What began as the Real Mexican Vittles mobile kitchen in 2017, serving tacos and tamales at festivals and breweries, is propelling owner Helio Bernal into his first restaurant venture — Mexican gastropub D Boca N Boca. It joins a growing list of independent restaurants and dining pop-ups turning permanent opening in the burgeoning neighborhood of Summerhill and along its revitalized main street, Georgia Avenue.
The 1,800-square-foot restaurant should seat around 40 to 50 people inside, with an additional 50 on the patio. Bernal is keenly aware of his audience, a neighborhood mixed with Georgia State University students and longtime residents. He intends to keep the price point affordable, but feed people in a space that feels “chic and loungey”, with live plants throughout to “keep it real and relaxed.”
Like the Real Mexican Vittles, the menu at D Boca N Boca includes street corn, tacos, and tamales, but dishes will also lean into Bernal’s family roots on the Gulf Coast of Mexico.
Bernal wants people to walk into his restaurant and “feel and taste all of Mexico.” He loosely translates D Boca N Boca as “from our mouth to your mouth” or “from us to you, we’re feeding you our culture.”
His family hails from Veracruz, a port city located on Mexico’s Gulf coast. Bernal says D Boca N Boca will feature several seafood dishes from the region, along with ceviches and aguachiles from Sinaloa and Monterey on the Pacific coast. He’s considering a ribeye version of aguachile, prepared in much the same manner as the shrimp (camarones), marinated in lime juice and seasoned with salsa verde and spicy salsa roja.
Other dishes such as relleno negro (black turkey stew) and cochinita pibil (slow-roasted pork) from the Yucatán and Mexico City’s famed street tacos, with meats encased in freshly made tortillas, are planned for the menu.
“It’s not pretty food, but the taste is what we’re after. We use a lot of my grandmother’s recipes, definitely all the seasonings. It’s what I grew up with in Chicago, my grandma’s home cooking,” Bernal explains. “Like, a street taco isn’t meant to be pretty. You grab a tortilla, then meat straight from the pan in front of you, squirt a little bit of lime juice on it, top with cilantro and hot sauces, and you’re off. A good street taco is nothing without a great a sauce.”
According to Bernal, D Boca N Boca will have those, too — great sauces.
The bar will carry mostly local beers, small production liquors, and specialize in small batch tequilas and mezcals for sipping and to make margaritas.
Adi Komic, a good friend from high school, serves as chef, leaving Bernal free to focus on the operational side of D Boca N Boca and the Real Mexican Vittles.
“My parents have been in the food distribution business for 30 years. I grew up around this business, the ingredients, and restaurants. I used to go with my father to Mexico to source products, and saw so many ingredients we didn’t have here in U.S. We’d bring them all back for the restaurants and markets.”
It’s hard to ignore the influx of entrepreneurial endeavors, like Bernal’s restaurant, flocking to Summerhill, just east of Georgia State University stadium. Pop-ups like Junior’s Pizza, Little Bear from Eat Me Speak Me chef Jarrett Stieber, and Talat Market are all set to open restaurants later this year. Halfway Crooks Brewing was one of the first businesses to plant a stake in the ground here in 2017, followed by Woods Chapel BBQ from the General Muir team, Sarah O’Brien and her beloved Little Tart Bakeshop and forthcoming soft serve spot, Big Softie, and Krystal Rodriguez’s popular East Atlanta coffeehouse and gallery, Hodgepodge.
After two years running his pop-up kitchen and building up strong catering relationships with Delta, Georgia Tech, and several Atlanta breweries, Bernal says he’s ready to take the next big step into a restaurant.
“My father came to Atlanta in 1996 during the Olympics. We moved here four years later from Chicago. Being down the street from the Olympic rings, that stadium, is so special,” says Bernal. “If we’re going to own a restaurant anywhere in Atlanta, it has to be in the backyard of the Olympics — an event that brought people from all over the world together.”
D Boca N Boca should open by December.
39 Georgia Avenue, Atlanta.