“Hustle” is the name of the game in Asheville, a city where most folks juggle at least two jobs to make ends and dreams meet. It’s a concept Bandidos owner and chef Justin Smudde knows a thing or two about. The wily entrepreneur has a handful of businesses, including Bandidos and Blue Ridge Renovations. Over the years he’s ventured into a bevy of occupations, from massage therapist to vet tech to legal messenger for the mayor of Indianapolis. But it’s always cooking that calls him back. “It’s something I’m good at. Cooking’s my thing, it’s second nature to me,” Smudde explains.
When Smudde relocated to Asheville almost ten years ago, he had no intention of cooking, and certainly no intention of opening his own restaurant. Fate had other plans.
Smudde began with a tamale cart downtown, a venture that paved the way for our proliferation of food trucks. “I was the first to sell something on the street other than hotdogs,” he says. For two years he sold dozens and dozens of tamales out of his cart; he used the current location of Bandidos as a commissary kitchen, preparing the tamales in the wee hours of the morning. When the owners of the kitchen realized Smudde was outselling them, they offered to sell him the little restaurant. He accepted, and the rest was history.
Today, Bandidos is a West Asheville mainstay, but it wasn’t always easy. “There’s so much competition in Asheville,” Smudde notes. “Everyone thinks ‘local’ means ‘expensive.’ But if you have the right sources, you can get these great ingredients affordably. We’re one of the most ‘local’ businesses in town.” Smudde sources his ingredients as close to home as possible; his beef and pork, for example, are hand-delivered by the farmers at Apple Brandy Farms.
It’s an undeniably popular concept in our town, and yet, where other restaurants may charge northward of $25 for such entrees, Smudde offers complex, locally-sourced dishes for reasonable prices, $13 or less. Crispy Chicharones, dripping tacos, and the best Cuban in town, all prepared with fresh, Appalachian pork and all wallet-friendly.
It’s a menu chock-full of Latin-inspired favorites with an Asheville twist. Perhaps most representative of this concept is the Duck Confit Quesadilla. Smudde shares the recipe for a delicious night in.