Taste: 3.5/5. More hits than misses, especially when it comes to the pizza.
Service: 4/5. It’s counter service, but employees were quick and friendly.
Ambiance: 3.5/5. A cool space that’s much better when it’s clean.
Concept: 4/5. A twist on the typical pizza and taco fare.
Pricing: 4.5/5. A fairly inexpensive meal.
As I walked in the door with an armful of pizza from Baja West Coast Kitchen, I was greeted with some confusion.
“I thought we were reviewing a taco place?”
It’s a fair question. The fast-casual restaurant formerly known as Baja Pizza Fish is either a pizza place with decent tacos or a taco place with excellent pizza.
Baja bills itself as a Southern California-themed eatery with authentic food that couldn’t be found in this “meat and potatoes” town. The menu features creative brick oven pizzas, tacos and rice bowls, and salads.
The pizza really is excellent, with a chewy, perfectly charred crust and plenty of unique toppings that set Baja apart from your typical pizza joint. The pizzas are only available in 10-inch pies, which could feed two not-so-hungry diners or one pretty hungry diner.
The Four Cheese & Tomato ($7.95) features tomato slices topped with mozzarella, provolone, pecorino Romano and Parmesan cheeses, little strings of basil and a generous sprinkle of sea salt. The acid of the tomatoes blends perfectly with the gooey cheese to make a nearly perfect slice of pizza, even without sauce. My only complaint is that the basil is too thin and sparse to impart any discernible taste or texture.
The Santa Barbara ($10.95) was one of the more unusual pizzas I’ve had with basil pesto topped with Monterrey jack cheese, gobs of fresh mozzarella, grilled shrimp, a sprinkling of pine nuts and cracked black pepper. I loved the unexpected flavor combination—this pizza really shouldn’t work but somehow absolutely does—and the added texture of the pine nuts, though I wish the toppings were applied more evenly. I had a piece with hardly any shrimp while my husband, Dave, grabbed one with plenty.
The Baja Chicken & Roasted Red Pepper Pizza ($8.95) was Dave’s favorite of the bunch. The Baja ranchero sauce was spicy and flavorful without overwhelming the grilled chicken and roasted red pepper topping.
When I saw the chocolate hazelnut dessert pizza on the menu, I couldn’t pass it up. The crust is chewy, crunchy and slightly sweet and a perfect carrier for melted chocolate, hazelnut spread and crunchy roasted hazelnut. It’s rich, decadent and a steal at $5 a pie.
We took our pizza to go, which Baja makes convenient with a drive-up pickup window, but we made sure to grab dinner inside the Jackson Township eatery.
The decor definitely takes the theme to heart, with lots of bright colors, quirky decor, wooden seating and beach movies playing on the TV. I also appreciate any restaurant that offers Cheerwine as a fountain drink.
I stopped for an early weeknight dinner. I was surprised to find a fairly empty restaurant with dirty tables and service areas.
My Baja grilled chicken salad ($7.95) was tasty but largely underwhelming. A caveat: I’m allergic to avocado, so I had to omit that ingredient. I’m not sure if it would make much of a difference. The vegetables were crisp and bright with the exception of tomato, which seemed unripe. The menu advertised tortilla strips, which my salad was missing. I think it would have added a needed crunch.
I enjoyed the juicy grilled chicken and the flavorful Baja ranchero dressing, which is just as good on a salad as it was on the pizza, but the sauce was far too thick for salad dressing and overwhelmed the lighter flavors.
The restaurant was much cleaner on our return visit.
Dave opted for the Traditional California style of the made-to-order guacamole ($4.50). He praised the fresh ingredients and nice bite of spice, as well as the solid citrus flavor. The tortilla chips were stale, but edible when used for the dip.
I went for the Chili con Queso with Andouille and Jalapeño ($3), which was deliciously spicy and meaty, though not quite as cheesy as I’d anticipated.
The steak in Dave’s Founder-Style Steak taco bowl ($8.95) was flavorful and cooked perfectly, definitely the highlight of the bowl. But the combination of buttery rice, black beans, corn, shredded cheese and sour cream was one-note. The bowl desperately needed some kind of acidity, either from salsa or a squeeze of lime on the rice.
My Mango Tango Tuna tacos ($8.95) on corn tortillas were much better. The thin-sliced rare ahi tuna was flavorful with a great texture, and I loved the zesty sriracha sour cream, which didn’t overpower the shredded cabbage or mango salsa. I’d happily eat it again.