Another Trip Back To Cantina 1511
Since the Dilworth location opened 10 years ago, Cantina 1511 has remained a frequent fallback for me when I’m in the mood for Mexican food. Both the East Boulevard and second location in StoneCrest stay busy pulling in crowds looking for Mexican fare rooted in traditional recipes. I tend to frequent the StoneCrest location nine times out of ten and when we came to celebrate my wife and nephew’s birthdays last Friday, the dining room was at an hour and a half wait with a standing room only bar.
Ownership of Cantina 1511 changed in 2012 when Frank Scibelli’s FS Food Group sold the Cantina 1511 concept to Quantum Development, an enterprise out of the Republic of South Africa. When you look Cantina 1511 up on Yelp or Urban Spoon, like most restaurants with legs, you’ll find a wide range of information in the commentary. In my opinion, a mixed bag of reviews is typically a good sign of a decent restaurant because so much about taste and experience is subjective because the law of averages tells me they’ve got to be getting it right at least some of the time. The bigger the dining room, the harder it is to maintain consistency.
Some say the place isn’t the same since Frank Scibelli sold it, but it’s not like one of the Queen City’s most well-known restaurateurs was back there cooking every meal. Folks sensitive to noise and crowds say Cantina 1511 is loud and crowded but the place is supposed to be lively. It is named Cantina after all. This isn’t La Biblioteca. Have I ever encountered a menu item I didn’t like? Yes. Numerous times. The garlic soup that was once on the menu is long gone. Thankfully so because it could curdle your stomach acids and kill the flu. I wasn’t a big fan of the crab and goat cheese croquettes or the fried avocado I tried this go around. But that’s just my opinion and I’m no food critic.
For the most part, I’ve enjoyed personable, attentive service and tasty meals over the majority of my visits to Cantina 1511. The time before this last visit the dining room was packed as usual on a weekend and our order for the fantastic and affordable Cena De Oaxaca got lost in the shuffle. Now I started bussing tables when I was 14 and worked in restaurants for almost a decade. Fact is orders get screwed up and lost all the time. The differentiating factor is how the restaurant recovers a fumble. Without us ever complaining, our bartender realized something was amiss and brought the issue to his manager’s attention. The manager and bartender approached us at the bar, explained they lost our order, made our meal with haste, and comped the meal for the mistake. Even with the change in ownership, the concept retains the feel of a bright, busy upscale cantina catering to individuals looking for Mexican food using colorful, time-tested ingredients.
We started this meal with the Five Cheese Queso Fundido. The fundido is a creamy blend of three classic Mexican cheeses along with queso blanco, a few slices of caramelized onions and poblanos, and then topped with a toss of cotija cheese crumbles. The flavor is pretty smooth and mild as is typical with Mexican cheese and there is barely a hint of peppery heat from the poblano peppers. I thought it was a little soupy and more of a queso dip than the fundidos I’ve eaten in the past. Regardless of my opinion, my beloved nephew thought it was the bomb-digitty. We also ordered the most recent selection of the Sidewalk Antojitos appetizer which is a shareable sampler of popular Mexican street foods. Our plate included hot, flaky empanadas stuffed with chicken, subdued croquettes of crab and melted goat cheese, a black bean and corn taquito topped with fresh pico de gallo, and fried wedges of avocado. The empanada and taquitos were the most flavorful choices and options I’d order again in the future. The fried avocado and croquettes didn’t stand out much to me.
Rather than order my old stand-by which is the Mexican Barbequed Pork, I selected one Marco Polo from the Top Shelf taco list and a Pescado Frito taco from the House Recipe menu. My waiter said he prefers the soft corn tortillas and I took his recommendation from the three or four soft or hard tortilla choices. Cantina 1511 prepares the Marco Polo with a couple plump shrimp over a bed of shredded cabbage, a little bit of melted cheese, bits of jalapeño bacon, caramelized onions, juicy pico, and a smoky aioli seasoned with cascabel chili. All the flavors and texture came together well without one ingredient overpowering another. Once I finished the first I wished I’d ordered two.
The Pescado Frito tacos consist of long thin strips of crispy masa battered tilapia over shredded cabbage, topped with cilantro, the house pico, and a sauce made of Mexican cheeses and sour cream. The fried tilapia tasted fresh and without the greasy heaviness you get with larger filets of fish cooked in oil. Serving cool veggies with hot proteins on a taco is always a challenge. The color and flavor of the veggies and sauce stood out with each bite. I would order these again as well.
With ten years in the business, Cantina 1511 should remain optimistic about their drawing power and popularity. They must recognize they have a good thing going because this January, Cantina 1511 announced they would be closing down the Dilworth location and moving over to the newly renovated Park Road Shopping Center. This won’t do much to limit wait times if you don’t make a reservation but could very well expose them to new clientele. If you’ve never gone to Cantina 1511, take a look at the family dinners like the Cena de Oaxaca that serves two with an appetizer, an entree, and the decadent quatro leches cake for about $25. It’s a good way to stretch your dining dollars and leave room for Cantina 1511’s hand-crafted margaritas.