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Review: Cantina's free chips, friendly service overcome pedestrian tastes

Published November 28, 2012 11:54 am

Restaurant review • Jordan Common restaurant successfully caters to the family crowd of movie-goers, but boundary-crossing gourmands should consider other options.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Six months ago, Cantina Southwestern Grill moved into the space previously home to Spaghetti Mamas in the popular Jordan Commons district. With throngs of movie patrons right across the street, Cantina's intentions seem clear.

The grandeur of the decor, with sweeping staircases and flowing water features amidst the dining tables and booths, the classy interior feels far removed from a mom-and-pop business. The eatery is part of a local mini-chain, with a sister restaurant in Layton, also owned by the same family that operates Iggy's Sports Grill restaurants across the valley.

An expansive menu matches the substantial space — I counted more than 70 items. And that's before adding the protein variations within certain dishes, the mix-and-match combination plates, the kids menu and side dishes. Choices don't stop there either. Should you partake of an adult beverage, the restaurant offers a full bar that packs in nine margaritas (made from 14 tequilas), 10 different house cocktails, 17 beers (from $2 Coors through to domestic and imported bottled beer) plus draft beers ($3.95 Dos Equis pints being a reasonable choice in my book), and a basic smattering of red and white wines. Phew!

With such a range of choices, it might be easy to suffer analysis paralysis, which is why I was delighted to discover the staff at Cantina was completely on the ball. In fact, the service — the kind that deftly balances friendliness with professionalism — was one of the highlights of every meal. At Cantina, everyone from host through server was full of smiles, cheer and helpful pointers, and not in that slightly unnerving chain eatery fashion, either.

Meals begin with free chips and salsa. Should you need a refill, head on over to the self-serve chip machine with a salsa bar featuring six options: house salsa, a habanero-fueled version, pico de gallo, avocado cilantro, honey mango and salsa verde. Thanks to the variety of dips and endless free chips, I dipped my toes into the appetizer section only once, to sample a promising sounding Ceviche Tostada ($9.45). The dish was more southwestern shrimp cocktail than true ceviche, but the marinated and cooked shrimp with tomatoes, onion, garlic and lime juice on crunchy  tostadas was a pleasantly light starter.

Cantina offers virtually every Tex-mex dish you can think of — and then some. Our server recommend an acceptable pork chimichanga ($11.85) and I paid an extra $2.85 for the smothered chili verde option. The term I'd personally use to describe the result was a dollop rather than a proper smothering, which seemed out of step with the overall fair value of the restaurant in general.  

The enchilada de casa ($9.35) presented a fairly routine rendition of the Tex-Mex staple, but an order of huevos rancheros ($9.50) offered a mildly more giddy change of pace. Two eggs are cooked to order on top of corn tortilla and served with rice, beans, a mild ranchero red sauce, avocado and roasted jalapeno.

One welcome touch at Cantina is the option of cilantro rice and black beans, rather than the standard rice and beans. Several menu items also come with street corn, which seemed to translate on my plates as overcooked corn-on-the-cob slathered in a mayo/chile sauce.

In addition to the usual suspects, the menu takes more than one unexpected twist and turn. Steak cognac ($15.95)  is one of four New York steak preparations coming sauteed in a cream-and-cognac sauce, laced with mushrooms and onions. The steak itself was cooked exactly as ordered but the sauce was non-offensive, but pedestrian.

Mexican lasagna ($10.85) was another offbeat item featuring layers of corn tortillas, ground beef, mushrooms, onions and heaps of jack cheese, finished with a combination of red and green sauces. Much like the steak, the taste skewed more to the mundane than exceptional. Poblano Mole ($13.85) followed a similar vein — lacking the depth of flavor I would anticipate from the ingredients of dried ancho chiles, nuts, sesame seeds and Mexican chocolate. If the title didn't include mole, I'd be more than happy with this slightly sweet, deep red gravy with shredded chicken.

Much like appetizers, I'd be surprised if many diners finished with dessert due to the size of the entree servings and the abundance of chips. But a dense custard like flan ($4.95) doused in a burnt sugar syrup was a creamy-smooth way to end a meal.

Context is everything in fairly assessing a restaurant like Cantina Southwestern Grill, which isn't reinventing any wheels, and so gourmands might want to keep looking for their next foodie fix.

On the flip side, as family-friendly restaurants go, featuring a menu with a little something for everyone (there's even hamburgers, fish-and-chips and pot roast on a Gringos menu). This is offered up with friendly service in pleasant surroundings — there are plenty of diners who will find value at Cantina Southwestern Grill.

Tribune restaurant reviewer Stuart Melling blogs at gastronomicslc.com. Send comments to food@sltrib.com. —


Cantina Southwestern Grill

Food • Hhj

Mood • HH

Service • HHH

Noise • bb

With an expansive menu, there's something for everyone at this Tex Mex eatery, which also offers a full bar featuring fourteen types of tequila.

Location • 75 East 9400 South, Sandy; 801-569-2250

Online • cantinasouthwesterngrill.com

Hours • Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; and Sunday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.

Children's menu • Yes

Prices • $

Liquor • Full bar

Reservations • No

Takeout • Yes

Wheelchair access • Yes

Outdoor dining • Yes

On-site parking • Yes

Credit cards • All major