Asking a lot
You know when the Firehouse Grill moves out of the, uh, firehouse, that things must be bad on Nanaimo’s most troubled corner. We were surprised then to learn that almost right away a new tenant was bravely going in to that space. Bar Luna is a tex-mex kitchen and cocktails bar, offering street tacos and other spicy tapas alongside a short but thematically apropos cocktail list.
Immediately on walking in, we noted the vibe there was a bit different than anything else in Nanaimo. It was dim (dark actually) with neon signage aglow and there was a sharply dressed host ready to seat us. Classy and cool. In fact, when paired with the food menu, our initial impression of bar Luna reminded us of the phenomenal La Bodega Negra in London, England. All it was missing was some cool jazz music, but they’d opted for “musak” instead. (We were still in Nanaimo after all – gotta play it safe.)
We knew not to expect a large meal and instead planned to sample some street tacos and a couple of cocktails. Our cocktails came first, except oopsie – one of ours was the wrong one. Without word of apology, our server took it back to start a replacement. While we waited, we saw another table near us send their food back because it was all the wrong orders. Double oopsie. Across the restaurant, another table was getting frustrated that they’d been ignored for some time and were waving their arms trying to get someone’s attention. Triple oopsie. Any one of these gaffes on its own would be no big deal, but instead it showed that the kitchen and servers were uncoordinated.
Anyway, the good thing was that our drinks were great. For her a tequila and bianco vermouth grapefruit concoction called a “Rosa Blanco” that was quite delicious. For him, a “Mezcal Paperplane” – mezcal, amaro, and Aperol. Smoky, slightly bitter, and most importantly, cool.
We also ordered some tortilla chips to get us going. These came out fresh and with a generous dollop of creamy guac. This was a surprisingly great plate. We love it when simple items (like homemade chips) are so well crafted. These were warm and salty, and crispy but not oily. A real winner.
For street tacos we chose a carne asada (steak) soft taco and diablo (spicy shrimp) crispy taco for her, and for him a crispy chicken soft taco and a chorizo crispy taco.
Bar Luna totally nailed these street tacos. They really are as advertised – upscale versions of Mexican-style street food. The meat was savoury and flavourful, there was plenty of crunch from the slaws, and the sauces and garnishes complemented the main ingredients nicely. Great food. Be warned though, you’re going to make a mess trying to fire these things down your gob, so get napkins!
Oh yeah, just as a side note, and speaking again of England, we noticed there’s an Eton Mess on the dessert menu. We’re not sure you can get this fabulous English dessert elsewhere in town. While we were short on time and didn’t have it on this visit, we know Eton Mess is awesome. If you’ve tried Bar Luna’s version, let us know how it is!
All this good food comes with a price. A STEEP price. Those two cocktails alone were $30. Our whole bill for the drinks, chips, and four small tacos (with taxes and modest tip) was $97. Yeeeeooooooowwwch! Is Bar Luna the most expensive place to eat (by volume) in all of Nanaimo? It might just be.
We have mixed feelings. We really like the small but focused menu with great tasting food a delicious drinks. The décor and ambiance are also nice too (but they could maybe bring the lights up a tad.) However if Bar Luna is aiming high to be a trendy upmarket joint, they don’t quite hit the mark. The location is rough and will immediately disqualify a visit from the “downtown isn’t safe” crowd. But more importantly for us at least, they’ve got to iron out their service issues and offer a truly special experience (beyond just good food) before they can justify these high prices. This could happen in time, so we’ll check back. Overall, we recommend popping in to give Bar Luna a try. We’re curious to hear your thoughts too.