Photo by Megan Leigh Barnard

Muy Bien

Friday night, 6:30 p.m.—prime time for any restaurant. For a brand new addition that sits about 50 yards from Nationwide Arena, half an hour before a Blue Jackets game is tantamount to DEFCON 1.

Yet in spite of the din, after being up and running for just three weeks, the staff at Nada glided through the space, dodging patrons and slinging tacos like it was old hat.

And to some extent, it is—Nada is a Cincinnati transfer, one of the jewels in the growing crown of the Boca Restaurant Group, and a sparkly one at that.

What you notice instantly about the restaurant is the space, a 6,000-square-foot sweeping journey that has a distinct beginning, middle, and end.

“We design everything internally,” explained Palmer, Boca’s mononymous creative director. “It’s a custom space and a big source of pride. Honestly, if Cincinnati could see this place, they might feel just a little bit slighted. This is everything we always wanted Nada to be.”

“Honestly, if Cincinnati could see this place, they might feel just a little bit slighted. This is everything we always wanted Nada to be.”

A good amount of ink has been spilled on the subject already, but certain features demand attention. The host station is its own space; no danger of having to wedge between bodies and avoid rushing servers while waiting to be seen. The bar is large but not overbearingly so, sitting beneath a beautiful mosaic ceiling and opening up to its own dining room separated artfully from the main dining space by two curved, corrugated metal walls.

“The walls are meant to be inviting, the room there more seductive, sexier,” Palmer continued. “It really was a blank slate. It should be an experience, walking through the restaurant. The fundamental idea here is to blow people away.”

The restaurant’s large footprint allowed for a lot of creativity, including yet another separate dining space, this one hidden behind a floor-to-ceiling moving wall that looks like a continuation of the bar but opens to a private party room—wired for sound and ready for reservation.

A western-facing patio runs the length of the building and whispers promises of sun-drenched Saturdays in March and April with music and margaritas, and the Jackets just a stroll away.

Even the men’s room (I was not privy to the women’s) has a personal touch, courtesy of Palmer: eye-level with patrons is a panoramic battle scene on a paint-splattered alien landscape that pits M.U.S.C.L.E. Men versus Army Men. Suffice it to say, the swell of nostalgia made relieving myself all the more satisfying.

All of this, and not yet word one about the food. It’s no slight, of course—the food is marvelous. Sous Chef Casey Frank supplied a wide selection, from the house-fried cantina chips with chunky guacamole to the tinga quesadilla.

The menu is controlled, not overly expansive, and it shows in the distinctiveness of the dishes. It would be easy for a taco-anchored menu to sort of bleed together, but one bite of the crispy pork belly taco next to the big ancho flavor of the tinga, and it’s clear that each dish fought its own way onto the menu.

Initial response from customers prompted Nada to drop its prices a skosh, particularly on its lunch menu. That kind of flexibility is rare in an increasingly competitive food scene, and further distances the newcomer from some of its more chain-y nearby competitors. It was a no-brainer, according to Palmer.

“We listen. That’s it. This is our first step outside of Cincinnati, and we want to make a big splash.”

Mission accomplished.