Slate tile columns, in rock grays and metallic rust hues, are prominent in front of the main dining room bar area where more than 100 kinds of tequila are shelved in neat lines along with renowned spirits, including Crown Royal, Belvedere and Beefeater.
The seating is a mixture of tarnished hardwood booths, saucy weathered tables with matching chairs and super cool spool tables accented by wedge seats you remove by gently pulling on antique dresser drawer handles. Ceramic or porcelain tiles painted in shades of cobalt, sunflower yellow, Aztec red and soft whites accent faux windows outside the building and compose the vanity tops in restrooms. In essence, the interior design by Barbara Graham of BZ Design demands one’s attention before perusing the expansive food and drink menus.
Yet, let’s face it, we go to restaurants for the food not to marvel at the décor. The folks in charge of shaping Banditos know that, too.
“Mexican food is one of the most popular in the United States, and there was a need for a place like this on Ocean Boulevard that served food other than hot dogs and hamburgers,” said Chip Smith, an owner of Banditos. “So, we started looking at this concept.”
The idea Banditos’ founders had has materialized into what customers think will easily become one of the Grand Strand’s most outstanding restaurants. Live music will soon be featured each night, Smith said.
“I loved the environment,” said Erie Hoxha, a Myrtle Beach resident who visited with her girlfriends. “It was beautiful. It has a European vibe. The atmosphere is amazing.”
Of course, the eatery’s location added to its exquisite charm, Hoxha said.
“We sat on the oceanfront patio and there was a nice ocean breeze,” she said. “It was perfect.”
Hoxha was similarly impressed with the food. She ordered the Summer Tomato Salad with grilled chicken breast. The salad is a symphony of sliced vine ripened tomatoes, sliced avocado, diced jalapeno, pickled onions, fresh basil, queso fresco and salsa verde (green salsa made with roasted tomatillos, cilantro and other ingredients).
“The salad tasted great,” she said. “The salad was oily…with avocado and lots of onions. The chicken was spicy. I finished it in five minutes.”
The Summer Tomato Salad costs $7.95, with the grilled chicken breast addition costing $4.95. Other salads include the Classic Caesar, which is $8.95, and The Mexican “Cobb,” the most expensive salad on the menu at $9.95.
Edward Moore Jr. and his wife, Jennifer Moore, of Bailey, N.C., said although they were initially skeptical but quickly discovered Banditos was not only authentic but also unique.
“The food is really good,” said Jennifer Moore, between bites of her Classic Caesar salad with grilled chicken breast. “My husband, as you can see, is enjoying (combination) fajitas. But when the salsa first came out, we didn’t know what to expect.”
Sean Christenson, the executive chef of Banditos, is known locally for his fresh, from-scratch salsa and sauces. There are, for instance, five signature salsas including jalapeno pineapple. The former executive chef of Nacho Hippo creates chunky, flavorful salsas bursting with flavor. You can see the ingredients, which aren’t pulverized beyond recognition like other salsas resembling tomato puree.
“We had never seen or eaten salsa like that, and my husband hates tomatoes,” Jennifer Moore said. “We tried it, and we really liked it. It is not your typical salsa but it was fresh and tasty. It got hotter and hotter as we ate it.”
From the appetizers to the signature dishes, some of the varied cuisines of Latin America are presented at Banditos.
There are traditional basics on the eatery’s 18×12 menu, including guacamole, burritos and enchiladas, although Christenson and his culinary crew place a creative spin on many of them. For example, the Shrimp, Crab & Sweet Corn Burrito contains spinach and is blanketed in queso cheese, Monterey jack cheese and comes with island mango salsa. It costs $13.95.
Then, there are the dishes you might not expect to find here like the Grilled Argentine Gaucho Platter with marinated sirloin steak, Spanish chorizo, chicken breast, mojo marinated pork tenderloin, chimichurri dipping sauce, smoked roasted vegetables, and pepperjack mashed potatoes. It is one of the signature dishes in which Christenson uses sustainable local ingredients meshed with Latin spices. It costs $22.95.
Whatever you choose to eat at Banditos can be washed down with your choice from a liberal list of tequila, beer, spirits, wine, margaritas and specialty cocktails.
The “Casa” Banditarita, on the rocks, features house tequila, triple sec and a margarita mix made in house. The Jalapeno Hibiscus Martini is a mixture of el Jimador Tequila, St. Germain, lime, hibiscus nectar and jalapeno slices.
“The margarita was great, and it came in a beautiful glass outlined in blue,” Hoxha said.
The glasses and décor, however, are not the only things showcasing lively colors.
The friendly servers wear T-shirts in bright and cheerful hues with the name “Banditos” prominently incorporated into the design, of course.
“This is a fun place to work, and we want people to have a good time, too,” said Daniel Brown, a server. “Tell people, if they come here, I will take excellent care of them and make them feel like they are in a Latin fun zone.”
Banditos is open from 11 a.m. until daily.
For more information, call 843-808-9800. You can also visit the website at www.banditosmyrtlebeach.com, which was not yet up and running when this article was first published.