It's wonderful that we now have so many amazing food options, at almost every price point, in almost every American city. In that sphere, the food revolution has arrived and has done its job, and the resulting deliciousness is likely here to stay.
The suburbs and small towns and rest stops and airports of America also have benefited from the country's widening and improving taste in food, but it's still not uncommon to find yourself on a long drive — or between flights, or on the outskirts of some major city somewhere — without many decent dining options. If you're a lover of fast food, this kind of scenario might serve as a good excuse to indulge. But maybe you don't want to eat something unhealthy. Maybe you're a vegetarian. Maybe you don't like fast food at all.
And I admit to being enough of a disgusting food snob that in situations like this, I generally pray for a Chipotle, which I can stomach, or I force down a tasteless sandwich from Starbucks, because at least it's not soaked in grease. But now I have hope for a better solution. It involves someone giving Josef Centeno a whole ton of money to proliferate BäcoShops all over the country.
BäcoShop, which Centeno opened in March in downtown Culver City, is his first foray as an owner beyond downtown, where his five other restaurants dominate the couple of blocks where Main and Fourth streets meet. This separation is probably a good thing, given that BäcoShop is so very different from Centeno's other spots, even though it is based on the food item that defines Bäco Mercat, his original downtown restaurant. The bäco — a Centeno-invented folded flatbread that is part sandwich, part taco — makes a seamless transition from Bäco Mercat's trendy sit-down dining room to BäcoShop's fast-casual setup. Are they a little less nuanced in this new setting? Is the bread a little tougher, the composition a little blunter? Sure. But they're also perfectly suited to mass replication: simple, versatile, adaptable.
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Like Chipotle, the format at BäcoShop is a choose-your-own-adventure menu: You choose a protein, maybe chile shrimp or slow-roasted pork, and then decide if you want it served as a bäco, a bäcorrito (like a bäco but in burrito rather than taco form) or a bowl. There are a ton of creative vegetable sides to choose from, and you can get any three of them as a plate for $12.
The thing that impresses me most about BäcoShop is how hard Centeno and co. have thought about all the things that are missing from the usual fast-casual experience. Vegetables, yes, but also decent beer and wine, desserts you'd actually want to eat, and solutions for busy families. The shop now serves "Bäco packs" after 5 p.m., in which you can get two, four or eight Bäcos with sides and cookies. It's a quick and easy dinner that's not terribly unhealthy, that tastes better than most other quick solutions, and that's pretty affordable (a four-pack, meant to feed four people, is $45).
As I sat eating my slow-roasted pork bäco and my salad of eggplant and chickpeas, I envisioned a future in which this might be an option at the airport, or beside the highway in the middle of nowhere, or in a suburban shopping center. I'm glad it's in Culver City for now, but BäcoShop is a concept that deserves to multiply.
BäcoShop, 9552 Washington Blvd., Culver City; (424) 258-6301, baco-shop.com.