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Non-alcoholic margaritas & dinner at El Cantinero, 10/5/07

If someone were to ask you what your favorite bar drink was after a long day at work, what would you say? My answer would be a stiff margarita, hands down. Call it what you will; "girly," "too sweet," etc., but nothing, with the exception of a good mojito, makes this girl happier.T.G.I.F! After a long and busy week at work, it was finally Friday, and I had plans to meet up with some friends for drinks and dinner. I let the other girls choose the bar/restaurant for the evening, and they decided on "El Cantinero." Immediately, I went to menupages.com to learn more about El Cantinero. The restaurant is located on University, between 11th and 12th Streets...right in the heart of N.Y.U. The reviews on menupages looked good, and the menu and prices sounded legit. The plan was to meet at El Cantinero at 7:00 p.m. I arrived to the general area early, and decided to browse through a couple of shops, then get to the restaurant about twenty-minutes early for a much-needed margarita.Menupages mentioned that El Cantinero had a "roof garden," which I imagined having a bar and seating. As I approached the restaurant, the host greeted me and pointed me to the stairs leading to the roof. As I reached the top of the staircase, there was a makeshift "coat check" booth/room directly in front of me. To my right, there was a bouncer, who looked directly at my bags and said that he needed to "search them." I was a bit put-off, but agreed to let him "check" my bags. He told me that I needed to throw out my water bottle and saw that I had food in my bag. I was told that I needed to give my bags to the coat-check, as food and water bottles were not allowed inside of the bar. Here's the kicker...the coat check CHARGES $2.00/bag! "Am I at an airport?" The bouncer didn't like my smart comment and proceeded to tell me that the reason they won't allow water bottles was because people have been known to fill them up with alcohol. I sighed, rolled my eyes and dramatically stormed back downstairs to wait for my friends. "What the hell kind of place was this?" Then I remembered; I was out of my element...in, gasp, college territory.

Finally, my friends arrived and we were seated upstairs in the rooftop garden. What a pleasant surprise this had turned out to be! The rooftop wasn't large, but big enough to seat about forty people. The greenery, sparkle lights and perfect weather all helped me return to sanity after my previously awkward experience with the coat check and bouncer. After chatting a bit, our table decided to order drinks. Since I had my mind set on a margarita, I ordered a frozen with freshly-crushed strawberries. The rest of the group split a pitcher of sangria. The drinks arrived and after one sip, I realized that I'd received a virgin margarita (that, or the restaurant is really stingy with alcohol). It was so refreshing and fruity that I decided not to fight it out with the waiter. I tried to keep a positive attitude, and to make myself feel better, I kept silently repeating, "Friday nights shouldn't be about getting belligerently drunk, anyways."The complimentary chips and salsa were homemade and insanely addictive. We proceeded to place our food orders and as usual, I chose the cheese enchiladas. Whenever I go to a new Mexican restaurant, this is my testing dish. If a restaurants' enchiladas suck, chances are I won't be back for seconds. When the food arrived, I knew I was in for a treat. It was love at first sight. Before even tasting my enchiladas, I was already in a trance of gluttony. The plate itself was smoldering hot, which means that the enchiladas were baked in the oven (NOT microwaved). The rice was the perfect saffron color of orange/yellow and there was so much cheese, that the beans were not visible. One bite and I knew, these just may be the best enchiladas I've had in New York! The red sauce was mild in taste and thin in substance. The white cheese was authentic to what I'm used to in Texas and the refried beans tasted just like home. After such a horrible first impression of El Cantinero, the food really made up for all of preliminary nonsense. Will I return? Yes, but only after mentally preparing myself for some of El Cantinero's rigid rules. Would I recommend this restaurant to you? Sure, but here are some friendly words of advice, especially if you're over the age of twenty-five:

  • I do not recommend going to "the bar" area of El Cantinero
  • Avoid the bouncer and coat check at all costs
  • Weather permitting, try to snag a table on the roof
  • For God's sake, don't order a margarita unless you don't "drink"

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