Thursday, April 28, 2011

Wastin' Away Again: An Ode to Tacos and Margaritas

You can argue that you'll never get "real" Mexican food unless you go to the American Southwest, Southern California, or you know, Mexico.  Having never been to the Southwest or Mexico, and never having eaten Mexican food in SoCal, I can't offer an opinion either way (shocking, right?  This might be the first time in my life  that I've been unopinionated).  So while I'm unable to extol the virtues of "real" Mexican food, I can certainly speak to Mexican food with a southern twist (and I'm not talking about southern Mexico).

R and I went to Cantina 76 on Saturday for a late lunch/early dinner. Cantina 76 bills itself as "A Taste of Mexico with a Unique Southern Twist."  It's a pretty apt description.  It's certainly different from the other Mexican restaurants in town that I've been to, right down to the atmosphere.  Instead of slightly cheesy, piped in Mariachi music (which I certainly don't object to, as I like Mariachi music and cheese), the soundtrack on this particular day read like the greatest hits of the 80s that weren't actually hits - lots of not as popular songs by The Cure and U2, and I believe we heard a little bit of Blondie in there too.  We chose to sit outside on the covered deck, which I imagined is windowed in during the colder months.  It was great - it wasn't in the direct sunlight, so it wasn't too hot, we had a great view of the always interesting human traffic on Devine Street, and because we were there so early, it didn't even get crowded until we were about to leave.

But now onto the really important stuff: The Food.

Apparently on Saturdays, Cantina 76 serves 2 for 1 Original House Margaritas until 7 p.m.  Yes please.  I was glad we had a special to fall back on because the drink menu had so many choices! I definitely want to try the strawberry basil margarita at some point in the future.   At any rate, we opted to order our 2 for 1 margaritas in pitcher form.  We figured it would keep our server from having to run back and forth to the bar, plus we didn't want to have to wait.  Instant gratification at its finest.

Nice salted rim on the glass.  The margaritas were great!
Lots of chips, but still plenty of salsa to go around.
We had gone to dinner so early to allow ourselves plenty of time to savor each dish before we went to watch baseball.  Since we had a few hours to kill, we really took our time in between courses.  We started with chips and salsa.  The chips were warm and salty, while the salsa was tangy.  We ordered the mild version, since R claimed that the hot was VERY hot.  Fine with me.

I, of course, ate way too many chips.  But that's partially because we also ordered guacamole.  The guacamole was awesome.  It wasn't overpowering, and it was topped with a lime.  I squeezed the lime juice into the guacamole and mixed it in, and it was exactly what I wanted.  It wasn't heavy, it was flavorful, and it was a nice alternative to the salsa.

Definitely fresh, and LOVED the added lime.
While gorging ourselves on chips, salsa, and guacamole, R and I perused the menu. For once I was the decisive one, and knew what I wanted almost immediately.  Of course, when our server came to take our order, she mentioned the daily special to us, which totally threw a wrench in my planned tacos.  But it was definitely worth it.  I ended up ordering two tacos: the BBQ Brisket and the special, which was skirt steak, feta, pico de gallo, and a lime aioli.  Both were outstanding.  The bbq was just tangy enough, the brisket was perfect, and the addition of some fresh lime juice was just an added bonus.  The special was just like eating a gyro.  As a pretty big fan of Greek food, I was really into this one.  It would be nice to see it become a regular addition to the menu.

BBQ Brisket in the back and the Special in front.  Look at all the feta!
R also decided to get tacos.  He also got the special (which is understandable.  I'm not sure how anyone could have resisted it).  His second taco was the Peruvian shrimp.  This was probably the one taco on the menu that I was super bummed about not being able to order.  The shrimp were fried, and the best part was that they never got soggy.  They were topped with a sesame chili sauce and jalepeno slaw.  It sounded incredible, and our server told us that it was her favorite.  R loved it, almost as much as I loved the special.

The Special in the back and the Peruvian Shrimp in front.  The slaw looks fantastic.
At this point, I was supremely full.  I barely managed to finish the two tacos I ordered (note to self: eat fewer chips!).  But we still had some time to kill, and a second pitcher of margaritas to get through.  And, of course, there was still dessert to be had.  Dessert was all R's doing.  I was so full, I could barely choke down any of my margarita.  Not that it isn't difficult to twist my arm and get me to order something.  I figured I could always take it home with me.  And then it came out....
Did I mention that it was also gigantic?

R ordered the Mexican Brownie a la Mode.  I'm not really sure what about the brownie made it Mexican - we were hoping for chocolate flavored with chili powder - but it was delicious.  The brownie was warm and the ice cream was a great  contrast.

I, in a not-so-surprising move, opted for the chimi-cheesecake.  Really, when have you ever known me to say no to cheesecake?  Exactly.  I'm pretty glad I ordered this.  It was cheesecake stuffed into a chimichanga and drizzled with caramel.  I was destined to love this dessert.  Actually, I'm pretty sure that if it were possible to be marry a deep-fried cheesecake, we'd be announcing our engagement tomorrow.  Next time I go, I'm definitely going to save some room for dessert.  I think I'll enjoy this one even more when I'm not about to burst.

Do you understand now?  How could I pass this up?
I absolutely loved Cantina 76.  Our service was great, the atmosphere was casual, and the food was great.  Here's a warning though...if you're expecting to find super cheap Mexican food, this is not it.  Not that it was expensive, but it's definitely higher priced that other Mexican places in town.  Completely worth it though.  The tacos are unique, and there are plenty of other things on the menu that I want to try.  The margaritas were delicious and cold, and well, I could rave about dessert forever. Like I said, we had gotten there pretty early, but by the time we left, around 6:30, it was starting to get pretty packed.  I think this would be a great place to go to start your evening off before heading into nearby 5 Points, or, as shown by the several people walking in wearing bathing suits and sundresses, a great place to go after being out on the lake or the river all day.   I can't wait until I can go back again.

Final Rating

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