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Buena Onda

Christopher DeSantis • November 24, 2015
Photography © Michael Moran

Photos: Buena Onda

With décor that nods to the Baja Peninsula, Buena Onda is far from the style of its Philadelphia location, where it occupies a ground-floor spot in the Granary—a mixed-use residential development near Logan Square. Washington, DC-based CORE was commissioned by the Garces Group to deliver its first foray into a quickservice model with a minimalist aesthetic. Helmed by chef Jose Garces, the fast-casual taco joint lives up to this vision with subtle structural elements, bright colors, and natural materials that cultivate a beach-like atmosphere.

“Garces wanted customers to feel like they’ve traveled to the relaxing and vibrant beach towns of Mexico,” explains Allison Cooke, CORE’s director of hospitality design. “From the moment you walk through the door, design sets the tone with a light and airy, coastal-inspired palette.”

Designers were influenced by Mexican architect Luis Barragán for the 2,300-square-foot interior that is spatially defined with textured volumes and color blocking, including yellow and turquoise tiles in the bar area and open kitchen. A lattice patterned concrete masonry unit (CMU) toward the rear, for example, helps to distinguish the dining area from the bar, while also playing off a structure that hangs over the bar itself. Inspired by Mexican palapas—grass-thatched beach huts—the structure bears whitewashed wood slats with a dark lattice framework that are mirrored in an S-shaped partition meant to guide patrons to the cash register.

The partition shelters a bar-height counter and two banquettes upholstered in a periwinkle material, which bears a tropical leaf motif, and punctuated by Acapulco chairs—a classic style that was deconstructed to form the delicate black ceiling lights. Hung at a low height, the fixtures pop against the bleached teal and wood tones.

The counter was designed to surpass its utilitarian purpose with an ocean-inspired epoxy that was layered over wood to make diners feel like they’re “gazing through blue water,” says Cooke. “We purposefully placed this feature at the guest’s level so they can appreciate its tactile quality.”

Light wood tabletops feature a white painted lattice pattern that resembles the CMUs, which were also used to create a decorative backdrop for the menu board and the point of sale, designed to mimic the “traditional material found in Mexican architecture, which we reinterpreted as a feature wall finish,” says CORE project designer Hilary Miners.

Though devoid of literal graphic imagery, the restaurant’s minimalist finishes introduce a sense of low-key luxury. Textural wall hangings in the seating area, for example, are reminiscent of hammocks. “The final details make all the difference in driving the concept home,” says Cooke.

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