November 1, 2013

By Gian Pogliano

Steak tacos scored well at Mr. Webo’s. — photo Jennifer Kresse

Steak tacos scored well at Mr. Webo’s. — photo Jennifer Kresse

Mr. Webo’s tends to be viewed as the odd kid out in Bay View’s restaurant scene: it is fairly new and with a name and signage that some find off-putting name. Some can’t even figure out the pronunciation — use a long “a” instead of an “e” and think huevos. It doesn’t help having the wildly hip Guanajuato’s (or GTO, as folks call it) two doors down. This is quite a shame, as the food is definitely not a thoughtless retread of GTO’s standard Americanized cantina menu.

Mr. Webo’s occupies a unique place in Milwaukee Mexican fare.

It is simultaneously traditional, using lots of cilantro and onions and featuring many menu items relatively unknown to non-Hispanic customers, while also putting a contemporary high-class foodie spin on standard dishes without alienating a customer base reared on Conejito’s and Johnny’s.

The décor is a crafty mix of contemporary urban murals and traditional Mexican tables and chairs. However, the background music of indie rock hits was a bit too modern and sometimes drew too much attention to itself. It took a bit longer than expected to get my food considering the number of customers, but not overwhelmingly so, considering the fact that all the dishes are made fresh to order. A few flies were milling about from the open patio in the rear of the building, but I don’t expect to see any when the back is closed up.

To start, I received chips and three house salsas: pico de gallo; salsa verde with red pepper flakes, and an unusual sweet and piquant salsa made with honey, sugar, and habanero. The chips were unusually long and thin, which made spooning up the chunky salsa a bit difficult even when the chips were broken in half.

I began with some enchiladas and tacos à la carte at $2.50 each, except for those with steak, which were $3. This is a great way to try each type of meat, and it fills you up quick even without the rice and beans. All of the tacos were served inside two fresh corn tortillas with lettuce and tomatoes that tasted like they came straight from the garden.

The pork, in long pulled strings, was juicy but a bit watery, having been marinating in a savory broth with long slices of celery. The chicken came in tender chunks and seemed to have a light marinade, a bit subtler than the heavily marinated pulled-chicken down the street. If you prefer chicken, GTO is the better choice, but if you like big juicy chunks of steak, Mr. Webo’s has proven itself superior to just about any cantina in town. My steak enchilada was full of tasty morsels, a rojo sauce with a sharp tang, and had pleasantly stringy melted cheese and sour cream on top.

Mr. Webo’s signature Fish Tacos Baja Style ($12.95) were perfect for rustic fall weather, with pickled cabbage, a mix of two types of cornmeal, chipotle aioli to add a bit of zing, and just a tiny bit of avocado to cool the palate back down. The tilapia was breaded just enough to give each piece a nice crunch, without overtaking the natural taste of the fish.

The refried beans served on the side were the restaurant’s one really weak point, and were the only item that didn’t seem to be particularly fresh. They seemed unusually spicy and were crusty and hard at the top. The rice was milder and less fried than typical cantina rice, with some cilantro mixed in.

Other interesting options with Mr. Webo’s mix of traditional and sophisticated include the Yucatan Style Pork Plate ($13.95), Shrimp Enchilado (smothered shrimp) in citrus tomato sauce ($15.95), and the Chorizo Roasted Poblano appetizer ($7.95).

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