MONKEY JUNCTION—Tequila Comida and Cantina is opening in a few weeks. The restaurant, from the owners of Los Portales Taqueria, will take over the former Ole Cantina location; but don’t expect the same old Americanized Tex-mex fare.
Co-owner and chef Ramon Villasenor-Castro–along with his brother Miguel–plan to bring recipes from around Mexico, married with local ingredients. The brothers plan to bring some less-familiar ingredients into the kitchen–for example, chilies, tamarind and hibiscus for a duck mole dish; at the same time, they’ll be relying on local produce and fish.
“We live near the farms, and of course the ocean, so we want to take advantage of all that–whatever is in season,” Ramon Villasenor-Castro said. “We’ll work with the local fish places so we can have whatever is seasonal.”
Fans of Los Portales can rejoice, as many of the classic street tacos will appear on the Tequila menu. Without wading into arguments over what rates as “authentic”–a sticky word–it is safe to say Los Portales features a few fillings you won’t find at your average Mexican restaurant: tongue, cheek and stomach, to name a few.
If that’s a bit out there for you, there’s also more familiar offerings, including steak–the brothers are particularly fond of skirt and ribeye steak–as well as carne asada and chicken. And of course all the tacos corn and flour are made in-house.
But Tequila Comida and Cantina won’t just feature street food. Over the last several years, Villasenor-Castro has been hard at work expanding his culinary skills, including working his way through Cape Fear Community College’s cooking program. The result, Villasenor-Castro said, is cuisine that blends the best of both worlds.
“It’s a mix of street food and more sophisticated restaurant dishes. I call it contemporáneo,” Villasenor-Castro said.
Villasenor-Castro used his time in culinary school to research a variety of dishes from around Mexico, including his native Jalisco, where steak is popular. He also developed mole recipes from the Yucatan, including a pumpkin seed or Pipián mole and a poblano version.
The menu will also feature a variety of ceviches, which Villasenor-Castro first started serving at Los Portales.
Another touch that has more to do with Mexican cuisine than its American version is bread on the table, sure to come as a surprise to some diners.
“Most restaurants in Mexico, if there are chips on the table, it’s probably for Americans,” Villasenor-Castro said. “You’re more likely to see bolillo–like a French baguette–on the table. We’re going to do ours with salsa, and a good olive oil with rosemary, arbol chilies. We’ll see how people react, but it will be good.”
Villasenor-Castro did say there would be house-made chips available, along with numerous salsas, for those who want them.
Behind the bar(s)
Tequila Comida and Cantina will serve a full bar, with local and Mexican beers, both in the restaurant and at its outside patio bar. The bar will feature, naturally, a variety of tequilas, in honor of Jalisco, the Mexican state that is home to the blue agave cactus and tequila, the specific type of mezcal liquor made from it.
Customers will have their pick of high-end tequilas, which come with a sangrita “companion,” as Villasenor-Castro calls it, designed to help customers slow down and enjoy the flavor of the drink.
“The sangrita is fresh tomato juice and other citrus, so it balances the tequila, and so you go back and forth, and sip a little of one, and sip a little of the other, and you can actually enjoy it,” Villasenor-Castro said.
Another addition from the bar, the carajillo, is actually prepared tableside. The drink is a mix of Cuarenta y Tres–a citrus and vanilla liquor–and espresso; it may have developed from a Spanish drink, corojillo, from the word for courage, the supposed result of downing a shot of alcohol and caffeine.
And, of course, there are margaritas, both on the rocks and frozen.
“We won’t use any sour mixes, just fresh juice,” Villasenor-Castro said. “For the frozen Margaritas, if they want say a strawberry margarita, we’ll throw some fresh strawberries in there.”
Villasenor-Castro said he hopes to have Tequila Comida and Cantina officially open by Monday, June 4, although he expects to do a soft-opening leading up to that. Hours of operation and the menu are still be tweaked, but Villasenor-Castro plans to have them finalized soon.
Tequila Comida and Cantina is located at 5607 Carolina Beach Rd.
On the map: Tequila Comida and Cantina
Send comments and tips to Benjamin Schachtman at firstname.lastname@example.org, @pcdben on Twitter, and (910) 538-2001.