Sep 26, 2017 - Food and Drink

SouthBound launches with blockbuster start, but food isn’t meeting certain expectations

In the first week alone, SouthBound served more than 8,000 people. And while the atmosphere is undeniably incredible and drinks are solid — the food has garnered mixed reviews.

So far, SouthBound has generated a 2.5 out of 5 rating from 74 reviews on Yelp. And a post to the Agenda Instagram feed brought out about 400 passionate comments.

SouthBound’s award-winning chef Kevin Kuruc told the Agenda that one of the biggest issues is that customers come in expecting Mexican or Tex-Mex food — not SoCal food (simple and fresh).

“We do a regional style of taco from Southern California,” Kuruc said. “We’re committed to quality. We use prime beef. We make our tortillas in house. SoCal tacos are meant to be simple – fresh tortilla with a meat or fish or veggie. It’s just not the type of taco you see with sour cream or shredded cheese.”

I, too, was guilty of expecting something different. I was caught off guard when I ordered the Carne Asada Plate ($10) and didn’t see any garnishes like tomatoes, lettuce, cheese, sour cream and more.

I thought to myself, “What is this, just meat and tortilla?”

The “Sabor effect”

About a year ago, I wrote a column titled, “High-end Mexican restaurants like Comida will struggle in Charlotte because of the Sabor Effect

My “Sabor effect” theory states that because of Charlotte’s familiarity (and love affair) with $1 tacos from Sabor, high-end taco spots will have a hard time charging $3 – $5 for tacos with a different type of taste.

Tacos from SouthBound are slightly less expensive than Comida, but still cost $3.50 each. Given the size of the taco, this has left some customers grumpy.

Personally, I didn’t have that strong of feelings about the tacos. They were solid and I thought $3.50 was a fair price. 

OK, let’s talk about guac.

In just a week, SouthBound went through 45 cases of fresh avocados.

And SouthBound’s guacamole is similar to Donald Trump — everybody’s got an opinion on it. Just read the reviews.

“I love the taste of avocado and wanted to created guacamole that didn’t dilute that flavor,” Chef Kevin told me.

The guacamole puzzled me. First off, I didn’t expect guacamole and chips to cost only $5 given Charlotte’s $8 – $11 guacamole prices at comparable restaurants. It made me suspicious that it was avocado pulp — which it isn’t.

And the guacamole tasted like, well, avocados. I thought there would be onions, tomatoes, jalapeños and cilantro. Maybe I’m used to my millenialized and Americanized guacamole.

[Agenda related story: Anybody else noticed that guacamole at Charlotte Mexican restaurants now costs $9? Ugh]


SouthBound’s view on their salsa bar is it’s a condiment to your tacos, not something for your extra chips.

The small white paper cups at the salsa bar have thrown many customers a curveball, who are at least used to the Sabor sized cups.


Does any of this matter?

Do mediocre food reviews from early SouthBound diners matter? I’d argue no. Even if nothing changes and the food only pleases SoCal lovers, the atmosphere and drinks are enough to carry SouthBound to financial success.

I also really respect the backbone of SouthBound ownership and Chef Kevin who told me, “We listen to customers. We will never decrease quality. We will evolve and expand the menu… But we never set out to please everyone.”

While I do expect changes to SouthBound’s food, it was clear from my conversation that they’re going to continue to execute against their original plan — create a casual, uncomplicated restaurant and bar concept with SoCal food and a SoCal vibe.


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