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Posted on Fri, Dec 28, 2012 : 2:57 p.m.

Grand opening: Isalita now serving Mexican food and cocktails in downtown Ann Arbor

By Lizzy Alfs


Isalita owner Adam Baru and chef Brendan McCall inside the new restaurant in downtown Ann Arbor.

Joseph Tobianski |

What was planned to be a quiet soft opening on Thursday turned into a bustling first day of business at IsalitaAdam Baru’s highly anticipated Mexican restaurant in downtown Ann Arbor.

Customers flocked to the restaurant Thursday evening, ordering a variety of tacos, nachos, small plates and one of Baru’s favorites: Hamachi with orange habanero sauce and lime granita.

“The opening went very well. I was really pleased with how both the kitchen staff and the serving staff performed…after one day, I really couldn’t be happier,” he said.

The restaurant officially opens Friday at 5 p.m. and will serve only dinner for the first couple of months.

Baru, who owns the neighboring Mani Osteria, spent months building out the Isalita space on East Liberty Street with his team. The result: a rustic and inviting Mexican restaurant and bar.

“I didn’t want this to feel like a cliche Mexican restaurant,” Baru said about the interior.

A giant mural of three men sitting on a bench in San Miguel de Allende welcomes customers to the restaurant, which is the same city where Baru and his wife got married. Part of Isalita is painted a lime green color, and light fixtures are made of old berry-picking baskets.

“This space needed to be different than Mani. I didn’t want anything on the menu to reflect what we’re doing right next door, and I didn’t want any of the design to reflect what we’re doing next door. I wanted it to be a standalone restaurant,” Baru said.


Adam Baru and Brendan McCall by the mural inside Isalita.

Mani opened in May 2011 to a warm reception from Ann Arborites. It has garnered both regional and national attention, including being recognized as one of Metro Detroit’s best new restaurants.

But Baru wants Isalita to leave its own mark on the Ann Arbor restaurant scene.

Many of the items on Isalita’s menu are small plates of traditional Mexican street food. Baru and his chef, Brendan McCall, spent time in Mexico getting inspiration. Some of Baru’s favorite menu items:

  • Flautas with duck confit and poblano avocado sauce
  • Tuna tostadas with morita chile crema
  • Al pastor tacos with glazed pork belly and pickled pineapple
  • Forest mushroom tacos

One of the biggest sellers during the soft opening, Baru said: “Guacamole — it’s excellent. You can’t go wrong with traditional, but the truffle guacamole is worth trying.”

Isalita has a full bar menu with beer, wine, margaritas and specialty cocktails. Restaurant hours: Closed Monday; 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday; 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.

Just down East Liberty Street from Isalita, the Asian fusion restaurant Kuroshio opens at 4 p.m. on Friday.

Lizzy Alfs is a business reporter for Reach her at 734-623-2584 or email her at Follow her on Twitter at



Sat, Dec 29, 2012 : 7:12 p.m.

I'll have to stop and see how this place measures up to Aranda's, a Detroit institution named after a tire store with the best Mexican food I know north of Coatzoalacos.


Sat, Dec 29, 2012 : 9:47 p.m.

They're very different restaurants, but both good.


Sat, Dec 29, 2012 : 4:08 p.m.

Article misses the most important and telling barometer of a Mexican restaurant : how were the chips?


Sat, Dec 29, 2012 : 6:36 p.m.

Excellent, actually. So is the guacamole. The pico de gallo is a little on the salty side, but good.


Sat, Dec 29, 2012 : 12:19 p.m.

More pretentious over priced food in downtown Ann Arbor. This is not Mexican food. Ann Arbor could really use a real Mexican restaurant.


Sun, Dec 30, 2012 : 8:36 p.m.

Amen!!! You have to go to Chela's on Maple to get that for sure!


Sat, Dec 29, 2012 : 6:43 p.m.

Let me elaborate a bit: Mexico is a big place, and has lots of different kinds of restaurants. They're all real. One thing they do have in common is that they're nothing like the "Mexican" chains most Americans think of when they think about "real Mexican restaurants". They also aren't all taquerias like Taco King (which I agree is good, and I go there quite a bit). Some of them specialize in seafood. Some in steaks. Some have a grill. Some, especially in places like Mexico City, do upper-end stuff where they play around with the conventions of their own cuisine. Isalita is more like that latter kind. It isn't a taqueria because it isn't intended to be. It isn't going to meet the expectations of people who want Chi Chi's, or the second coming of La Pinata (which wasn't as good as people's memories), because it isn't an Americanized Mexican sit-down restaurant. It also isn't going to be like the good sit-down Mexican restaurants you may be used to in Mexicantown (La Fiesta approaches this, with some reservations) because that's not what it's trying to do.


