River on the Rooftop
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River on the Rooftop concert series The free, three-part concert series, with dates on June 11, June 25, and July 23, will feature performances from Bebe Rexha,
Nashville has lately been blessed with a number of solid fast-casual openings—like Biscuit Love Brunch, Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint, and Acme Feed & Seed. These places are out to prove that just because you’re standing in line and not sitting down to table service doesn’t mean you should expect a lower-quality product (neither Biscuit Love nor Martin’s has a freezer). The newest spot to join the movement is Bajo Sexto, which is putting a Mexican spin on the trend. And just like the others, the focus is on fresh, authentic food made daily.
5th Ave Stroller Margarita, $10
Queso Fundido with Handmade Chips, $7
Carnitas Taco, $5
Birra ala Mexicana, $6
Pescado de Baja, $6
Refried Black Beans, $2
Created by chef Jonathan Waxman of Adele’s and Ken Levitan of Vector Management (two of the brains behind the Music City Food and Wine Festival), the concept, which is named for a 12-string guitar often called the “sixth bass,” opened in a previously unused space inside the Country Music Hall of Fame in March. The bright orange room is accented with a lime green bar and reclaimed barn wood tables; photos by Jack Spencer line the walls. Outside, cacti and other succulents surround the patio, which is peppered with fire-engine-red stools.
For the food, the team made the smart decision to focus on authenticity by bringing in executive chef Kaelin Ulrich Trilling, a native of Oaxaca, Mexico, whom they plucked from Caracol, a lauded coastal Mexican restaurant in Houston. Trilling’s mother, Susana, is an acclaimed cookbook author who owns a cooking school in Oaxaca; his father grew hothouse tomatoes there. Trilling arrived in the U.S. at age 18 and spent a few years working at the Omni Hotel in San Antonio, where he built up his cooking repertoire with a mix of New American and French techniques.
Inside the cramped, 300-square-foot kitchen at Bajo Sexto, Trilling is doing everything he can to replicate the flavors of his home—that includes installing a bulky dry corn grinder, which he’s using to turn the blue, white, and yellow corn he’s importing from Mexico into fresh masa, or tortilla dough. Every day, a small but mighty team of Oaxacan women, whom Trilling recruited from various parts of Nashville, churns out around 3,000 handmade tortillas. From that essential base, Trilling builds a tightly focused menu of tacos, quesadillas, salads, and snacks.
You can tour the entire country of Mexico through Trilling’s taco list, which pulls inspiration from every region. The birra ala Mexicana, or short rib tacos, hail from the northern corners, where tomatoes are charred and the ultra-smoky chipotle morita defines the salsa. From Michoacán in the southwest, there’s the carnitas, or roasted pork, which are braised for a bit with lard, beer, and spices before being roasted until the meat falls off the bone. From Baja, you’ll find white fish tacos with slaw and more chipotle. The taco of the day might be cochinita pibil, or roasted suckling pig from the Yucatán. With any of those, add an order of the addictive refried beans, which are worth every spicy, creamy bite. There are also quesadillas with various fillings and botanas, or snacks, like guacamole and queso fundido, an indulgent cheese dip drizzled with a spicy chipotle sauce.
“Really, we’re taking street food, those classic, old-school things you’d traditionally find in [Mexico City], and elevating them,” says Trilling, who hopes to grow the menu in the coming months. “We’re making everything fresh—every sauce, the tortillas, all of it—every day.” He recently added breakfast, with chilaquiles and huevos rancheros, and has started offering daily specials.
Also worth noting is what’s available at the bar. Bajo Sexto currently holds the only license on the block to provide carryout beverages. Drinks can be taken out to Fifth Avenue North between Korean Veterans Boulevard and Demonbreun as well as inside Music City Center—but we wouldn’t be surprised if the team at Bajo soon find an excuse to shut down the street for festivals or Cinco de Mayo celebrations. On tap, Bajo Sexto offers a wide range of frozen and on-the-rocks margaritas, of course, but also a host of cocktails, like bourbon horchatas, palomas, and aguas frescas, including a refreshing prickly pear version; all of these can be made with or without alcohol. On busy days, you can even purchase beverages at a walk-up window from the patio—making it that much easier to grab and go.
216 5th Ave. S.; 615-577-7717; bajosextotaco.com