Barrio dining gets an upgrade at Basico in Mixson

Basico is at 4399 McCarthy St. in North Charleston.

In 2007, as the economy came to a halt, so did the development of Mixson, a New Urbanism project in Park Circle. .

For Jamestown Properties and Greystar Property Management, the stars for a socially connected community aligned and the Mixson project renewed with vigor. The Flats at Mixson will house its first residents in December, who will join 20 homeowners.

The fall of 2012 witnessed the opening of Mixson Market, a provisioner of craft beer, boutique wines, sandwiches, coffees and local food products.

The Mixson “food chain” was joined in July by Basico, a project of Brian Lewis. Opening chefs Leila Schardt and Italo Marino were on board to develop the menu for lunch, brunch and dinner services.

The restaurant takes its name from the Spanish for basic. It gets its good looks from great design and the dense vertical feel that informs the landscape of new urbanism. It has a colorful, modern edge.

Vibrant yellow slat walls are tempered by opposing gray and white chevron patterned designs. Aqua chairs make a lively statement at the bar; the electric hue of bright green chairs awaken the dining room. Bright green tables and chairs define the outdoor patio.

Basico functions as a taqueria and restaurant open to the public and the Clubhouse for the Mixson Bath and Racquet Club, where members can enjoy poolside food and beverage service as well as their own private dining room. In sharp contrast to the lively palette of the public side, the members dine in a tranquil white room.

Basico promises a menu committed to seasonal and local fare. GrowFood Carolina, Painted Hills beef, Anson Mills grits, Carolina Gold rice and fish from local waters are a few of the suppliers that hold the kitchen of Basico to the fire of seasonal cooking.

Basico calls itself a taqueria, but the contours of its cuisine are shaped by a larger landscape of food culture and the zip codes of the Lowcountry.

Scratch cooking and quality ingredients elevate the dishes: watermelon rind, jalapenos, red onions and okra are pickled in-house; traditional Mexican garnishes of white onions, radishes, lime and cilantro parallel relishes made from peaches; cotija-pimiento cheese tops burgers; and mole is made with pecans and prunes. The kitchen plays with the non-traditional, seasoning creme fraiche with avocado and lime, spiking aioli with ancho chili and cooking rice in coconut milk.

The menu has been tinkered with and has gone through a few iterations since its opening.

Dips ($4), chips and salsa ($5), queso fundidio ($5) and guacamole ($6) are layered and textured with herbs, chilies or tomatoes. They are sprightly starters to dinner or willing companions to the sophisticated beverage and cocktail menu.

A grilled and charred baby octopus salad ($8) was generous enough for two. It was dressed with a Serrano chile-spiked vinaigrette, a spray of raw corn kernels that added sweetness and was finished with pickled red onions.

Tacos are creative (two served with a side, $9) but there is not enough “meat on the bone” so to say. Classic al pastor is made with pork belly and its roasted pineapple companion is rendered here as a delicious salsa. The ratio of filling in the tacos is very slim.

The same could be said for the buttermilk fried chicken, where aioli is slapped with heat; shavings of watermelon rind foil the fat and queso fresco adds salty notes for a flavor-studded taco.

If roasted marrow bones ($12) make the menu cut, fans of this rich and unctuous meat jelly will not be disappointed. The politically correct cousin to foie gras, the bones are split, roasted and topped with a lime and cilantro gremolata.

Enchiladas (three for $10 with one side) are a value here and are beef, chicken or cheese.

Platos (plates) are substantial and include Maine lobster salad tacos ($15), skirt steak with Latin chimichurri sauce, family-style carnitas ($35 for four) served with choice of sauce and sides and warm tortillas.

Whatever you order, you will need a side ($3-$5) to complete your meal, and it is here that the kitchen shines. Basico delivers a delicious spin on Mexican rice by cooking it in coconut milk and topping it with queso Chihuahua and salsa verde. Elote ($3), the Mexican street food grilled corn, gets chile lime butter and a sifting of grated cotija cheese. Seasonal heirloom bean and tomatoes ($3, $5) are each simply prepared, invigorated only by their freshness.

Expect the menu to change, both with the season and the evolution of the taqueria.

We found our server a bit disengaged as neither the restaurant nor the bar was busy. It was a challenge to determine if this was caused by trying to manage the private side, the public side and the outside or just more training required.

Desserts are made in-house and worthy of the calories. Churros ($4), Mexico’s answer to doughnuts, are warm and tender coils of dough served with the sweetened, condensed milk confection called cajeta with chile-infused chocolate. Homemade ice creams ($3) and ice cream sandwiches ($5) change daily.

The bar menu is creative. Capturing our current fascination for bitters. It includes a classic Hemingway daiquiri ($7) made iconic by Ernest Hemingway who loved them so much, he ordered doubles. It is the grapefruit juice and maraschino cherry liqueurs that distinguish a Hemingway from a traditional daiquiri. A fresh fruit sangria is created daily ($6) and the bar spikes their house-made horchata with rum.

Mastering the balance of the private and public sides appears to be Basico’s challenges. It is revamping its menus and taking its cues from the dining public. With its fair prices, fresh foods, modern design and well-engineered space, getting back to basics will be child’s play.

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