Mari Luna Bistro is the newest addition to the Mari Luna restaurant family (Mari Luna Mexican Grill and Mari Luna Latin Grill). Let me start by saying I am a regular at the original Mari Luna Mexican Grill and often deem it one of my favorite restaurants. I have only dined at Mari Luna Latin Grill a handful of times, but was always pleasantly satisfied with my experience.
I recently dined at Mari Luna Bistro (Downtown Baltimore), hoping to have a better experience than Baltimore Sun food Critic, Richard Gorelick, who recently bashed the restaurant in the Sunday paper. Richard referred to the décor of the restaurant as “drab”, which I definitely don’t agree with. The restaurant uses bold yellows and blues to create a modern ambiance for diners. One of the larger walls in the restaurant was completely bare, and desperately cried for some artwork or a mural. Décor aside, the restaurant has a nice layout and offers a lot of classics off the Mexican and Latin Grill menus. You will still find the usual burritos and enchiladas; however, there is also a bunch of chef specialties, various taco combination, as well as a guacamole bar – offering 7 types of custom guacamoles.
We started with the Cabo San Luca Guacamole, which contained orange, jicama, and lump-crab. The guacamole was very well made and had a nice fresh taste. My one complaint was that I like my guacamole with a coarse texture, as opposed to the Mari Luna one which completely mashes the avocado. We also started off with a cornbread side dish, which had a rich buttery texture and was very moist. Upon recommendation from our server, I ordered a braised pork shank, which sounded delicious; however, upon receiving it the pork was bland, although tender, and the sauce was just a watery braising liquid. Additionally, my dish was supposed to come with spinach, which I never received. Other people in my party cleverly ordered the taco combination, choosing from options such as red snapper, braised lamb, steak, shredded pork and chicken. I tried a bite of each of the proteins available and all were delicious. I also tried some of the fajitas, which as Gorelick said, “don’t come sizzling.” I would assume the fajitas would be similar, if not identical to the fajitas at Mari Luna Mexican Grill – sadly they were not. The steak was a bit dry and didn’t have the usual Mari Luna finesse.
All in all, I have very mixed opinions about the new Mari Luna. I don’t quite understand how Jaime Luna (owner) didn’t inscribe the same principles and standards as he did in his other two outstanding locations. It was obvious the chefs need some more training with the menu, and honestly, I think the owner just needs to spend some more time at this location. Luckily, the real gem in the Mari Luna franchise (Mexican Grill) is still only 5 minutes away from my house. Close enough to satisfy my Mexican food cravings.