canteen modern tequila bar
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Canteen Modern Tequila Bar
Gwen Ashley Walters
February, 2011, Page 151
Photos by Richard Maack
Yucatan cochinita pibil
This Mill Avenue newbie dishes up mighty tasty tacos and mind-blowing margaritas in a cool but comfy atmosphere.
I’ve often thought of Tempe’s Mill Avenue as a turnstile of cheap eats and bars aimed at empty-pocketed ASU students, but the new Canteen Modern Tequila Bar shows restaurateurs are looking beyond the Jäger-shots-and-burgers crowd.
Canteen, on the southwest corner of Sixth and Mill avenues (from the same owners as nearby La Bocca Pizzeria) is gunning for young professionals with its urban indoor-outdoor setting and modern, central Mexico-inspired food. Reasonable prices, pretty servers and a killer daily happy hour rule, but the high-quality dishes coupled with a deep tequila and mezcal list make Canteen worth the trip for the rest of us.
Begin with one of the best house margaritas ($6.50) you’ll find anywhere: 2 ounces of tequila – a blend of Rancho Alegre blanco and reposado – and freshly squeezed limes makes for a strong but flavor-balanced drink. And you might as well order the chunky guacamole ($7) and a trio of salsas ($6) (tomatillo- and serrano-based salsa verde; smoky chipotle and roasted tomato; and kicky pico de gallo) with a basket of thin, crisp tortillas.
You can’t go wrong with any of the gourmet street tacos ($8-$10), but the Corona-, cilantro- and lime-marinated, roasted-then-grilled chicken might be my favorite. Or was it the tangy, achiote-rubbed pulled pork, or the vegetarian portabella mushroom and house-smoked blue cheese? Three to an order, the tacos feature fresh corn tortillas, along with crisp, shredded cabbage and a salsa garnish.
taco trio of pibil (pork), portabella mushroom and blue cheese, and Corona-, cilantro- and lime-marinated chicken
Canteen stacks the bocaditos (small plates) section with sharable nibbles that are more modern than Mexican, like pineapple glazed pork spare ribs ($9) and roasted corn and poblano tamales ($7), which resemble deep-fried polenta triangles more than tamales.
Mouth-popping grilled Mayan shrimp salad ($11) is a mariachi band of flavors, with spears of tender gem lettuce (baby romaine) lining a bowl of achiote-rubbed shrimp, diced melon and avocado, tossed in a citrusy vinaigrette. Thin, crisp shards of queso de chicharrones (baked cheese) add tang and crunch.
Among the five platos, the Yucatan cochinita pibil ($22) with sweet-hot habanero mango salsa is terrific (the same tender pork is pulled for the tacos). It serves two and arrives as a hefty, bone-in shank sitting in a pool of tangy chile broth, but you’ll want to order a side dish, like the creamy, chipotle barbecue-spiked black beans ($4).
You could order dessert, say, cinnamon rice pudding ($6) or avocado jalapeño ice cream ($4), but I’d rather order another taco trio and margarita.
inside Canteen Modern Tequila Bar
Canteen Modern Tequila Bar
: 640 S. Mill Ave., Tempe
: 4 p.m. to midnight Sunday to Wednesday; 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Thursday to Saturday; hours may expand to include lunch
: House margarita ($6.50); guacamole ($7); salsa flight ($6); Corona-, cilantro- and lime-marinated chicken tacos ($9); Yucatan cochinita pibil ($22 for two)
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