Smoked fish taquitos, flautas de pato and a trio of salsas. Photo by Steve Coomes.

Call me bold for predicting this, but Guaca-Mole Cocina Mexicana will be a hit from the moment opens. (** See note on opening day at the end of this blog.)

Saying so is about as bold as predicting UK will win the NCAA championship — after the fact. I’m that certain it will because of the prodigious talent and experience on staff here: chefs Fernando Martinez (co-founder of Havana Rumba and Mojito Tapas Restaurant) and cousin Yaniel Martinez (also from the Havana Rumba family) and Fernando’s wife, Christina Martinez, as general manager.

Unlike UK’s amazing team, these are not one-and-done freshmen, they are pros; people one might easily suspect held their soft openings last week just to show off and imply, “We don’t need to do this, we’re just teasing you.”

But they didn’t.

They did it like smart restaurateurs who know it’s ALWAYS smart to practice, to discover operational kinks and work them out before paying, demanding customers come in and point them out. In fact, despite everything being free (other than the drinks and gratuity), the Martinezes visited every table multiple times to say, “We’re so glad you came to try us out and let us know how you like our food.”

Um, no, that’s supposed to go the other way, as in, “We’re so glad you saved us from a dinner of tuna-noodle casserole and Kool-Aid and invited us to your restaurant for some of the most delicious and creative food in town.”

Sous vide lamb in mole. Photo by Steve Coomes.

Guaca-Mole is located just off Hurstbourne Parkway on 9221 Ormsby Station Road, and occupies a former Shoney’s, though you’d never recognize it once inside. The walls are painted bright shades of orange and green, and the furniture is simple and straightforward. The food and drink make up the visual show here, just as it should be.

As our group of five ate, a live band played what I (who am not a music wonk) would deem modern Mexican-Latin music. The acoustics are so good in the space—and the food so gorgeous to look at—I had no idea a live band was playing until the meal was nearly over. The trio was not only fantastic, they’re worth coming here to listen to.

This isn’t an official restaurant review (which sometimes can be tedious). Rather it’s a rapid glance at what we ate and why we liked it:

Drinks (click here to see the bar menu): two in our group had delicious traditional mojitos, another had a pink senorita (grapefruit juice, Patron Silver, St. Germaine, soda and a pink peppercorn rim) and I had a mango picante (chile-infused tequila, chile de arbol, mango and pineapple juices and a pepper-salted rim). Sound deelish? They were.

Short ribs enfrijolada. Photo by Steve Coomes.

Apps: (Click here for menu.) While you mull over the menu, you’re given fresh chips with a trio of salas: one cruda, two pureed, my favorite of which was a spicy salsa verde made from tomatillo. Like seemingly everyone who’s been there, we had the smoky fish taquitos (perfectly tiny and idea for sharing) the flautas de pato (duck confit, cabbage, tomato, rolled in a tortilla, fried and served with a jalapeno marmalade—incredible).

Entrees: (Click here for menu. We mixed some apps in there, too, since we shared): Again, to steer clear of a bombardment with boring but deserved adjectives, let’s just say all were first rate and not remotely like you’ll find elsewhere in town, save for Mayan Café: vuelve a la vida (mussels, octopus, shrimp, calamari ceviche … unreal); carne asada (about the most perfectly prepared skirt steak I’ve ever tasted); short ribs enfrijolada (short ribs cooked sous vide for 48 hours, shredded and stuffed into enchiladas—though hard to choose, maybe the best in our lineup); camarones a la diabla (shrimp poached in a guajillo pepper and lobster stock—incredibly delicate with a sneaky spicy edge) and a lamb shank mole (whose name I neglected to write down … that was fork tender and served in a deliciously rich, but not overwhelming mole, outstanding).

Chocolate tres leches cake with pistachio ice cream. Photo by Steve Coomes.

Stuffed, we resisted dessert initially until our charming server talked us into sharing a chocolate tres leches cake with pistachio ice cream. Delightful, of course, and uber-photogenic.

Side note: It’s always impressive to see restaurant pros invited to soft openings, a signal that competitors do value their friendships with peers, as well as their opinions. A few tables away from us were Dean Corbett and Troy Ritchie (owner and general manager, respectively, of Corbett’s: An American Place.) As a testament to the quality of the food, Corbett got up from his table several times to visit other tables to chat about what he was eating, as well ask others about their choices. He was clearly elated.

And as we finished our dessert, he ambled our way to insist we try one of his sections of elotes callejeros (grilled corn pieces brushed with mayonnaise, chile piquin and sprinkled with crumbled Coteja cheese). “This is unbelievable! You have to try it,” Corbett said, holding out the corn on a small wooden pick. Though stuffed, there was no resisting him. He wasn’t exaggerating: it was fantastic. A must do on a return visit.

** Guaca-Mole’s Facebook page says it’s opening today, April 3, though when we were there Friday, we were told it will open Wednesday, April 4. Call ahead to make sure: 365-4823.

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Steve Coomes
Steve Coomes is a restaurant veteran turned award-winning food, spirits and travel writer. In his 24-year career, he has edited and written for multiple national trade and consumer publications including Nation's Restaurant News and Southern Living. He is a feature writer for Louisville magazine, Edible Louisville & The Bluegrass and Food & Dining Magazine. The author of two books, "Country Ham: A Southern Tradition of Hogs, Salt & Smoke," and the "Home Distiller's Guide to Spirits," he also serves as a ghostwriter for multiple clients.

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