better than talking about food is eating.” — John Walters
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Originally trained as an anthropologist, Ted Scheffler is a seasoned food, wine & travel writer based in Utah. He loves cooking, skiing, and spends an inordinate amount of time tending to his ever-growing herd of guitars and amplifiers.
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