The sweet, funky neighborhood vibe that the Tune Up Café (1115 Hickox St., 983-7060) is known for just got bigger and better with the opening of this local favorite's new bar space.
The Riveras have added a new room to their little adobe—a more contemporary-feeling extension on the side, anchored by a long, two-top-table-lined booth under a Diego Rivera-inspired mural, with a compact bar occupying the corner.
Edward Gorey-esque illustrations, shot through with blocs of color, hang on the walls; and the bar stools are neo-antique perches set under funky exposed bulb and iron chandeliers.
Jesús and Charlotte Rivera waited the better part of a year to get their beer and wine license, so they've stirred some imagination into the bar's limited drink offerings, pouring a shortlist of sake-based cocktails ($6), including a Bloody Mary, as well as more creative concoctions like the green tea-lemongrass-ginger combo, or the "Japanese Cobbler," which combines fresh pineapple, orange and cherry juice with sake and a hit of champagne.
Beer devotees can grab a pint ($5) from the bar's pulls of Sierra Nevada, Stone, New Belgium, Osker or Deschutes, or opt for a 4-buck pint of Negra Modelo or an Ace pear cider ($5).
For now, Tune Up's barside food menu is the same as the one served in the café next door, but the reliable Salvadoran pupusa ($6.25)—a fat, white corn disc stuffed with flank steak and queso fresco, served alongside a pickled cabbage slaw condiment called "cortido"—makes for a good barstool nosh, as does a shared plate of salmon tacos ($14.50) studded with house-chopped pico in a light yogurt sauce, swaddled in a trio of corn tortillas.
Writing a review of Tune Up's lunch menu almost seems absurd—by now, who hasn't come to love the café's ground New Mexico beef burger on a fat brioche bun ($8.25), served, initially, as a nod to the legendary burger joint that once occupied the same space? The burger's now justifiably "famous" in its own right. (Which prompts the question: How many years does Tune Up have to be open before mention that Dave is indeed "not there" stops?)
Beyond burgers (there are buffalo and veggie versions, too), Tune Up is known for its earthy enchilada selection ($8.75-$9.75 lunch; $11.50 and $12.50 at dinner), plated up either classic style—rolled with chicken and cheese and slathered with New Mexico chile—or offered as a rich mole colorado version with chicken or tofu inside, served with the café's rice and signature grilled banana.
The banana riff (Jesús is from El Salvador) reappears as the wrapping of a dense vegetarian or chicken tamale—a mainstay on the breakfast, lunch and dinner menus.
Other homegrown Central American flavors like the pupusas, eggs with scallions and tomato and cortido slaw pepper the menu, distinguishing Tune Up from other eclectic, burger etc.-type café menus around town.
On the flip side of the café's new "late night" bar opening, Tune Up's a great place to start the day. The café opens at 7 am, and the breakfast menu includes eggs, oatmeal and even corned beef hash ($8.75). I grabbed a coffee and what felt like a bottomless bowl of chewy Irish oatmeal ($6) topped with red and green apple squares, blueberries and sides of sugar, frothed warm milk and maple syrup. Shared with a friend, it hit the spot, as did our shared halves of the super-creamy omelette ($9)—an egg envelope over spinach, mushrooms, cheese and smoky diced ham.
A self-declared "expert" on omelettes around town, my friend dubbed this one a cut above most, adding that the homefries were good, too.
We both weighed in on Tune Up's chiles, of course. My friend preferring the warm, black pepper-riddled green, while I enjoyed the rich depth of the smooth red.