Readers of this space will know that 1) The Cod is a fan of Whitney Otawka's cooking, and 2) Hugh Acheson hates America. So, after Farm 255 shuttered, and Acheson's flagship Five and Ten moved out of Five Points and up next to the Tri-Delts, we were excited to hear that Whitney would be at the controls of the old 5&10 space, reimagined as Cinco Y Diez, and with a Mexican menu to match the name. (So, if you're scoring at home, a Canadian hires a Berkeley-indoctrinated chef to run a Mexican restaurant in the heart of America, which is to say in an SEC town and practically under the nose of the statue of noted American Vince Dooley. Thanks for NAFTA, Obama.)
But seriously. In a college town, seems like it would be hard to lose money selling burritos. Hell, you could probably empty the Dumpster behind the Varsity into a Diaper Genie and be able to approximate some college town burritos. Fortunately, Hugh and Whitney have chosen a more serious approach. WO spent months traveling and tasting in Mexico -- sounds like good work if you can get it -- and brought back all sorts of knowledge and some goodies. Did you know they make salt w/ ground up mezcal worms in it? I didn't either.
All of this is to say that Cinco Y Diez is a heroically brave thing - a serious and upscale Mexican restaurant in a college town. It's not quite at the level of Empellon-style WD-50ish trickeration, but the chilaquiles come with chicken confit, rather than, like whatever the chicken in that usually is. As with her food at Farm 255, WO's mania for details and technique shows. The cinetrix were there on a busy Saturday, exactly ten days after the open, and it felt like eating in a restaurant that had been open for months. (I know Whitney a little bit, and we were well taken care of, but meals at adjacent tables moved crisply along, too.) There's practically nothing on the menu we did not want to investigate, but the chilaquiles and huarache were early standouts. The only slight hiccup came in the sequencing of dishes, which we could have avoided if we'd been clearer about who wanted to eat what.
Between restaurant success in Athens and ATL and soon in Savannah, Georgia has been berry berry good to Hugh Acheson. As such, it's gratifying to see him put one of the best cooks in the state back in a restaurant kitchen, and to push the conversation about food in his home town. One of the impressive things that always impresses the Cod about the Anglo Five & Ten is how it manages to keep regulars engaged with new dishes, while keeping a comfortable base of familiar items for the birthday/anniversary/graduation/semiformal crowd. On the other hand, it's impressive to see that Mexican Cinco Y Diez makes no concessions to the much lower common denominator of the college town Mexican joint. The margaritas cost eight dollars and fit in a standard highball glass. They are available on the rocks or up. Frozen is not in the discussion. The word "burrito" does not appear on the menu, not to mention "quesadilla." There are tacos, but braised lamb neck barbacoa w/ sorghum and mint salsa verde, or wood roasted hen-of-the-woods mushroom, or fried Apalachicola oyster tacos. As the kitchen settles in, there will be still more imaginative dishes, one imagines.
CYD was busy when we were there, and the Cod hopes it stays that way. From here it looks as if Hugh Acheson is betting some of his success and celebrity that Athens is ready for a place like this. Certainly, Whitney Otawka's talent and focus tilts the odds in his favor. I'll be back soon, if only to see what this pozole is all about.