It’s Time to Rediscover Cafe Ole at the Corner of Cooper and Young

Popular dishes at Cafe Ole include fish tacos and carnitas tortas layered with roast pork, avocado, and chile del arbol sauce on Mexican rolls called bolillos.

Justin Fox Burks

Never did I imagine I would end my first dinner at the reinvented Café Ole by spearing a wedge of avocado with a thick black straw. But that’s exactly what I did when I spied the well-soaked fruit hiding between ice cubes in the Sun Studio Special I’d polished off earlier. A sweet and summery mix of half-a-dozen flavors, including citrus vodka, coconut water, and champagne, the drink is one of eight signature cocktails joining the restaurant’s beer (bottles, bong, and tap), aged tequilas, and house-made margaritas, served in tall shapely glasses rimmed with coarse kosher salt.

A longtime anchor of the Cooper-Young neighborhood, Café Ole is reclaiming some much needed dazzle with fun cocktails (Hurricane Elvis! Zippin Pippin!) and a new menu of upgraded Mexican classics from Chef Javier Lopez, who left Folk’s Folly in East Memphis to steer the kitchen. Except for the restaurant’s lobster tamales, an odd pairing, we thought, our dishes were generous and quite good. Standouts included chunky guacamole dotted with diced red onion; jicama salad tossed with corn, mixed greens, roasted peppers, and house vinaigrette; carnitas tortas stacked with roasted pork, avocado, and chile del arbol sauce on bolillos, a type of Mexican baguette; pan-seared grouper smothered with mango salsa; and potato hash, a guilty side of fried spuds, chorizo, and poblano peppers.

Reopened since late March after extensive renovations, Café Ole feels fresh and friendly with a new archway connecting the dining room to the bar and a sentry of Windmill palms in the restaurant’s courtyard. “I brought in one palm tree, and then another,” said owner Kendall Robertson. “After installing five, I made myself stop.”

Café Ole, 959 Cooper St. (901-343-0103) $-$$

Extensive renovations give Cafe Ole, a longtime anchor of the Cooper-Young neighborhood, a new look along with a new menu.

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