After nearly 40 years serving its Tex-Mex cuisine to customers in Crystal City, Cantina Mexicana has expanded to open another location in Arlington.
The second location opened last month off of Columbia Pike. The restaurant space is small and cozy, festively decorated with bright orange walls appointed with sombreros and pottery. The bar is a central fixture of the dining space, and there’s no question that a little something to drink is part of the Cantina Mexicana dining experience – it is a cantina, after all.
During a weekday happy hour, one might spy bottles of Corona with bobbing lime wedges and little shot glasses filled from the restaurant’s assortment of rail and top-shelf tequilas. But the most eye-catching drink, one frequently ordered, is the “Super Size” margarita. Available in the standard lime for $12.95 and various fruity flavors like strawberry and mango for a dollar more, the drink appears like a traditional margarita glass – just one the size of a soup bowl balanced on stem. Sangria gets the super-size treatment as well, and assorted cocktails, wines, and draft and bottled beers round out a drink menu that, whether the selection is Patron or Pacífico, is the entrance to the Cantina Mexicana Tex-Mex meal.
From there the Aperitivos menu section offers some selections to whet the appetite, whether it’s a bit of guacamole, cheese, or bean dip to accompany the gratis tortilla chips and salsa duo, or something more substantial. Pupusas ($3 apiece), the popular Salvadoran dish, make the menu, in a pork-and-cheese variety (and a plain cheese one, as well). With an order comes a single serving of the corn-tortilla treat, its shell crisply fried with a distinct corn flavor, and its fillings a smooth and flavorful blend of the ground meat and melted cheese. The Super Nachos ($9) are classic Tex-Mex served big and bold, with the tortilla chips concealed under a mountain of refried beans, ground beef, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream, guacamole, and a sprinkle of black olives and pickled jalapeño slices.
The familiar sizzle of fajitas is frequently heard throughout the dining room. Diners can select from an assortment of meats and seafood that are brought to the table on a screaming-hot skillet, then guacamole-dabbed, cheese sprinkled, and tortilla-wrapped. The BBQ Beef Fajitas ($15) are labeled as a “border specialty,” on the menu, and the dish certainly stands at the edge of Texan and Mexican cuisine. Here, long strips of flank steak are slathered in a sweet and smoky barbecue sauce, served with grilled onion and pepper.
The BBQ Beef Fajitas may be a specialty among like entrées, but a dozen house specialties are offered as well. Among them are the Tacos al Carbon ($14), a trio of broiled steak tacos served with buttery rice dotted with bits of colorful pepper and refried beans topped in pools of molten cheese. The flavor of the tender, juicy meat and cheese shines through, with a few punches of heat from fresh jalapeño slices.
Seafood and chicken entrées; combination dinners that let diners pick from mixed platters of enchiladas, chalupas, tamales, and more; and a-la-carte tacos and burritos deliver the variety that makes sure all Tex-Mex cravings are satisfied, even through to dessert with selections like flan, tres leches, and piña colada cheesecake.
This new restaurant may not yet have the long history of its predecessor, but the new location is a welcome addition that will bring the fun and festive Cantina Mexicana style of dining to a new part Arlington.
Cantina Mexicana is located at 922 S. Walter Reed Drive, Arlington. For more information, call 571-970-6571 or visit cantinamexicanarestaurant.com. Restaurant hours are Monday – Saturday: 11 a.m. – 11 p.m. and Sunday: 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.