Published: Tuesday, October 9, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 20:11
As a first-generation American and proud Salvadoran-American, I take Latin food very seriously. I grew up on homemade tortillas, savory steak, chicken and chorizo accompanied by chismol – a side dish similar to pico de gallo – among other dishes most people aren’t familiar with. Relocating to Buffalo has forced me to try new foods, but nothing beats what I grew up eating.
It’s been five years since I left my predominantly Latin American neighborhood on Long Island, and I’ve spent the five years complaining about how much I miss authentic Latin American food.
I finally shut up last summer.
Last August, I went to Cantina Loco for the first time. It’s a Mexican restaurant on the corner of Allen Street and Elmwood Avenue, and with just one look at its menu, I knew this would become my go-to spot for comfort food.
Cantina Loco’s menu might not be extensive, but the few choices in each category – which include appetizers, burritos, sandwiches, tacos, quesadillas and entrees – prove quality outweighs quantity.
The burritos at Cantina seem to be the fan favorite for both their taste and price. These $6 behemoths can be prepared with steak and cheese, pork, chorizo, chicken and rice and beans. Each burrito is served sliced in half, mainly because not even Honey Boo Boo’s mom could possibly fit the whole item in her mouth.It’s enormous, so come with an appetite.
Before, I was content with eating at Chipotle for my fix. I would settle for their lackluster pinto beans and flavorless chicken with a Corona Extra on the side as I listened to Selena and considered it Tex-Mex night at my apartment.
At Cantina, I can order a tamale with horchata, a traditional Latin American drink I grew up on made of rice, milk, vanilla and cinnamon. Then I would play my favorite Cumbia and successfully have my cultural fix.
The ingredients used in Cantina’s food are all similar to those used in most Latin American households. Mexican and Central American foods are based off the same foundation: maize-based foods and condiments that pack a zestful taste with ingredients like cilantro, tomato, onions and peppers.
Cantina Loco makes all its food to order and uses fresh ingredients in the dishes. If it didn’t, I would’ve walked out just like I did the first time I went to Chili’s.
Prices for food at Cantina range from $4 – which could buy you a quesadilla – to $12 for grilled chimichurri skirt steak and a side of rice and beans. And if you’re less interested in the cuisine Mexico has to offer, Cantina’s drink menu will keep you there long enough to want to at least try the Nachos Locos.
Cantina offers 17 different brands of tequila, nine brands of wine and 14 brands of beer between what’s on tap and already bottled. The restaurant also serves margaritas, cocktails and frozen drinks. For those who truly want a taste of Mexico, mescal liquor is also available at your own risk.
What truly brings this small restaurant in Allentown together is its ambiance.
When I was seated by the tattoo-clad host with the perfectly coiffed hair, I immediately noticed the clientele Cantina attracts. I expected the restaurant to have its fair share of Buffalo hipsters because of its location, but I was elated to see a family of four seated behind my friends and me.
Students like me were also there enjoying dinner that night, as well as the occasional couple fighting over guacamole dip. At the bar was a group of suited-up men, unwinding with the assistance of Cantina’s drink menu.
An amazing atmosphere, affordable prices, great drinks and amazing service make my time at Cantina well worth the trip from University Heights to Allentown.
If you don’t have the time to stay, Cantina also has a full-service take out window next to its main entrance.
Cantina Loco might not offer typical Salvadoran dishes – because it’s not a Salvadoran restaurant – but being able to taste the ingredients I was raised eating while I’m 400 miles away from a plate of pupusas is as close as I’ll get for now.
I’m happy to take it.