Until earlier this month, the East Aurora building at 34 Hamburg St. - just off the main traffic circle - had sat vacant since Dec. 30, 2014, when Burger King closed its doors. In 2016, Mighty Taco considered moving in for more space than its Grey Street location but was ultimately priced out.
For the last week and change, the building has bustled with life, as Las Brasas Grill - the newest eatery of the Fuentes family, which also runs Fiesta Bamba locations in Chaffee and Springville - began serving a twist on Mexican fare.
Parking can be a pain. Despite the Hamburg Street address, enter the back parking lot via Oakwood Avenue, across from the Exxon/Mobil gas station; be careful not to go into Tim Hortons' space (see the image at the bottom).
The new restaurant barely resembles its previous tenant (at which I was a relative regular in my youth), with walls bathed in bright yellow and orange, red awnings hanging over booths and colorful sombreros perched intermittently.
With close to 100 dinner options, the menu takes time to browse, but a complimentary basket of aggressively fried tortilla chips and red salsa can curb your hunger as crucial decisions are made.
According to our server, Las Brasas will not serve alcohol for at least a month (so, late March). But hey, the ice water was refreshing.
Here are the four dishes we tried, with name, price and ingredients in photo description:
Quick take: The choripollo dip - a clever way of weaving chorizo and chicken together in one fell swoop - was both tasty and confusing.
Presented with the above dish and four flour tortillas wrapped in aluminum foil, we had to determine the best attack. Should we make a "dip taco" and risk a drippy mess? Should we rip off pieces of the soft tortilla and scoop up the dip, a la Ethiopian injera?
Neither approach was perfect, but the cheesy dip was rich, the chorizo brought terrific texture and the chicken was tender. Sure, the consistency was a little runny, but I'd order it again.
Quick take: I'm a sucker for poblano peppers, but I usually prefer them spicy. Las Brasas' were high in flavor (nice!) but low on heat - thankfully, there's a small bottle of habanero hot sauce on each table. The shrimp were unmemorable, pleading for more seasoning.
Quick take: This was my favorite entree. Take an accompanying flour tortilla and spoon the desired combination of ingredients inside for a customized taco. The salsa verde - potent with a nice sting at the end of each bite - was the star.
Ideally, the carnitas would be more tender, but we'd try the taco version (three for $11.50) before casting any further judgment. Tip: Use the remaining tortilla chips to sop up the leftover salsa verde.
Quick take: If portion size is your thing, these enchiladas are a solid value at $10.50. The creamy, cheesy sauce was a little overpowering, though. I'd recommend a few drops of the habanero condiment.
Just like Fiesta Bamba in Springville, Las Brasas should do fine in East Aurora. The massive menu lends itself to frequent exploration, the restaurant is spacious, the prices are reasonable and, since the Village of East Aurora is walkable/bikeable, many will avoid the initial parking challenge.
INFO: Las Brasas Grill Mexican Restaurant, 34 Hamburg St., East Aurora. 714-9261. Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. As of publication, the restaurant has no website or social networks.
*Related: Speaking of Mexican-American food in East Aurora, read this Starters on Left Coast Taco: