Cameron Village has always been known for its shopping but was never a great destination for food in my opinion. But in the past couple of years, the additions of Tupelo Honey Cafe, Tazza Kitchen and Ajisai Japanese have really raised up the bar for dining at Cameron Village. So I was curious to see what the newly renovated Cantina 18 would bring to the hood. Part of the 18 Restaurant Group, Cantina 18 focuses on Southwestern flavors with a Southern twist so think Tex Mex with a spin.
The first thing you’ll notice about the new Cantina 18 is how much larger and how different it looks now. The renovation in late 2015 expanded the restaurant to the 2nd floor and changed up the interior nearly completely. What was once a small, interior with booths in earth-tones has been opened up and brightened up into a modern and slick interior. I like the updates but admittedly it doesn’t feel as Tex-Mex or Southwestern as it used to be.
I head on upstairs with the hostess to the 2nd floor bar and grab a seat there. It’s a large U-shaped bar and the windows up front let in a lot of sunshine and look out on Cameron Village. The lunch menu is a bit small: apps, nachos, burritos, and tacos – maybe 25 or so choices. I go with the short rib burrito with Southern slaw.
Cantina 18 serves up some complimentary chips and salsa to keep me company while I wait. The chips are warm and nicely salted. While the salsa is fresh but a bit bland, I can’t keep stuffing my face with them, a weak spot of mine! Lunch takes about 10 – 15 minutes and it’s a plate carrying a smallish burrito with a bright serving of red-purple slaw. The burrito is decent, well-wrapped with a good mix of tender beef, jalapenos, beans and more but it’s inconsistent. All the jalapenos are on the bottom, mostly rice on top and it’s soft and over-cooked. The whole burrito is just ok and the smallish size at $11 makes me scratch my head a bit. The slaw is fine but not memorable.
Service at the bar is adequate but mixed given the large lunch crowd on the 2nd floor. But I do like the space quite a bit, even if it doesn’t have that much of a Southwestern feel. Taken all together, Cantina 18’s renovations have improved the decor and space but left the food in the same spot for me. A bit in the middle without the flavors and spice I expect out of Tex-Mex or Southwestern. But if you’re looking for a comfortable and modern rendition of Tex-Mex, Cantina 18 is adequate and fits the bill. Especially if you’re in Cameron Village and hungry…
33 Daniels Street
Raleigh, NC 27605
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