Creekside Cantina Showcases Mexican and Bolivian Dishes
Water is life. So, it’s only natural that it is a meaningful symbol in our dreams, too. It heralds the interplay between life and death, change and renewal, while its flow denotes the movement of money or energy. In the case of cousins Ronald and Rolando Balcazar the gently rippling water flowing in front their business, RoRo’s Mexican Grill & Cantina, represents a dream come to fruition.
The Balcazars made their vision a reality when they opened on Jan. 7 along the Carroll Creek Linear Park promenade. RoRo’s, a playful amalgam of their names, spans three windowed bays with The Wine Kitchen on one side and Sweeties on the other. The sprawling space, formerly occupied by the Greek restaurant Opa, overlooks genteel pedestrian pathways and the serene rivulet that is one of the park’s signature features.
The idea to open a restaurant began flowing through Ronald’s mind about three years ago. He mulled it over with Rolando, a veteran general manager of several popular local restaurants. The timing wasn’t right then, but the allure didn’t ebb. The duo revisited the prospect a year ago, deciding to give it a shot and, ultimately, netting a prime location in Downtown Frederick’s celebrated dining district.
RoRo’s is part of a growing roster of Mexican/South American kitchens that dot the local food scene. Most of the restaurant’s dishes are the Balcazars’ spin on popular favorites: burritos, fajitas, enchiladas, chimichangas, tacos and quesadillas, complemented by high-lights from their own Bolivian heritage.
VISION TO REALITY
RoRo’s space is an exuberant palette of sunbaked colors. Guests step into a sleek bar area swathed in reddish ocher against sedate coffee tones with mission-style hanging lamps and richly grained wood flooring. A nook of high-topped tables behind the entry foyer lend an air of conspiratorial seclusion in an otherwise open floor plan.
Lively Latin music pulses rhythmically overhead. Beyond the check-in area is a cluster of modern couches in a raised lounge that buffers a bright dining room. The far wall is dominated by an outsized mural of dancers in swirling traditional dresses, serenaded by a Mariachi band.
Ronald’s shy smile crests when he talks about the décor, pointing out features such as the sloping wooden accent panels, meticulously painted accent stripes and warmly lit bar. They did most of the design and install themselves, but Ronald quickly clarifies, “We hired somebody to paint the mural.”
The current and longtime owner of Stone Hearth Bakery on East Street, Ronald remembers, “My parents and grandparents owned a restaurant in Bolivia, so it always appealed to me.”
The cousins pulled family recipes onto their menu, sharing a taste of their childhood, including pacumutos (grilled skewers of steak and vegetables that mirror fajita flavors in Bolivian style) and hearty salteñas. These hefty, slightly sweet pastries are a unique taste experience for the uninitiated. Unlike the popular cheesy empanadas Ronald serves at his bakery, the football-shaped salteña pastry pockets are packed with a juicy filling of finely diced potato, black olives, green peas, hard-boiled eggs, plump raisins and a choice of beef or chicken. One makes a very filling appetizer. They are offered alongside nachos, ceviche, a variety of queso-based dips, cheesy fries with bacon and a coctel de camarones (South American-style shrimp cocktail).
Americans seem to have an ongoing love affair with fajitas. They are the top-selling dish here and Ronald’s favorite, too, but the RoRo’s burrito camba is quickly earning its own following. It is a meaty extravaganza of steak, chicken, shrimp and chorizo sausage all rolled into one flour tortilla and topped with red sauce. There’s a T-bone steak a lo pobre, char-grilled with scallops and brown salsa gravy, and a whole red snapper special that gets high marks from diners, too. Weekend Bolivian specials may include savory peanut soup or picante de galina (spicy duck). Bolivian food is not generally known for its fiery heat, but this duck preparation is a rich, savory dish native to the high altitudes of Western Bolivia. It is usually reserved for festive occasions, but any night out with family and friends can be its own celebration.
If variety is the spice of life, the pick-three combo plate of Tex-Mex classics is just $15 for dinner. We tried the crispy veggie flautas, cheesy enchiladas and delicately thin-shelled chimichangas, which a fellow diner proclaimed, “the bomb.” Most items are made to order, so requests to add or leave out ingredients can be accommodated. The platter is finished with creamy beans, mildly spiced rice, lettuce, pico de gallo and a dollop of sour cream. The tamales were a pleasant surprise. Their flavor is mild and benign with a neatly cloistered filling of chunked chicken or beef and soft vegetables, but the texture is ethereal. The delicate corn exterior is soothingly creamy.
Desserts come from the bakery. Ronald is a trained pastry chef who opened his first bakery in Montgomery County more than two decades ago, so he seems to have fun in supplying RoRo’s with wondrous variety. Guests may find chocolate éclairs and ganache-dipped cannoli alongside cappuccino-flavored cheesecake or a Black Forest version vying for attention among creamy tres leches cake, cool flan, crunchy churros, neatly stacked Napoleons and a host of tartlets such as tangy Key lime, sunny mango and glossy mixed berries.
Drinks have their own cachet. RoRo’s margaritas are served in custom-made glasses swirled with color. Eyes light up for the spicy watermelon margarita accented with slices of fresh jalapeno and Xilli Tequila which is infused with chili pepper for extra bite. It may take a few of these to rev up for the restaurant’s karaoke nights, starting this month on Saturdays from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. Happy hour runs Monday through Friday from 1p.m. to 6 p.m.
When asked about competition, Ronald insists this exceedingly popular cuisine category has enough room for guests to appreciate their options. He acknowledges, “Sure, there are other good Mexican restaurants around.” He gestures in a sweeping arc, “But each has a distinct atmosphere that appeals to different people in different moods and situations. … We imagined this place full of lively energy where customers feel welcome. You walk in and you’re happy. There is life inside. You’re surrounded by friends.”
Ronald surveys the dining room, beginning to fill with smiling patrons, and beams in satisfaction. He looks like a man living his dream.