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Being the crazy foodies that we are, few things are more fulfilling than stumbling onto a restaurant that blows you away. Cantina Mayahuel is that rare find that had us grinning like kids in a candy store (just replace the candy with Tequila) and enjoying every nuance the place has to offer.
A neighbor had mentioned Cantina to us over a year ago and even though it was in our hood, we filed it away as “somewhere to try.” Of course, it became out-of-sight, out-of-mind. Well a year later and another year older, we wizened up and decided to give Cantina Mayahuel a go.
Cantina has parking behind the venue, a rarity on Adams Avenue, and gets your experience off to a good start. We were initially a little taken back by how small the place is. A heavy timber bar with stools takes up about half the dining area with four large round wooden tables for guest seating occupying the rest. We eventually learned that there is also an outside patio and another smaller bar area, but all in all not a big place. But boy what they did to this place. The word “authentic” is tossed around so much that it sometimes loses all meaning but there is no better way to describe Cantina.
Walking through its doors you swear you just stepped into a, well, cantina in Mexico. Deep hard wood enriches the entire area with its bigger-than-life decor. Beautiful cultural artwork adorns Cantinas’ walls with symbolic “Dia De Los Muertes” artifacts and flags adorning the venue. Various earth tones fill out the color scheme and present a nice relaxing vibe. You can’t help but be overwhelmed by the wall of Tequila bottles dwarfing the room with dozens of 100% Agave Tequilas and Mezcals.
The menu itself is relatively small by way of choices (there are actually more varieties of tequila to choose from than entrees). Seven actual entrée items are available, although they do have daily specials prominently displayed on a large chalk board along with other daily events. This took us back at first. Not having options is not our idea of fun dining, but as we read the menu and ingredients, a picture began to unfold of what was going on here. Not only did Cantina look and feel like Mexico, but the menu does as well. No “combination” plates here…just good flavored, spiced up preparations. We became even more endeared.
Of course we kicked off the evening with a couple of margaritas. A great thing about the “wall of tequila” is for a small charge ($1.50) you can choose one of the numerous varieties to supersize your drink although they recommend simply sipping the good stuff (in a hand blown glass no less). The house margaritas were perfection. Fresh lime juice and premium pours makes a huge difference.
Swirls of Mole
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While we love Cantina distancing itself from the usual Mexican food joint, we thought they went a step too far in charging for chips and salsa. Some things should just be free. We ordered Shrimp and Chicken Tacos (grilled with pineapple juice and chipotle sauce, tropical salsa, cabbage-carrot-cilantro mix, ancho mayo, crema Mexicana and a dash of hot sauce). All tacos are a la carte and priced at $4.50. These were not your usual run of the mill tacos but deep rich flavored bits of heaven. The varied textures and absolutely ignited the senses. We tried the special “Chili Colorado” dish which comprised of beans (great texture), rice (perfect taste), your choice of meat (chicken here) with a cinnamon/vinegar sauce. Add tortillas and this was quite the meal. Additionally the special mole prepared dish with dual brown and red mole swirling across the dish over a succulent chicken, that also came with rice and beans was simply amazing.
We had walked into a place uncertain of its features, but by dinner’s end, we left with intentions of coming back and telling our neighbors. Surprisingly enough the evening wound up being a tad on the expensive side. We think the margaritas were a little steep in price as it wasn’t the $4.50 tacos that did it. Cantina Mayahuel is indeed that secret place you almost don’t want to share, but not being selfish types, we certainly want everyone to know about it therefore insuring its success and having its doors open for our next visit is our reward. Enjoy!
The Good: You feel like you are completely South of the border
The bad: Very limited menu selections
- City: San Diego
- Phone: 619-283-6292
- Name: Cantina Mayahuel
- Address: 2934 Adams Ave