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Rio West Cantina’s Tasty Changes

Great new Mexican fare, same welcoming atmosphere

Mar. 29, 2010
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Rio West Cantina, open for a little more than two years now, serves up Mexican fare in enjoyable surroundings decorated with assorted handicrafts. More importantly for some, the bar offers a very decent tequila selection. In the past, the only drawback had been the limited menu, which consisted of little more than tacos, enchiladas and perhaps a quesadilla. But that recently changed a great deal, as owner Russ Davis placed Frank Sanchez in charge of the kitchen. Sanchez formerly owned Taqueria Azteca, and his late brother Sal helped to found Cempazuchi. Many people remember Azteca for its great cornmeal-breaded perch tacos, which Sanchez introduced to the city.

One immediate difference at Rio West Cantina is the variety of salsas served with the complimentary tortilla chips. The salsas have been different at every visit—and all have been excellent, going far beyond the usual tomatoes with cilantro and lots of onion. Another new item is chile relleno ($10.95). It is good as far as chile relleno goes, with a light egg batter and the usual mild cheese filling, but the herbed rice and superior beans hint at greater efforts happening in the kitchen.

The kitchen is a busier place now, especially on weekend evenings (which are the best time to visit Rio West). During the week, the menu just looks like a slightly expanded version of the old one, but weekend evenings offer two full pages of dinner specials. On Friday the first item will likely be the perch tacos ($7.95), a pair of corn tortillas filled with cornmeal-breaded perch fillets, some cabbage lime slaw and chipotle mayo. The tacos taste as good as ever and include rice with beans.

From here things get even more interesting. A starter that returned by request is caracoles Don Emilio ($7.95), which is Sanchez’s take on escargot. Four snails are served on toasted bread flavored with garlic. Tomato concasse and aioli help this dish add up to a great experience—this is not your normal Mexican fare.

Another day found bistec adobado ($12.95), chunks of tender flank steak with a smoked red chile sauce. This is a Mexican dish that brings an air of refinement. The ensalada de betabel ($6.95) is a roasted beet salad featuring slices of tender red beets served over greens with goat cheese, pecans and honey citrus vinaigrette. Trendy eating, indeed: These items remind me of the fare at Los Girasoles, a very upscale restaurant located near the Bellas Artes Museum in Mexico City.

Oh! The dessert specials deserve mention, too. Even a weekday night found freshly made bread pudding, the type of dessert you would expect at a far pricier restaurant. A Saturday evening offered a luscious poached pear.

Expect changes to the regular menu, as some of the items will be refined and some will be altogether transformed. In some ways, however, the cantina has barely changed. You will still find the same casual service and welcoming atmosphere for families. And the tequila menu needed no tinkering at all. It is a pleasure to see Frank Sanchez at his new home.

Rio West Cantina

2730 N. Humboldt Blvd.

(414) 562-5540


Credit Cards: All Major

Smoking: At Bar

Handicap Access: Yes


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