Cantina Louie bills itself as serving “authentic Mexican street food.” Despite my admitted ignorance in regards to what exactly constitutes “authentic” Mexican food, or even Mexican “street food,” I still had certain expectations. Call me a gringo; I was prepared for, at the very least, tacos, burritos, quesadillas, salads, and nachos.
The building itself is colorfully decorated, and a welcome change from the drab appearance of this location's previous two tenants. Sitting on the corner of the usually busy SR 312 and US 1, the vibrantly painted exterior demands attention. It certainly looks Mexican. From the parking lot, it certainly smelled Mexican as well, and soon I found myself craving queso. Most of the spaces in the lot were full, but we nabbed one with minimal anxiety. This would be a sign of things to come.
Outside of Cantina Louie in St. Augustine, Florida at the intersection of SR 312 and US 1.
My girlfriend and I met up with my parents and were promptly seated despite how busy the place felt. I brought them along, because my girlfriend has a gluten allergy, my father can't eat anything spicy, and my mom doesn't necessarily like stepping outside of her comfort zone. I wanted to capture as much of the spectrum of potential patrons as I could. I also love these people and didn't want to eat alone, because that can be kind of a bummer. As far as my own tastes are concerned, I'm just a guy who likes to eat.
I'm also a guy who likes to drink, so I appreciated that our menus were handed to us face-down, with the drinks listed on the back. Maybe this wasn't on purpose, but it sure seemed like a sign I should order a beer. Dad ordered a house margarita, and the women were boring and ordered Cokes. I asked if the Coke was actually Coke, because sometimes it's Pepsi, and they were pleased to confirm that their Coke was, in fact, Coke. But more importantly, the margarita was a margarita.
I was pleased to flip the menu over and find the aforementioned tacos, burritos, quesadillas, salads, and nachos, as well as some other slightly less-than-familiar-but-not-too-alien Mexican treats. The tacos are divided into “Street” style and “Specialty” style categories. The “Street” style features a sub-category of extra authentic tacos, among other authentic treats, including one of my personal novelty favorites, la lengua, or cow tongue. I was more intrigued by the presence of a torta, which is a type of sandwich, a kind I've also tried before (at the same place I got the cow tongue). So maybe I'm more familiar with Mexican street food than I've given myself credit for. I should also note that while we were unaware of just how large and filling our meals would be, everything seemed fairly priced. Compared to St. Augustine's pre-existing Mexican establishments, Cantina Louie is definitely on the cheaper side of the spectrum.
A menu at Cantina Louie.
My girlfriend informed our waiter of her gluten allergy, and was told that the corn tortillas are made in the same fryer as the flour tortillas. While this was disappointing for her, as cross-contamination is an issue, we were pleased that our waiter knew enough to warn her of this fact. She ended up ordering a salad, but I'll stress that cross-contamination is still an issue, and if you are allergic to gluten you should sit this one out.
Meanwhile, dad ordered an enchilada supreme, and mom surprised me by ordering a fajita quesadilla. Despite my preconceived notions of her intolerance for fun, she had no qualms about ordering something as fun as two awesome foods combined. I ordered a torta, but alas, they'd run out of bread. My backup option was a California burrito, because the menu described it as being “topped” with queso. We ogled passing dishes on their way to other tables as we awaited our own. Fortunately, we weren't made to wait very long at all.
Queso smothered food: who could say no?
Maybe something was lost in translation, but “topped” turned out to really mean “smothered,” and this was a-okay with me. There was more than enough queso to satisfy my craving, but the big burrito stood on its own. I had to add Cholula sauce to my burrito, because I wanted a little more fire. I expected to have to add the heat myself, because all spicy foods were marked on the menu with a flame symbol. My burrito did not have this, and my dad was pleased that his enchilada supreme was absent a flame symbol and accordingly not spicy at all.
Mom was more than satisfied with her fajita quesadilla combination. And do not get me wrong, just because our meals were devoid of heat does not mean they lacked flavor. The food was neither bland nor particularly complicated. Where there was cheese, there was an abundance of cheesiness. Where there was meat, there was a mighty amount of meat. All the vegetables were fresh, and everything was cooked properly and thoroughly. I ordered another beer from our affable and attentive waiter, and life was good.
As I admired the décor outside of the restroom, Sublime's “Wrong Way” blasted through the speakers, but I couldn't help but think that Cantina Louie is actually doing a lot of things right. We left satisfied, in good spirits, and determined to return.
For more Mexican Cuisine
- Casa Maya: This downtown restaurant offers vegetarian dishes and organic food, cooked in an authentic Mayan style.
- La Cocina on US 1: Try the ceviche appetizer and tasteful entrees at this Mexican restaurant on US 1.
- Casa Maria: A St. Augustine Beach favorite, Casa Maria is known for their fresh-cooked Mexican dishes (and 2-4-1 Margaritas, of course).
Benjamin Tier graduated from Flagler College in 2012 with a BA in English, and just completed the work for his MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Tampa. Although he writes fiction and nonfiction, he much prefers writing about real people and real things. Ben also moonlights as a standup comedian and is an avid fan of soccer.
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