Spanish lessons in downtown Winston-Salem

by Brian Clarey

I took classroom Spanish for like six years, and I still suck at it.

For example, I thought that Buena Pinta, the new-ish Mexican restaurant in downtown Winston-Salem, meant “good beans.”

It does not. Buena pinta means “good looking,” which makes it an apt name for this quaint little eatery, with a tasteful palette and fabulous art hanging from the walls. I sit in a booth underneath a wonderful acrylic and contemplate the menu.

I took an oath not too long ago only to frequent bodega-style taquerías, citing authenticity, price point and gastronomic thrills as my reasons. But as someone who writes about restaurants every week, I recognize this is an impossible oath to keep. Buena Pinta is nothing like the roadside groceries where I’ve been getting my tacos lately. It’s full of white people, for one, in business dress or bohemian finery. And the lunch menu is more like those of the Americanized Mexican restaurants I thought I swore off: tacos and burritos and quesadillas.

The dinner menu is more elaborate: a slate of interesting appetizers like spicy shrimp and fried avocado, grilled fish and sizzling fajitas. In the evenings, I imagine the small bar at the back filled with drinkers ordering interesting tequilas as stringed mariachi music plays.

Both menus feature albondigas — which I recall from 9th grade Spanish class are meatballs, and against my better instincts I do not order them, instead getting the taco special: two, with a salad and chips.

Bodega tacos have spoiled me for everything else, though Buena Pinta’s version of tacos are not unappealing. I get one hard and one soft, both with steak. The meat is seasoned well, and the shredded lettuce, cheese and tomato are fine. The hard taco shell is a pre-made product. And here is a tip: Get the soft taco. It accommodates more filling.

The salad is one of least resistance, with the same shredded lettuce as my tacos. The house dressing is a disappointing, lemony ranch. I’ll say this: The presentation is fabulous, the tacos wedged into a small, white casserole dish that, unlike in other Mexican joints, did not burn off my fingerprints when I touched it. And the service is impeccable; I’m catered to by beautiful women with accented English and dazzling smiles, friendly enough to warrant a return trip all by themselves. Had I been a better student of Spanish, I’d attempt to converse with them in their native tongue but all I really remember how to say is, “La pluma es azúl,” which means, “The pen is blue.” I don’t think that would get me anywhere.

Even as I eat my lunch I’m thinking about the albondigas, the Mexican variation on my favorite Italian dish. They can be fried or baked or boiled in a soup, tucked in a torta or paired with gravy over rice. They can be made with chorizo sausage, rice, pork, veal…. How do they serve them here? I wonder.

This means I’ll be back — not for the tacos, because I’m back on the taquería train, and not for the salsa, which was a touch too mild for my tastes, and not even for the buena pinta servers and their disarming accents. I’m coming back for albondigas. Because now I can’t stop thinking about them.

wanna go?

Buena Pinta 336.293.7217 285 W. 4 th St., Winston-Salem