Friday, May 10, 2013

Cantina: Mexican Food in Cheonan - WHAT?

This week, the unimaginable happened.  A Mexican restaurant opened up in my town.  And not just any Mexican restaurant... no:  An American-owned-and-run Mexican restaurant.  And it's heaven.  From the moment the food crossed my lips, I knew my wallet would never be the same.  My mouth is watering just thinking about it.  Before, we took the 45 minute trip to Songtan for Mexican food.  Now, it's just a 20-minute walk.

The owners, Dylan and Jenny, are currently in the process of growing their own veggies on the premises, and Dylan, although he never trained professionally to be a chef, spent much of his life in the food industry, picking the brains of any chef with whom he shared a restaurant.  He studied their work and practiced at home until he was able to create the amazing food he set before me at Cantina.

Although the menu lists a grand total of zero vegetarian main dishes (one if you allow for fish), all it took was for Dylan to hear me talking about not eating meat to offer me several options to suit my taste.  He went on to tell me that he was blown away by the number of vegetarians in the city who'd come out of the woodwork  so he was in the process of making a veggie-friendly revised menu.  In the meantime, he instructed me to warn him on Facebook before I wanted to come by, and he'd be sure to have veggie offerings for me.  What service!

Jenny, who is superwoman at the bar, is in charge of events and other such details.  My friend Nick and I knew immediately that we wanted to move the location of another friend's baby shower to the restaurant, so we spent a bit of time dealing with Jenny on those details.  Not only did she seem to know every trick in the book for how to throw a good party, she was also incredibly friendly about it all.  The conversation flowed easily, and Nick and I left the meeting with big grins on our faces.

Nick, me, and our grins.

The overall decor of the place is great, too.  It's a little loud, because, in keeping with the latest style in Cheonan, there's minimal fabric to absorb sound, but it's not so loud as to deter me from returning.  There are several tables at the front of the house.  In the back is an open-air kitchen and a pool table, positioned in front of this mural:

Painted by JnJ Crew from Hongdae (Seoul), this mural sets the tone for the whole restaurant.
I ordered their chimichanga, which melted in my mouth.  It was amazing.  Somehow, they'd gotten their hands on fresh cilantro, which adorned my plate.  After not having had it in two years, it was a phenomenal taste.  They didn't skimp on the sour cream (actual sour cream!!!) either.  The complimentary chips and salsa were delicious, and the Cantina Peppers were surprisingly good.  I could taste the spice on everything through my dish (which means it's probably pretty spicy, as my tolerance is rather high), but Dylan and Jenny assured me that they could make the food in non-spicy versions as well.

So, what have we learned?

Excellent food.
Excellent service.
Excellent location.

I'll definitely be returning.

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