One thing is for certain about Rob Robinson and Matt Payne, the “brains and the brawn” of the locals’ favorite Bad Bean Baja Grill: They refuse to be pinned down. Since they opened in 2010, Bad Bean has never really stopped shifting and changing in new and dynamic ways, thanks to a creative team that’s never afraid to try something different and always looking for ways to improve.
That dynamic quality and general refusal to think inside the box starts with their type of cuisine. Baja California may be part of Mexico, but the food there draws inspiration from Mediterranean and Asian flavors as well. Bad Bean takes Baja food and adds healthy doses of eastern North Carolina flavors, creating an original and wonderful fusion where any given dish might be inspired by at least four countries, maybe five, if you throw in the classical French cooking techniques Rob and Matt learned throughout their culinary career. The food they’re making isn’t “traditional” or “authentic” anything. It’s something wholly and completely their own, and we, the diners, are so much the better for it.
“We take all those themes and just play around with them, really,” says Rob. “Sometimes it has a little Southern twang to it, sometimes it has a North Carolina twist. It’s got maybe a little bit of Baja, but it might have a French technique in the cooking method. Sometimes it’s smoked, sometimes it’s toward the barbecue realm.”
“That was one of those dishes that was like, ‘This is us in a nutshell.’ It was three ingredients from North Carolina but in a complete Latin dish,” says Matt.
Their menu is packed with crazy delicious little fusions like that, especially when it comes to their nightly specials. The regular menu offers an array of tacos, burritos, salads and quesadillas — popular items that happy locals and visitors return for again and again. But the nightly specials are where they take the opportunity to play fast and loose with the Baja theme or try out something completely new. On any given night you might find ceviche made from locally caught tuna on the special menu or something completely off the wall like a house-smoked brisket sandwich on a fresh-baked roll with grilled onions, honey mustard and a fried egg.
4146 N Croatan Hwy,
Kitty Hawk, NC 27949