All photos by Scott Lynch
Apr 21, 2022
Views, vibes, and Mexican munchies at brand new Xolo and Bar Milagro
The team behind Zona Rosa and Mesa Coyoacan opens another Williamsburg eatery with modern twists and a funky DIY flare
There’s something of a hidden-gem vibe to Xolo, a new Mexican restaurant down under the Williamsburg Bridge, and its subterranean sister spot Bar Milagro.
Located on the corner of Dunham Place, which even long-time Williamsburgers would be forgiven for not ever having heard of, given that the street’s entire length is a single block. (According to Forgotten NY, it’s named after David Dunham, an early-1800s steamship enthusiast who drowned in a boating accident.) This is not a patch of North Brooklyn that you’d frequent unless you lived right exactly here.
And the building itself—a stocky, 112-year-old, two-story brick house—feels like one of those great neighborhood holdouts, squatting amid the luxury development along the waterfront down here. All of this, of course, only adds to the appeal of the place. That, and the fact that the west-facing windows command dramatic views of the bridge’s latticed towers. The lavender-lit diorama of a xolo, or hairless dog, named Carmen that dominates the dining room is also pretty cool.
Local restaurateur Jorge Boetto, who co-owns Xolo and Bar Milagro as well as nearby Zona Rosa and Mesa Coyoacan, tells Brooklyn Magazine he found the spot quite by accident. “During the early pandemic I used to just walk around the neighborhood aimlessly and I saw this old building,” he says. “It had been practically abandoned for like six years, but it had good bones and it was a restaurant at some point [the short-lived All Hands] so it had a kitchen setup. It just needed a lot of love and renovation and lipstick.”
In addition to the Carmen-the-xolo installation (xolo is short for xoloitzcuintle, the revered Mexican hairless dog breed; the name “Carmen” was found etched into a steel door handle when Boetto and crew moved in), that love and lipstick also includes lots of plants, prints, and a number of paintings by co-owner Gigi Boetto. And Bar Milagro, the downstairs watering hole that has a separate entrance on South 6th Street, is wild, with more than 2,000 milagros, or lucky charms, hanging from the ceiling (Boetto had his family ship them up from Mexico, and the team spray-painted them gold) and a strange shrine of sorts by the door.
“Designing and building both spaces was challenging but a lot of fun,” says Boetto. “We did it right in the middle of all the supply chain issues—we couldn’t find paint, we couldn’t find tables, we couldn’t find chairs—so one of my business partners [artist Bruce Johanns] just made stuff from scratch. He made the ceiling light fixtures, and for the tables we just cut up large pieces of wood that we found here. It forced us to be creative, and we ended up with this whimsical look, everything kind of put together with magical little things.”
Xolo’s menu also has a cobbled-together feel, also in a good way. “I wanted to try something a little different with Xolo,” says Boetto, “to assemble a group of cocineros and come up with a menu in a democratic way, with everyone contributing ideas they remember from growing up in Mexico, and how their grandmothers used to make these dishes. It was an interesting way of working.”
Sit by the window and watch the sunset as you down a few cocktails (around $15 each) or an agua fresca (the pineapple was excellent), and dive into some appetizers.
The homemade chicharrones is a star in the starters and snacks section, seasoned to a surprising spiciness and complemented well by a rich and earthy pepita dip, as are the fried balls of goat cheese drizzled with honey and dusted with crushed pistachios.
If this latter dish seems like an unusual offering in a Mexican restaurant, it’s because Boetto and his team wanted to embrace, as he says, “the influence that our cuisine has from European and other cultures. That’s also a part of who we are, our identity, so we didn’t run away from that.”
So in addition to more expected things like chalupas poblanas, a cheese quesadilla, guacamole, and a delicious chile relleno de queso, there’s also steamed cod in banana leaf on the menu, and a crisp “milanesa de pollo” which Boetto, who grew up in Mexico City, called a family favorite when he was a kid.
There are about a half dozen different kinds of tacos available, which arrive at your table in trios whether you order the “CDMX style” carne asada with melted cheese, the vegetarian grilled mushroom and asparagus, or the Baja beer-battered fish.
Desserts include horchata panna cotta, blue corn pineapple upside-down cake, and a decent tres leches topped with coconut meringue.
As to why Boetto keeps opening restaurants in Williamsburg (his only non-neighborhood spot, Bushwick’s Guadalupe Inn, closed for good during the pandemic), Boetto says, “I’ve lived in Williamsburg for 15 years. And coming from Mexico City, where I used to have to drive two hours to get anywhere, I really appreciate the fact that I can jump on a bike or even walk from my home to my restaurants.”
Xolo is located at 29 Dunham Place, at the corner of S. 6th Street, and is currently open from 5:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. daily, with all-day service coming next week. Bar Milagro is open from Thursday to Sunday from 5:00 to 12:00 midnight.
You might also like
All the Brooklyn things you can do during the city’s ‘Winter Outing’ event
Community & Commerce
Community & Commerce