For Chef David Bach, Quentin Tarantino’s upcoming film, Django Unchained, can’t come soon enough. The movie, which opens in December, pays homage to the same ’60s Spaghetti Western that had inspired Bach and a posse of established local culinary artists to open the new Northside restaurant, Django Western Taco.
“We’re actually really excited that people are just going to call the place ‘Jang-oh’ and not ‘Duh-jang-oh,’” Bach laughs.
Django Western Taco stays true to the film’s coffin-dragging protagonist, who also serves as resident mascot. The Southwestern-style, tumbleweed-blowing ambiance is palpable: The combination of long, dark wood tables, sketchy murals painted in browns and burnt oranges and shotgun-blasted, half-barrel lighting fixtures could easily have existed on the set of Sergio Corbucci’s low-budget cult-classic, for which the restaurant is named.
“We built the tables here, we built the deck here, we build every one of our dishes from scratch — so it definitely has that grittier, raw, self-made kind of DIY feel,” Bach says.
Partnering with General Manager Tom Stephen, Bryant Phillips and several major players from the Clifton restaurant, La Poste, Bach believes the welcoming nature of Northside makes it the perfect venue for Django’s accessible, family-style dining and inviting, bar-friendly atmosphere.
“Northside is definitely eclectic. It’s probably the most interesting group of people in Cincinnati. You definitely have people who aren’t afraid to be themselves and do what they like to do in their own community and it’s definitely accepting of everybody’s lifestyles.
We love the mix-up and the differences of everybody and it’s been a really cool dynamic,” Bach says.
Equally dynamic are Chef Bach’s streamlined selections of Southwestern cuisine. Five varieties of tacos serve as the foundation for his menu. The “Lengua” taco is a slow-roasted beef tongue topped with grilled onion and a rich, cumin-spiked crema. The Al Pastor pork pairs with tequila-soaked, grilled pineapple and fragrant, chopped mint. Vegetarians can enjoy the chili-marinated veggie mix of squash, peppers and Cotija cheese. Chicken and a horseradish-cilantro beef round out Django’s taco fillings.
Diners can order “lone,” pre-made tacos for $3, or they can receive bowls of fillings for $8 and assemble their own. Given that one bowl can serve up to three people, the DIY style may seem more compelling. Patrons are supplied a choice of either corn or the default flour tortillas; a bowl of meat or veggie fillings, along with the requisite “Pickled Six” ($2) toppings, a rotating variety of pickled veggies that currently feature julienned potatoes, jalapenos and jicama root, along with okra, onion and cucumber slices. Black beans and two kinds of rice are also optionally available ($3-$5) and each table comes armed with a bottle of fresh-made tomatillo salsa and a smoky habanero sauce.
For “A Few Dollars More,” Django guests can enjoy the Molcajete ($22), a steamy, hearty seafood stew of fresh shrimp, scallops, okra and tomatoes served in a stone bowl. Chile Rellenos ($7.50-$14) with spiced rice, roasted vegetables and Chihuahua cheese come in two bountiful sizes.
While snacking on Django’s paprika and oregano-dusted tortilla chips and house-made guacamole ($5), diners may raise an eyebrow at the curious “man with no name” approach to the drink menu: Brand names are conspicuously absent. Chef Bach hopes the minimalist take on beer and spirits listings will help spur a unique dialogue between server and patron.
“We change the drinks around a little bit seasonally and try to get in the best stuff that we can. Not putting the brand on there kind of gives people a little more to think about rather than just doing their routine. It makes for a good service point for us to be able to sell the customer something maybe they’ve never had and give them an experience they’ve never had before,” Bach explains.
Django’s late night hours have also encouraged many a local to mosey in, sidle up to the bar or head out back to the spacious patio nicknamed “Blue Rock Beach,” where off-duty local chefs are known to unwind.
“Saturday night will range from having a whole restaurant full of families until the end of the night, (when) it’s the regular bar crowd and industry people,” Bach says. “Other restaurant people come in and recognize it as a good place to hang out, especially hanging out on the patio late night has been a big deal.”
Django Western Taco
Go: 4046 Hamilton Ave., Northside
Hours: 5 p.m.-midnight Monday, Noon-midnight Tuesday-Saturday.