Barrio Logan plays host to a lot, like Chicano Park and its sprawling mural underneath the eastern side of the Coronado Bridge, coffee shops with walls decked out in sugar skulls, and several pockets of local craft breweries. For Ernie Becerra, this industrial area with Mexican roots is where he lays his head each night and where he owns and operates Salud Tacos and Corazon Del Barrio.It’s also the site of his newest concept La Bamba Room, a Mexican-Japanese-inspired restaurant and listening bar opening September 1.La Bamba boasts 2,000-square-foot, vintage lighting and orange crushed velvet swivel chairs from Becerra’s grandmother’s home, a menu banking on the south-of-the-border classics that defined his childhood, and custom speakers whispering jazzy, soulful, sometimes reggae sweet nothings.
“I was a bank manager, but I couldn’t stomach working for someone else anymore, so I took a shot in the dark and followed my dreams of owning my own business,” Becerra says as he recounts life pre-restauranturhood. “Barrio Logan is where my family settled after the Mexican Revolution. This area has a lot of cultural intricacies, which is why I wanted to open businesses here. I knew I wanted La Bamba Room to center around music, but I didn’t know how until I took a trip to Japan and visited their listening bars. I saw they were using a bunch of hi-fi speakers and thought about how my dad and uncles had the same equipment lying around the house.”La Bamba Room, whose namesake is partially inspired by a 1987 musical drama, will mostly play vinyl with assistance from a custom-made jukebox and a DJ booth made from salvaged pieces from grandma’s home bar.
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Chef Lety Gonzalez is in the kitchen with Mexico and nostalgia on her mind. She, too, is a San Diego native and is tasked with drumming up a menu (roughly 14 to 15 items) that reimagines the salty, spicy, citrus-forward flavors that define this region and Ernie’s formative years. “The menu is inspired by Ernie’s childhood,” Gonzalez says. “The menu is interactive. Everything we’re making is from scratch and uses ingredients we grew up with. We wanted to focus on small plates that are elevated but approachable. It’ll still be close to our hearts.”Japan’s influence on La Bamba Room isn’t limited to musicality; it also bleeds into the food and beverage programs. But chef Gonzalez wants to be clear: La Bamba is not fusion, but a Mexican restaurant with threads and pops of Japanese flavors carried throughout. Think Mexican-style yakitori with blistered jalapeno, habanero onion marmalade, chorizo Japanese milk bread, short ribs, pork belly, and other proteins that will mimic a proper carne asada.Tony Roehr will double as bar manager and head beverage curator. He is focused on birthing a menu of cocktail classics executed the traditional way, like old fashioned with the crystalized bits of muddled sugar cubes resting at the bottom of the glass.“The bar program will focus on highlighting Mexican ingredients, and ingredients that typically hide in the background,” Roehr says. “We want people to be able to look at the menu, order anything they want, and know their cocktail will be executed correctly.” He says to expect cocktails with corn, fresh fruit from Baja, beverages with a bit of whimsy, like a Japanese old-fashioned with peanut butter and banana liqueur, an ode to Ernie and his minor obsession with Elvis.“I put together a great team kind of by accident,” Becerra says. “It feels like it was meant to be. We are misfits, and we came together and are doing something really special here.”