Sat, Dec 29, 2012 : 6:35 p.m.

Yeah. Whenever someone says that, I wonder what their idea of "real Mexican restaurant" is.


Sat, Dec 29, 2012 : 1:24 p.m.

What is a real Mexican restaurant? Casting aside the obvious pretenders such as Tios and Taco Bell, there are everyday Mexican restaurants, such as Taqueria La Fiesta (also a new one at Liberty and Maple, name escapes me) that offer authentic Mexican food (oddly, they seem to be owned and operated by Mexicans). There are also more refined Mexican restaurants. Rosa Mexicano in New York is my favorite. The Prickly Pear has an adventurous menu and I enjoy several of the items. Is it not sufficiently Mexican? Who knows? What is a "real" American Restaurant? McDonalds? Ruths Chriss? the late "Eve"? As for "over priced", I think Taco Bell still has those $1.00 crunchy tacos. Bon Apetite!


Sat, Dec 29, 2012 : 1:21 p.m.

Try Taco King On Liberty west of Stadium. It's authentic, delicious and reasonably priced.

Andrew R. Gorsuch

Sat, Dec 29, 2012 : 3:22 a.m.

Super EXCITED to check this out! Adam and Brendan are a winning team for sure! Cheers! Andrew


Sat, Dec 29, 2012 : 1:57 a.m.

Got there tonight - food and service were great! No sign of opening night jitters, and they were only out of one thing, which is pretty remarkable.

Lizzy Alfs

Sun, Dec 30, 2012 : 2:06 p.m.

Haha I think I mean seamless. The service was good.


Sun, Dec 30, 2012 : 3:51 a.m.

Lizzy -- do you mean seemless or unseemly?


Sat, Dec 29, 2012 : 6:37 p.m.

There's absolutely some crossover, but not all of the Isalita staff have also worked at Mani.

Lizzy Alfs

Sat, Dec 29, 2012 : 1:37 p.m.

The service is pretty seemless since the employees were trained at Mani.

Bill Wilson

Sat, Dec 29, 2012 : 12:47 a.m.

Wow, what authentic food. This is bigger news than the opening of Joe's Chinese Buffet last month in Chelsea.

Kyle Mattson

Fri, Dec 28, 2012 : 8:49 p.m.

Any place that serves pork belly is guaranteed to get a portion of my dining out budget.


Fri, Dec 28, 2012 : 8:28 p.m.

Great news. Mani is wonderful, and we are looking forward to making Isalita a regular stop too.


Fri, Dec 28, 2012 : 8:26 p.m.

Address? Map? who what when and where!

Lizzy Alfs

Sat, Dec 29, 2012 : 1:36 p.m.

It's all good! I always try to post the business address, but occasionally I forget things. Now I'll remember how helpful it is for everyone.


Sat, Dec 29, 2012 : 1:11 p.m.

The OP is perhaps a little condescending, but does have a point. It seems that sometimes posts business maps and addresses and at times does not. If some are going to chastise the OP for failing to do what they deem proper research, then there is no need to post maps and addresses for other businesses. I suppose if I was more attuned to the world renowned Ann Arbor social scene, I would know the location, menu and decor of Mani. Tragically, I do not. Despite 20 years of life in Manhattan, I have apparently become a country bumpkin since moving to AA two years ago. All that said, I hope the restaurant does well and I look forward to trying it (if I can find it).

Homeland Conspiracy

Fri, Dec 28, 2012 : 9:17 p.m.

The internet tubes!!!


Fri, Dec 28, 2012 : 8:32 p.m.

You're familiar with the internet, right?

Lizzy Alfs

Fri, Dec 28, 2012 : 8:30 p.m.

The restaurant is located at 341 E. Liberty St. at the corner of South Division Street. It's in the same building as Mani.


Fri, Dec 28, 2012 : 8:11 p.m.

Strange there is no Panos resturant in the building they own the property, I figured they would have opened a eatery.....


Fri, Dec 28, 2012 : 10:40 p.m.