We walked into The Cantina with no real expectations, making the experience all the more surprising. As someone who has lived in Central Mexico, I am quite familiar with the general vibe of a great Mexican restaurant – this one definitely has it!
Upon entering we saw the bar to our right, and what an impressive bar it was. With more than 50 kinds of tequila to choose from, we knew we were in the right place. Straight ahead was customer seating, with both booths and tables available. And just like those Mexican restaurants from our time south of the border, the rich hardwood floors, tables, and barn beam ceiling were highlighted by brightly painted walls. It felt like home.
A beautiful covered porch was also used as a dining area and was filled that evening with diners who had traveled with their dogs. From what we heard, The Cantina is “extremely” pet friendly.
The hard part of getting to our table was trying not to stop and stare at the food on other people’s tables. Shrimp al Carbon, Pork Carnitas, and a Creamy Roasted Poblano particularly caught our attention, as did a margarita approximately the size of a newborn’s head. The latter was especially appreciated, given the busy day we’d had. For those less interested in tequila, there was also an impressive selection of Asheville crafted beers available.
We were surprised to learn that The Cantina at Historic Biltmore Village is a family owned establishment. They pride themselves on making all dishes daily and using local produce and products whenever possible. That means that all those dishes we tried not to stare at as we walked by really were as fresh as they appeared.
We had to reduce the overall rating of The Cantina by half a point for the amount of time it can take to get served on a busy night. It is understandable given the popularity of the restaurant, but can be a problem for those who stop in before heading to another engagement or for families who have squirmy young children with them.
We had trouble winnowing our favorite dishes down to a handful, but here they are (in no particular order):
Black & Blue Nachos
While it’s true you can get nachos at any Mexican restaurant, this not-too-large serving manages to get the ratio of chips to toppings just right. It’s the perfect appetizer.
A quesadilla stuffed with spinach, pepper jack and goat cheese, beans and pico. The marriage of flavors in enhanced by its smooth texture.
If you don’t think you like plantains, it may be because you have never tasted them prepared this way. Served over black beans, the plantains are then topped with a delicately seasoned crema.
The Cantina’s tinga – shredded chicken in a sauce of chilis, sliced onions and tomatoes – drizzled with pepper jack cheese and cilantro-queso. There’s nothing loco about how good this dish is.
Steak and Azul
The red meat lovers in your party will enjoy steak fajita, covered in carmalized onions and bleu cheese. Straight-forward and filling.
Shrimp, served with pineapple salsa and avocado. It sounds simple but is quite unforgettable. Order it with a side of Calabacitas cornbread.
The overall vibe of The Cantina at Historic Biltmore Village is laid back. Even if you’re not hungry enough for a meal, it’s a great place to stop by for a cold drink, an imaginative appetizer, and a game on one of the televisions.
-No reservations necessary, but calling ahead (starting one hour prior to your arrival) will reduce your wait for a table.
-If possible, take a peek at the special occasion rooms. The décor alone is enough to make you want to plan a gathering there.
-Vegetarians and those who don’t eat gluten will be pleased with the number of menu options available.