Taking a successful Brooklyn restaurant and opening a second location in a small Wine Country community like Napa takes bolas. But Gran Electrica appears to have won over Napa locals with trendy decor, authentic Mexican cuisine, and not-so-classic margaritas.
A four-time Bib Gourmand recipient in Brooklyn, the eatery opened on downtown Napa's Main Street at the end of March; local chef Ignacio Beltran (formerly of Ad Hoc and the Restaurant at Meadowood) is heading up the kitchen.
A couple blocks removed from the town's busy center, the space was formerly occupied by the wine bar 1313 Main, which eventually morphed into a fine dining restaurant with a promising young chef. Possibly due to minimal foot traffic, the restaurant seemingly struggled to fill its dining room night after night; the North Bay fires last October must have been the final nail, for 1313 never reopened after them.
But a lack of customers doesn't seem to be a problem for the space's new tenant. I found Gran Electrica packed and positively buzzing on a Tuesday evening, and also on the three other occasions I've popped in for a drink. I suspect this is because Gran Electrica fills a hole in Napa's dining scene: Undeniably hip compared to the town's typical line-up of swanky, stuffy, and expensive, it's also the only Mexican restaurant in town serving thoughtful, elevated, and authentic fare in an atmosphere worthy of a date night or celebration—and yet the most expensive dish on the menu is $20.
Inside, it's a decoupage of contrasting colors, materials, and patterns that somehow fit together. Exposed wood, metal, and brick work in harmony with painted tiles, pink neon signs, and custom-made Day of the Dead-themed wallpaper that features scenes from Napa Valley (think skeletons on the Wine Train, skeletons in a mud bath, newlywed skeletons at Castello di Amorosa). Even Gran Electrica's WiFi network is playful, accompanied by a Mexican flag, skull, and lightning bolt emojis.
The restaurant's front windows open up for an indoor/outdoor vibe in the main bar area, and the al fresco back patio, which seats 50, is brightened by a cultural mural by Bay Area artist DJ Agana.
As a classic margarita drinker, I arrived skeptical of Gran Electrica's veggie-infused interpretations of the cocktail. Though refreshing, neither the margarita de pepino (cucumber) and margarita de ruibarbo (rhubarb)—I'm coining the latter the "pink lemonade margarita"—did much for my taste buds or buzz. I admittedly didn't try the 20/20 margarita; made with carrots, it sounded more like something I'd blend up in my NutriBullet and force myself to drink in the morning, but I give them points for creativity (the man at the table next to us seemed to approve).
We finally did score with Gran Electrica's frozen special, a mango picante margarita. It was downright delicious, perfectly balanced, and reminded me of those Sour Patch commercials: first it's spicy, then it's sweet. My husband and I both ordered a second and have returned twice just for it since.
Tequila aficionados might opt for one of the flights, each composed of three selections of small-batch tequilas or mezcals. Soon patrons will be able to store bottles they purchase in lockers on site. Gran Electrica's wine list isn't your standard Napa Valley lineup either. It's stocked with old world varieties like tempranillo and albariño, and even has a dedicated section of orange wine.
Our meal began like every Mexican meal should: with chips, salsa, and guacamole. The chipotle in the salsa was a bit too peppery for my taste, but the guac, made with spiced pepitas and pickled red jalapeño, was as addicting as movie theatre popcorn—greasy, rich, thick, and buttery.
Multiple friends had recommended the pescado estilo Ensenada (fish tacos), so I needed to try them for myself. Negra Modelo–battered ling cod with chipotle mayo and pickled red cabbage arrived in a pair of hand-pressed, corn tortillas. They were light, incredibly flavorful, and left us both regretful of splitting the dish instead of ordering our own. I could have eaten an entire filet of that fish (and I rarely eat fish).
For the main, I ordered the chile relleno, because cheese is life. Nearly the size of my head, this was the largest chile relleno I've ever eaten. It also had a gourmet twist: They don't fry it, so it feels fresher and lighter as you eat it, and they use havarti cheese with the queso fresco, resulting in a more sophisticated cheesiness. It was like going from Easy Mac to mom's homemade recipe.
My husband, who can handle heat far better than I can, had the barbacoa estilo Sinaloa (braised Five Dot Ranch beef, chile colorado, beans stewed with chorizo, manzanita olive, and queso Oaxaca). Knowing I could manage at least a few bites before bursting into flames, I found this dish full of flavor as it literally fell apart in my mouth—which did quickly start burning. My husband initially called me a baby, but then two minutes later it hit him too. He conceded that it packed some serious heat, which still did not stop him from emptying his plate.
On the side, we opted for the camotes, crispy on the outside, mushy on the inside sweet potato balls with chipotle mayo. The sauce gave them that perfect balance of spicy and sweet, just like the mango picante margarita. Both the Mexican pudding and the beignet-sized, housemade churros were tasty, but the real treat for dessert was a shot of a wonderfully complex, 100 percent Blue Weber Agave tequila, the one-of-a-kind ArteNom Seleccion de 1146.
// Gran Electrica, 1313 Main St. (Napa), granelectrica.com