When I first moved to Raleigh, THIS was one of my favorite spots. I would come here about once a week for the atmosphere, and the food. Then something happened. Something changed. I don’t know if it was management, or if my palate changed but for whatever reason, each time I go to Cantina NOW, I leave feeling disappointed.
Overall: 2.25 out of 5
Food/Beverage: 2 out of 5
Ambiance: 3 out of 5
Value: 2 out of 5
Service: 2 out of 5
I’m going to start with the service, because that seems to be the big thing that keeps coming back to bite me in the ass. Usually, the servers are very polite, and come over to greet you and take your order in a pretty good amount of time. I don’t ever feel like I’m made to wait too long. The problem is, they almost never get my order correct. And when they do, there is something else lacking. One time, they rang my food up on my friends credit card as well as hers. Somehow, they rang out both of our tabs on her card, even though they were in separate envelopes. One time, they brought us someone else’s tab, and one time someone else’s card. They were very apologetic, but didn’t do anything (other than say I’m sorry) to rectify the situation.
Food – ok. Well, here’s the thing. I have never once NOT put salt and/or hot sauce in their salsa. It’s horrible. It tastes like watery tomatoes. None of the other flavors are present. I don’t know how they do it.
The chips are good when they are fresh, which 8 times out of 10 they are. But those other times, they are stale and cold. They are always lacking in salt…which doesn’t help the salsa situation. My lovely lunching companion and I always order a 1/2 order of the queso and the guacamole to start. The queso is great! Probably the best thing on their menu, and comes in a variety of flavors. The guacamole, again, is lacking in flavor. We usually salt the living hell out of it. On a few occasions, we have even asked for extra limes and just kind of finished the job of making it guacamole.
I almost always order off of the taco menu. This menu changes seasonally, which they usually update on their website, but not always. I enjoy a rotating menu, but recently, they’ve stopped including grilled seafood tacos and are going straight for the fried ones. Not my favorite. You can ask them to grill the fish, and usually they will say that it’s no problem, but about 1/2 the time they bring them fried anyway. What you see here is the crispy (not really) fish taco and the shrimp taco (ordered – successfully- grilled). They have great toppings for their tacos – the crema is fantastic!
My lunch buddy ordered the veggie taco and the same shrimp one I ordered. Not so sure about that veggie taco. It was mostly mixed greens, and not a lot of anything else. They do have one seasonal veggie taco that is amazing. It has black beans and sweet potatoes and I’d eat it year round.
They do offer margaritas, sangria, wine and beer, along with their full liquor bar. Their margaritas are ok, but…often inconsistent. They aren’t exactly worth the price.
Ambiance wise, it’s ok. The patio out front is great, complete with heaters for cooler days and fans for hotter ones. Most tables are under the awning, so you can even enjoy them when it’s raining. Inside, it’s loud and more like a sports bar than a restaurant.
I guess overall, I’m kinda done with Cantina 18. If it weren’t for the proximity and hours, I’d probably never go back.